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Cooper v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

February 19, 2019

COOPER
v.
THE STATE.

          MCFADDEN, P. J., RICKMAN and MARKLE, JJ.

          MARKLE, JUDGE.

         Djuan Trenais Cooper appeals pro se from the trial court's order denying his motion for leave to file an out of time appeal. Upon review, we affirm the trial court's denial of Cooper's motion.

         The record reveals that on August 31, 2017, Cooper entered a non-negotiated plea of guilty to first degree home invasion, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He received a life sentence with 14 years to serve and the remainder on probation. On April 5, 2018, Cooper filed a pro se motion for leave to file an out of time appeal. As grounds for an appeal, Cooper contended that the indictment did not allege all the essential elements of the crimes, that his plea was not knowing and voluntary because he was not informed he would be waiving his right against self-incrimination, and that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the indictment, failing to familiarize himself with the law in relation to the plea, and failing to fully apprise Cooper of the rights he was waiving by pleading guilty. The trial court denied the motion, and Cooper filed this appeal.

         Having entered a guilty plea, Cooper has no unqualified right to a direct appeal. See Lewis v. State, 326 Ga.App. 529, 530 (757 S.E.2d 170) (2014).

Out-of-time appeals are designed to address the constitutional concerns that arise when a criminal defendant is denied his first appeal of right because the counsel to which he was constitutionally entitled to assist him in that appeal was professionally deficient in not advising him to file a timely appeal and that deficiency caused prejudice. . . . Thus, an out-of-time appeal is appropriate when a direct appeal was not taken due to ineffective assistance of counsel.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Stephens v. State, 291 Ga. 837, 837-838 (2) (733 S.E.2d 266) (2012). In order to obtain an out-of-time appeal, Cooper must show that the issues he seeks to appeal can be resolved by facts appearing on the record and that his failure to seek a timely appeal was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel. Clark v. State, 299 Ga.App. 558, 559 (683 S.E.2d 93) (2009). If the issues cannot be resolved from the existing record, Cooper would have had no right to file even a timely direct appeal and, therefore, is also not entitled to an out-of-time appeal. See Morrow v. State, 266 Ga. 3, 4 (463 S.E.2d 472) (1995). Claims which require an expanded record must be pursued in a habeas corpus petition. See id. We will affirm the trial court's ruling if it is clear from the record that the issues lack merit, and we "review a trial court's denial of a motion for an out-of-time direct appeal for an abuse of discretion." (Citation omitted.) Clark, 299 Ga.App. at 559.

         1.Cooper argues that his indictment was void because it did not charge all the essential elements of the crimes alleged. This argument can be resolved against Cooper on the face of the record.

         When Cooper pleaded guilty, "he waived all defenses except that the indictment charged no crime." Kemp v. Simpson, 278 Ga. 439, 439-440 (603 S.E.2d 267) (2004). The indictment alleged that Cooper entered the victim's home without her permission and with the intent to commit an aggravated assault against her, and that he pointed a handgun at her. Because Cooper could not admit those allegations and be innocent of all crimes, his challenge to the sufficiency of the indictment is without merit. Accordingly, Cooper is not entitled to an appeal on this ground.

         2. Next, Cooper contends that the trial court violated Uniform Superior Court Rule 33.8 ("USCR") by accepting Cooper's guilty plea without ensuring that he had been advised of the elements of the charges against him. This argument, too, can be resolved against Cooper based on the existing record.

         USCR 33.8 (A) provides that the trial court should not accept a guilty plea without first determining that the defendant understands the nature of the charges against him. Similarly, the United States Supreme Court has held that a guilty plea "cannot be truly voluntary unless the defendant possesses an understanding of the law in relation to the facts." (Citations omitted.) Raheem v. State, 333 Ga.App. 821, 827 (2) (777 S.E.2d 496) (2015). This principle, however, "does not require the trial court to personally inform the accused of the elements of the crime to which he is pleading guilty." (Footnote omitted.) Id. Indeed, "where, as here, the defendant has legal representation, a presumption arises that defense counsel routinely explained the nature of the offense in sufficient detail to give the accused notice of what he is being asked to admit." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Tomlin v. State, 295 Ga.App. 369, 372 (2) (671 S.E.2d 865) (2008).

         Here, the transcript of the plea hearing reveals that the prosecutor identified the charges against Cooper and the range of punishments he faced. The prosecutor also summarized the factual basis for the charges, reciting that Cooper kicked in the door to his ex-girlfriend's apartment, put a gun to her head, threatened to kill her, and beat her. The victim's neighbors called 911 and the responding officers found Cooper in the parking lot, with the victim's blood on his pants and several of her belongings in his car. The prosecutor then identified the rights Cooper would waive by pleading guilty. After confirming that Cooper understood the rights he would waive, the prosecutor reiterated the charges against Cooper and the associated penalty ranges. Cooper indicated that he understood the charges, that the facts recited by the prosecutor were true and correct, that he was satisfied with the representation he had received from his attorney, and that he wanted to plead guilty. Under these circumstances, there is no merit to Cooper's argument that he was not made aware of the nature of the charges against him.

         3. Cooper contends that his guilty plea is invalid because he was not properly advised of his rights pursuant to Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274) (1969). Again, the record shows that this argument can be resolved against Cooper.

         "Boykin requires the State to show that a defendant was informed of the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, the right to a trial by jury, and the right to confront one's accusers in order to establish that the defendant's guilty plea was voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently made." (Citation omitted). Burns v.State, 291 Ga. 547 (1) (a) (731 S.E.2d 681) (2012). Before accepting a guilty plea, the trial court has a "duty to establish that the defendant understands the ...


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