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State v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

July 31, 2018



          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Paul D. Connick, Jr., Terry M. Boudreaux, Gail D. Schlosser, Lynn Schiffman, Rachel L. Africk


          Panel composed of Judges Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Marion F. Edwards, Judge Pro Tempore


         Defendant, Terence C. Williams, appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to withdraw his pleas of guilty to one count of armed robbery and one count of obscenity. Mr. Williams specifically contends that it was an abuse of the trial court's discretion to deny his request made prior to sentencing in light of his assertion that he did not fully understand the sentence that was agreed to as a part of the plea agreement. For the reasons that follow, finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm the trial court's ruling and, accordingly, affirm Mr. Williams' convictions and sentences.


         On June 25, 2015, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney filed a bill of information charging Mr. Williams with one count of armed robbery, a violation of La. R.S. 14:64 (count one), and one count of obscenity, a violation of La. R.S. 14:106 (count two). At his arraignment on July 6, 2015, Mr. Williams entered pleas of not guilty to both counts.[1]

         On December 11, 2015, defense counsel filed a motion for a competency examination on the ground that Mr. Williams had previously been diagnosed and treated for mental illness. Thereafter, Mr. Williams was examined by experts, Dr. Rafael Salcedo, a forensic psychologist, and Dr. Richard Richoux, a forensic psychiatrist, for purposes of determining whether Mr. Williams suffered from any mental disorder affecting his competency to proceed to trial and to assist counsel in the preparation of his defense. A competency hearing was held on March 9, 2016. According to the experts' report entered into evidence at the hearing, Drs. Salcedo and Richoux determined that their examination failed to reveal evidence that Mr. Williams was manifesting any signs or symptoms of a psychiatric disorder.[2]Additionally, despite "significant substance abuse problems involving daily use of both marijuana and cocaine when … not in institutional confinement," the experts opined that Mr. Williams fully understood the nature of the proceedings and the charges against him, and was capable of assisting his attorney in preparing his defense. Relying on the experts' findings outlined in their report, which included their assessment of Mr. Williams' "serious drug addiction," the trial court found Mr. Williams competent to proceed to trial.

         Also on March 9, 2015, immediately following the competency hearing, defense counsel informed the court that she had shown to Mr. Williams all of the discovery, including various videos/audios, which the State intended to use against him at trial to support a conviction, and that Mr. Williams had been made "completely aware of all of the State's evidence against him." Defense counsel further advised that, based on his two prior felony convictions, Mr. Williams had been determined to be a multiple felony offender and that, as such, he had been advised that his status as a "triple bill" would dramatically increase in his sentencing range and exposure at trial (i.e., 66 to 198 years) if convicted on the charge of armed robbery (or any felony). Additionally, defense counsel stated Mr. Williams had been informed of the State's plea offer-i.e., 35 years' imprisonment, with no multiple bill[3]-but that, despite her professional recommendation that accepting the plea was in his best interest and that the "35 years [was] a today offer," Mr. Williams had chosen to refuse the offer in favor of proceeding to trial.

         Because of Mr. Williams' refusal to accept the plea offer in favor of trial, defense counsel requested that the trial court conduct a Frye hearing.[4] During the Frye hearing, the trial judge explained to Mr. Williams that, if convicted of armed robbery, he would be a triple felony offender subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 66 years up to 198 years at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. The trial judge further explained to Mr. Williams-and Mr. Williams stated that he understood-that if he agreed to plead guilty, the State would agree not to file a multiple offender bill against him and that, "based upon [his] attorney's efforts on [his] behalf," the court would "reluctantly" agree to sentence him to only 35 years, which was a "today only option," but that if he refused to plead guilty, "all bets were off" in terms of what sentence the court might give, which the trial court "promise[d]" would not "be only 35 years after today." When asked by the court if he still wished to proceed to trial, Mr. Williams responded that he would "take 35."

         Mr. Williams then withdrew his former pleas of not guilty and entered pleas of guilty as charged on both counts for an agreed upon sentence of 35 years imprisonment in the Department of Corrections without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence as to count one, and three years' imprisonment in the Department of Corrections as to count two, with the sentences to run concurrently. Thereafter, the trial court conducted a lenghthy plea colloquy with Mr. Williams, wherein he of his Boykin rights, [5] including his right to a jury trial or by judge alone, his right to the presumption of innocence, his right to confront his accusers and to call witnesses or present favorable evidence, his privilege against self-incrimination, and the right to appeal his conviction.

         The trial court also reviewed with Mr. Williams the possible sentencing ranges for an armed robbery conviction and an obscenity conviction. The trial court further confirmed with Mr. Williams that he understood that if the court were to accept his guilty pleas, he would be sentenced to 35 years at hard labor in the Department of Corrections without benefits on the armed robbery charge, and to three years at hard labor on the obscenity charge, with the sentences ordered to be run concurrently, and with credit for time served on both charges.

         During the plea colloquy, when the trial court specifically inquired as to whether Mr. Williams was suffering from any type of physical or mental impairment that would affect his ability to enter into the plea agreement, Mr. Williams responded in the negative. Mr. Williams confirmed that he could read, write and understand the English language. In response to further inquiry by the trial court, Mr. Williams indicated that he was satisfied with his counsel's legal representation and that he had not been forced, threatened, or coerced in any way to accept the plea deal. The trial court established that Mr. Williams understood the timeline for appealing his sentence and/or applying for post-conviction relief, and that he understood his guilty plea could be used to enhance the penalty for any future felony conviction. The trial court confirmed with Mr. Williams that his attorney had reviewed the "waiver of constitutional rights plea of guilty form" with him, that he had initialed each of the provisions on the form, and that it was his signature on the form acknowledging that his rights had been explained to him and that he wished to waive those rights.

         Throughout the plea colloquy, Mr. Williams indicated that he understood his rights, that he wished to waive his rights, and that he understood the consequences of his guilty plea, including the sentences that would be imposed in accordance with the plea agreement. Following this detailed exchange with Mr. Williams in open court, the trial court accepted Mr. Williams' guilty pleas as having been knowingly, intelligently, freely and voluntarily made.

         On April 14, 2016, Mr. Williams appeared for sentencing, at which time he made an oral motion to withdraw his guilty pleas on the grounds that he was under duress at the time he accepted the plea offer, and that he "did not truly comprehend and understand" the sentence that was agreed to as a part of the plea. When questioned by the trial court regarding what specific aspect of his plea was causing him confusion, Mr. Williams replied that he wanted to "take [his] plea back" because, "at the time [he] couldn't really read" the "paper that [he] was signing for [his] sentence," and "didn't really understand what [he] was signing." Asserting no specific basis for his inability to read or comprehend, and despite the affirmative answers he provided in response to the trial court's prior questioning during the Boykin colloquy, Mr. Williams stated that he did not understand any aspect of the plea agreement, in particular, the sentence that he would receive as a result of the plea.

         The following discussion then took place between the trial judge and Mr. Williams:

What is your understanding what will happen if the Court allows you to withdraw your guilty plea?
By losing trial, I would get the max that I supposed to have, the sentence I supposed to have and you would take back what you offered me the first time.
You know that you are a multiple offender, correct, you have ...

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