Defendant Allowed to Withdraw Involuntary Pleas


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Case: People v. Singleton, Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )

Issues:

Motion to withdraw a plea; People v. Pointer-Bey; Motion to withdraw after sentencing; MCR 6.310(C); People v. Blanton; Acceptance of a guilty plea; MCR 6.302(A); Requirement that the trial court substantially comply with MCR 6.302’s requirements; People v. Plumaj; People v. Saffold; Whether the trial court made coercive comments rendering the plea involuntary; People v. Killebrew; Blase v. Appicelli; People v. Williams; Limited participation in the plea process; People v. Cobbs.

Summary:

Holding that the trial court made coercive comments rendering defendant-Singleton’s guilty plea involuntary, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The court noted that while the terms of the 1/17/17 plea offer left the maximum sentence for a proposed AWIM conviction to the trial court’s discretion, “the trial court—without request from either party—told Singleton that he would face a sentence of 9 to 15 years’ imprisonment for the AWIM conviction and two years’ imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction if he accepted the plea offer. The trial court also told Singleton that, if he lost at trial, he could face a sentence of 23½ to ‘30 or 40 years or 50 years’ in prison and that he may ‘never see the light of day.’ Further, if he chose to go to trial and lost, ‘the sentencing consequences . . . will be very severe much more so than the offer that’s on the table right now.’” The trial court’s comments on the sentence he “would face were made on its own initiative, contrary to” Cobbs. The court also held that the trial court’s participation in the plea negotiation process during the 1/18/17 proceedings was improper under Killebrew. After it found that defendant’s “admissions were insufficient to establish a factual basis for AWIM,” the trial court proposed “an alternative charge that would result in a similar sentence if the prosecution withdrew a habitual offender notice. While the trial court’s participation in the plea negotiation process was undoubtedly intended to help Singleton and preserve the plea agreement, Killebrew expressly forbids trial courts from participating in plea negotiations in this manner to avoid the risk of a coercive atmosphere that would render” a defendant’s guilty plea involuntary. The court held that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his plea because its “improper participation in the plea negotiation process undermined the voluntary nature of” his plea.

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