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Claims That Survive an Unconditional Guilty Plea

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A lot of defendants plead guilty. And many of those defendants later try to challenge their pleas through the post-conviction process. Not surprisingly then, I get a lot of questions about what types of claims can be asserted in a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) challenging an unconditional guilty plea.

As a general rule, a defendant who voluntarily and intelligently enters an unconditional guilty plea waives all defects in the proceeding, including constitutional defects that occurred before entry of the plea. See State v. Reynolds, 298 N.C. 380, 395 (1979). Thus, for example, once a defendant enters an unconditional guilty plea, he or she is barred from challenging the constitutionality of the stop that lead to his or her arrest. There are however several exceptions to this general rule.

First, a defendant who enters an unconditional guilty plea isn’t barred from challenging “the very power of the State to bring the defendant into court to answer the charge brought against him.” Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 30 (1974); Reynolds, 298 N.C. at 395 (discussing Perry). Thus, a defendant who has pleaded guilty still can assert a jurisdictional defect, such as a fatal defect in the indictment or that no part of the crime occurred in North Carolina. See, e.g., State v. Neville, 108 N.C. App. 330, 333 (1992) (guilty plea does not waive a jurisdictional defect) (citing State v. Stokes, 274 N.C. 409, 412 (1968). See generally G.S. 15A-1415(b)(2) (MAR may assert jurisdictional issues).

Second, a defendant who enters an unconditional guilty plea isn’t barred from a claim that the plea itself wasn’t knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. A plea waives a wheelbarrow full of constitutional rights, including the right to a trial by jury and the right to confront witnesses. Waivers of constitutional rights must be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. If a plea isn’t knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, it isn’t valid. Thus, a defendant who enters an unconditional guilty plea isn’t barred from claiming, for example, that the trial judge failed to inform him or her of the maximum punishment or that defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance in connection with the plea. See generally G.S. 15A-1415(b)(3) (MAR may assert claim that conviction was obtained in violation of constitutional law). Challenges to the knowing, voluntary, and intelligent nature of the plea are commonly known as Boykin challenges. See Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 242 (1969) (articulating the constitutional requirements of a plea).

And finally, a defendant who enters an unconditional guilty plea isn’t barred from challenging the legality of the sentence imposed. For example, if a trial judge imposes a sentence after an unconditional guilty plea using the wrong Structured Sentencing Act grid, the defendant isn’t barred from challenging the sentence by way of a MAR. See generally, G.S. 15A-1444(a2) (defendants who plead guilty have an appeal as a matter of right with respect to listed sentencing issues); G.S. 15A-1415(b)(8) (MAR may challenge sentence imposed).

I’m not aware of any other MAR claims that survive an unconditional guilty plea. If you are, please post a comment.

4 comments on “Claims That Survive an Unconditional Guilty Plea

  1. What about Coram Nobis relief? lots of jurisdictions allow this but isn’t used frequently in

  2. I know from personal experience that the Wake County court clerks put Guilty pleas in the ACIS court computer system without a defendant pleading guilty and in the absence of any evidence. This happened to me. Also, the ACIS Court computer system records all court dates as jury trials. Yesterday I contacted the AOC help desk and the lady told me she didn’t know why the computer system records all court dates as jury trials or why this obstructs justice for potentially anyone who ever was, is or will be accused of a misdemeanor. I also asked the AOC help desk where a clerk is supposed to input data pertaning to a probable cause hearing. She told me you put the data in the disposition screen under “Trial” date. She didn’t know that the ACIS computer system records all court continuance dates as jury trials and that per NCGS 7A-196, there shall be no jury trials in district court. Only probable cause hearings. And a probable cause hearing is a different procedure than a jury trial. I propose as a follow up article that you or one of your colleagues interview AOC Director Judge John Smith to find out why he has allowed this process to continue for years.

  3. Please keep me on your list to receive new posts.

  4. Any chance of challenging the legitimacy of the following scenario? Defendants home was searched on the basis of a bare bones warrant containing absolute lie, worded by the narc in a deceptive manner and with absolutely no corroboration beyond the name and address. In the search, no cannabis plants were found, either growing or otherwise, although growing equipment was stored and inactive. In a shop vac, along with debris, hair and innocuous material the lab cliamed to find 14.1 grams of alleged pot, not usable in any way. charges were manufacturing cannabis, maintaining a dwelling and misdemeanor possession, as well as paraphenalia for a few pipes. Defendant was adamant that the warrant affidavit was based on complete lies and that the sources used were unreliable and in collusion to defame defendant, admitted they had never been in defendants home, etc. All these facts were left out of the affidavit. Due to the anger of the narc and a DA, the defendant was charged with perjury for signing an affidavit prepared by the PD, which stated that he ‘ denied and and all allegations contained in the affidavit and charges”. The theory presented to the illiterate grand grand jury was that since the defendant denied all ” allegations ‘ then the listing of his name and address at the introduction to the affidavit meant that the defendant must have been denying that he lived at his address! they might as well have inferred that he was denying his name as well..amazing. Defendant was on bail for the original charges, and was rearrested at night on the order of the narc, taken to a favored magistrate and jailed under a high bond for the perjury charge. the PD went to the regional head DA, who immediately ordered the bond amount redcuced to PR and to release the defendant asap…as well as taking the involved DA locally off the case and ordering the charge dismissed at the next hearing, which they did. A statement of known fact at the introduction of a narrative is obvioulsy not an allegation of any sort, it was just a device to inflict suffering on the defendant for daring to defy the charges. the PD sent the involved DA a letter accusing him of prosecutorial misconduct.

    Although the defendant was adamant about getting the truth out, the PD suggested that the local jurors were too uneducated and too moronic to comprehend the facts, and that a plea deal would be in the defendants best interests…this all took almost 2 years ebfore the final hearing. the defendant had three felony convictions from the mid-1970’s, which was reflected on the pre-sentence sheet. Just before court, the PD offered this: plea to one count of felony possession and all others would be dropped, and after 18 months probation the matter would be dismissed ” as if it never happened “. defendant took the deal, despite misgivings. Question: How can a legitimate charge of possession of a felony amount be proper when only 14.1 grams were ever claimed? the DA made up a new sentencing sheet on the fly reflecting no prior history to make it happen. Is this all kosher?

    The defendant wanted to know how a charge of manufacturing, listed on the indictment as the day of the search, could be legit if no cultivation was discovered, no plants growing, only an assumption that at some previous date unknown that such had occurred due to the equipment found, none of which was set up and which had been under a tarp for months at least. the law states that an offense must be for a specific date or period of time, yet on the date of search the only supposed cannabis was found as dust and debris in a shop vac…several persons lived at the residence but only defendant was charged.

    Does manufacture have to have evidence of cultivation on the date specified on the indictment, or can they just assume that at some point in the past it was assumed based on the possession of legal growing equipment and dust and debris from a vacuum cleaner that was obviously old. No useable cannabis was found whatsoever. the state SBI lab van parked outside the home failed to get a positive test for cannabis, and it was 5 months later when the lab alleged they found some, using the same DL test. The entire case was dirty and vengeful, and the state really did not want a vigorous defense to counter, so they changed the past history to reflect no points and no history, agreeing to the dismissal after probation.

    Can any of this be attacked? Had the judge asked theeight of the cannabis alleged, it would have had to have been a theoretical amount agreed to because the 14.1 grams the lab claimed 9 inclusing substantial amounts of debris and such that they could not seperate…this whole case stunk to high heaven..the original narc has been fired due to too many cases of rights violations, perjured testimony and allegations of misconduct…any way to challenge on any basis?

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