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State v. Cheatham

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 2, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
JORDAN CHEATHAM

         On Appeal from The 23rd Judicial District Court, Parish of Assumption, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 13-CR-000015 The Honorable Jessie M. LeBlanc, Judge Presiding

          Ricky Babin, District Attorney Thomas Daigle, Assistant District Attorney Napoleonville, Louisiana Attorneys for State of Louisiana

          Shannon L. Battiste, Demi L. Vorise Port Allen, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendant/Appellant Jordan Cheatham

          BEFORE: WELCH, CRAIN, AND HOLDRIDGE, JJ.

          CRAIN, J.

         Pursuant to a plea agreement, the defendant, Jordan Cheatham, pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana. See La. R.S. 40:966A(1). Prior to sentencing, he filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which was denied. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment at hard labor, with three years suspended, and three years of supervised probation with conditions upon his release from incarceration. The defendant appeals, arguing the trial court erred in denying his motion to withdraw the guilty plea. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The factual basis for the guilty plea is set forth in the Boykin form signed by the defendant.[1] After being stopped for a traffic violation, the defendant became visibly nervous and refused to allow a sheriffs deputy to search the vehicle. A drug detection dog was transported to the scene and made positive alerts on the vehicle. During the ensuing search, deputies found multiple bags of marijuana in the vehicle, including a large bag with twelve smaller bags inside, each containing about one ounce of marijuana; and a bag in a shoe box wedged under the front passenger seat containing approximately 5.9 grams of marijuana along with a smaller bag containing approximately four grams of marijuana.

         On the morning of the defendant's trial, he accepted the state's offer of a plea deal, agreeing to plead guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana in exchange for a ten year sentencing cap and the state's agreement not to pursue a habitual offender bill of information. The defendant was Boykinized and pled guilty as charged. Sentencing was deferred pending a presentence investigation report.

         Prior to sentencing, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea, which stated no basis for the request and, for that reason, was denied. The defendant then filed a second motion to withdraw the guilty plea, wherein his counsel stated:

I, SHANNON L. BATTISTE, the undersigned counsel, erroneous[ly] misinformed my client of the law and procedures regarding withdrawing pleas. Please see Exhibit A attached to this motion for further explanation.

         In an attached letter, counsel stated he erroneously informed the defendant he could withdraw his guilty plea at any time before sentencing. According to the letter, the defendant's motivation for pleading guilty was his belief he could withdraw the plea before sentencing.

         At a hearing on the motion, defense counsel repeated the representations in his letter and presented testimony from the defendant. The defendant confirmed counsel told him during plea discussions that he could withdraw the plea before his next court date. When asked if that was the reason he pled guilty, the defendant replied:

Yeah, that, along with it wasn't - I mean, it's gone this far. I mean, and I'm still not found innocent. I didn't think I was going [to] be found ...

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