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Giddens v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

March 12, 2019

GIDDENS
v.
THE STATE.

          BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and REESE, JJ.

          MCMILLIAN, JUDGE.

         McGraw Colby Giddens was indicted on one count of aggravated sexual battery, one count of aggravated child molestation, and four counts of child molestation. Pursuant to a negotiated plea, he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual battery and four counts of child molestation.[1] Shortly after he was sentenced, Giddens filed a motion to withdraw his plea, and following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied Giddens' motion. He appeals, arguing in related enumerations that the withdrawal of his plea was necessary to correct a manifest injustice; the trial court erred in finding a factual basis for his plea; and the superior court impermissibly participated in the plea negotiations.[2] As more fully set forth below, we find these contentions to be without merit and affirm.

         1. In three related enumerations of error, Giddens argues that the trial court should have allowed the withdrawal of his plea to correct a manifest injustice because the State failed to meet its burden of proof to show that his plea was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered. "After sentencing, the decision on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is within the trial court's discretion, and withdrawal of the plea is allowed only when necessary to correct a manifest injustice." (Citations omitted.) Wright v. State, 292 Ga. 825, 826 (1) (742 S.E.2d 468) (2013). "The test for manifest injustice will by necessity vary from case to case, but it has been said that withdrawal is necessary to correct a manifest injustice if, for instance, a defendant is denied effective assistance of counsel, or the guilty plea was entered involuntarily or without an understanding of the nature of the charges." (Citation omitted.) Allen v. State, 333 Ga.App. 853, 855 (2) (777 S.E.2d 699) (2015). "A decision on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is a matter for the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent a manifest abuse." (Citation omitted.) MyGuyton v. State, 298 Ga. 351, 353 (1) (a) (782 S.E.2d 21) (2016).

         (a) Giddens argues that his plea was not knowingly made because he was "unaware of the charges to which he entered the plea" and because the factual bases for the crimes to which he was pleading guilty were not sufficiently set out on the record. However, at the hearing on the motion to withdraw, Giddens' plea counsel[3]testified that he "absolutely" discussed with Giddens the counts he was pleading to, and the plea hearing transcript shows that Giddens acknowledged that he understood the charges against him and the charges to which he was pleading guilty, which were reviewed with him on the record. Further, Giddens' attorney testified at the plea withdrawal hearing that he wanted to make sure that Giddens understood the differences between the charges set out in the indictment and the reduced charges offered in the plea so he could understand the consequences when making his choice whether to accept the offer or go to trial. And although he had not signed the indictment prior to entering his plea, at the plea hearing he acknowledged that he had "reviewed and viewed" the indictment with counsel, and he signed both the waiver of indictment and plea agreement at the time he entered his plea, both of which set out the charges to which he was pleading guilty. Further, his attorney also testified at the withdrawal hearing that he had several discussions in different contexts about the consequences of the charges.

         In further support of his argument that he entered the plea without knowing the facts, Giddens asserts that neither he nor his attorney stated any facts on the record that would constitute a crime nor did they stipulate to a factual basis for the guilty plea crimes. But it is not required that the accused or his counsel state a factual basis for the crime on the record. What is required is that the trial court make itself aware of the factual basis for the plea. See Uniform Superior Court Rule 33.9.[4] Here, the prosecuting attorney adequately set out the factual bases for the crimes by summarizing the underlying facts on the record - the victim was under the age of 16 and working at a business owned by Giddens' family at the time she said Giddens engaged in sexual contact with her - and then referring to the indictment for the details of the sexual contact, which were explicitly set out as to each count and adequately showed the elements of the charges to which Giddens pleaded guilty, which were either the same as those set out in the indictment or lesser crimes. After this recitation, the trial court asked Giddens whether this is what happened as it related to the reduced charges to which Giddens was pleading and Giddens answered in the affirmative. Because the record supports that the trial court was made aware of the factual basis of the plea and that Giddens was aware of the facts underlying the charges, this contention is without merit. Adams v. State, 285 Ga. 744, 748 (4) (b) (683 S.E.2d 586) (2009) ("We have recognized that an indictment alone may contain enough information to establish that the facts alleged by the State 'actually satisfied the elements of the charges to which a defendant was pleading guilty.'") (citation omitted); Green v. State, 265 Ga. 263, 265 (2) (454 S.E.2d 466) (1995) (finding "that the indictment provided ample information from which the trial court could discern the facts alleged by the state actually satisfied the elements of the charges to which [defendant] was pleading guilty"); see also Romano v. State, 272 Ga. 238 (527 S.E.2d 184) (2000) (although indictment not read into record, sufficient factual basis where defendant stated he read the indictment and understood the charges).

