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State v. Cooper

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 14, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
DERRICK LYNN COOPER Appellant

          Appealed from the Fifth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Richland, Louisiana Trial Court No. F-2016185, Honorable Terry A. Doughty, Judge.

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Peggy J. Sullivan, Counsel for Appellant.

          JOHN M. LANCASTER District Attorney, KENNETH D. WHEELER AMANDA M. WILKINS Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Appellee.

          Before WILLIAMS, COX, and BLEICH (Pro Tempore), JJ.

          COX, J.

         This criminal appeal arises from the Fifth Judicial District Court, Richland Parish, Louisiana. The defendant, Derrick Lynn Cooper, pled guilty to attempted indecent behavior with a juvenile, in violation of La. R.S. 14:81 and 14:27. Cooper was sentenced to 3½ years' imprisonment at hard labor. For the following reasons, Cooper's guilty plea is vacated, his conviction and sentence set aside, and the matter remanded for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         Cooper was charged by bill of information with indecent behavior with a juvenile, in violation of La. R.S. 14:81. The parties reached a plea agreement, which was reduced to writing and stated that Cooper would plead guilty to attempted indecent behavior with a juvenile. In return, Cooper would receive a sentence of three years' imprisonment at hard labor. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Cooper would be permitted to return for sentencing on June 21, 2017. If he failed to appear on June 21, the sentencing agreement would be invalid, a presentence investigation would be ordered, and he would be subject to habitual offender proceedings. On April 19, 2017, Cooper entered a guilty plea to attempted indecent behavior with a juvenile. The trial court found his plea to be free and voluntary.

         When Cooper failed to appear on June 21 for sentencing, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest, and pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, the trial court ordered a presentence investigation. Cooper was arrested on October 3, 2017. On November 16, 2017, Cooper filed a pro se motion to quash and dismiss the pending charge and a pro se motion to withdraw the guilty plea. Cooper alleged that he was forced to sign the plea agreement and that investigators had admitted there was no evidence that the offense had been committed. Cooper further alleged that he accepted the plea based upon the misleading advice of counsel that there was no defense and that if he did not accept the plea, he would receive a sentence of 20 to 40 years' imprisonment. He argued that if he had understood that additional evidence would be necessary to establish his guilt at trial, he would have insisted on proceeding to trial.

         On December 31, 2017, Cooper appeared for sentencing. Cooper's pro se motion to quash and dismiss the pending charge and pro se motion to withdraw the guilty plea were both denied. After discussing the contents of the presentence investigation report, including Cooper's criminal history and the facts of the instant offense, the trial court sentenced Cooper to 3½ years' imprisonment at hard labor. Cooper was provided with a notice of sex offender registration requirements. This appeal followed.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         Cooper argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw the guilty plea because the factual basis was insufficient in light of his consistent declarations of innocence. He asserts that, in the absence of an admission of guilt, the record should contain a significant or substantial factual basis to support the charge. Cooper further argues that his guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered because he was not adequately informed of the obligation to register as a sex offender, was misinformed as to his eligibility for "good time," and may have been under a misapprehension as to the potential sentence he could receive as a habitual offender.

         In response, the State argues that, except in the case of an Alford plea, [2] the trial court is not required to ascertain a factual basis for the offense prior to accepting a guilty plea. The State asserts that Cooper was advised of his rights under Boykin, [3] the trial court set forth the elements of the offense, Cooper was advised of the maximum sentence available under the statute, and the trial court determined that Cooper understood and accepted the plea agreement. The State further argues that the record clearly reflects that Cooper understood the charge against him and the charge he was pleading guilty to at the time of the hearing.

         Upon motion of the defendant and after a contradictory hearing, the court may permit a plea of guilty to be withdrawn at any time before sentencing. La.C.Cr.P. art. 559(A). The discretion to allow the withdrawal of a guilty plea under Art. 559(A) lies with the trial court and such discretion cannot be disturbed unless an abuse or arbitrary exercise of that discretion is shown. State v. Martin, 48, ...


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