         Although Giddens also finds it significant that his attorney could not remember the precise conversation he had with Giddens about the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for each count, the attorney did testify that he talked to Giddens about the "minimums" and that there was not a doubt in his mind that the maximum sentences were also discussed with Giddens. Further, the record unequivocally shows that Giddens had been thoroughly informed of the possible range of sentencing, including the mandatory minimums, earlier in the day at a plea status hearing, as reflected by the transcript from that in-chambers proceeding during which the trial court explained to Giddens that she would not have any discretion to the extent he was convicted of any offense with a mandatory minimum sentence. Thus, we find no merit to this assertion.

         (b) Giddens next argues that the trial court improperly shifted the burden of proof to show that his plea was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered. Our law is well established that

Where the validity of a guilty plea is challenged, the State bears the burden of showing that the plea was voluntarily, knowingly, andintelligently made. The State may do this by showing through the record of the guilty plea hearing that (1) the defendant has freely and voluntarily entered the plea with (2) an understanding of the nature of the charges against him and (3) an understanding of the consequences of his plea.

(Citation omitted.) Jones v. State, 268 Ga.App. 723, 724 (1) (603 S.E.2d 73) (2004). The trial court specifically cited this standard in its order denying Giddens' motion to withdraw and clearly and appropriately applied it in denying the motion to withdraw. Further, although Giddens points to various factors that he contends cast doubt or suspicion on his plea, the trial court addressed these contentions and, based on the record before us, properly rejected them as meritless.

         Specifically, as to the issue of whether Giddens and his attorneys were given sufficient time to consider the plea recommendation before accepting it, Giddens' attorney testified that although the period of time in which to consider the plea was "confined," due to the fact that the plea negotiations were taking place in the middle of trial after the jury had been selected, he also believed that the court did not pressure them to reach a decision and that the court gave them an adequate amount of time to discuss the plea offer. The record also reflects that the final plea offer was made before lunch, and upon request by Giddens, the trial court permitted Giddens to confer with counsel about the offer over the lunch break. Thus, we find Giddens' contention that his plea was not freely, voluntarily, and knowingly made due to time pressure to be without merit.

         (c) Giddens also argues that the State failed to prove that his plea was not the product of duress or undue influence. Giddens had previously rejected two plea offers, and he asserts that his plea resulted from duress by one of his attorneys who did not testify at the motion hearing and the influence of his father. Although the record shows that Giddens' plea withdrawal counsel attempted to elicit testimony that there was tension between Giddens and the plea attorney who did not testify, the record reflects at most that the other plea counsel intervened in the discussion about the plea offer to get everyone back on track. Further, one of his plea attorneys testified at the hearing on the motion to withdraw that he had no concerns about the voluntariness of Giddens' plea and that the pivotal difference between the plea recommendation that Giddens ultimately accepted and the previous offers was that the State lowered the amount of incarceration time.[5]

         As for the contention that Giddens' father unduly influenced him to take the plea, our Supreme Court has recognized that entering a guilty plea as a result of advice of counsel or pressure from family members does not amount to coercion. DeToma v. State, 296 Ga. 90, 92 (1) (765 S.E.2d 596) (2014). "[T]he State's burden is to show that a guilty plea was entered intelligently and voluntarily, . . . there is not burden on the State to show that, before entering a plea, a defendant resolved to do so without wavering or agonizing over the decision, or that after his plea, he had no second thoughts as to entering it." (Citation omitted.) Id. at 92-93 (1). Giddens' father testified that Giddens was at first adamant he would not take the initial plea offer and he encouraged his son to take the plea, but the father ultimately acknowledged that when it came down to it, it was Giddens' decision to make.[6] Based on the foregoing, the trial court did not manifestly abuse its discretion by denying the motion to withdraw on this basis. Id.

         2. Lastly, citing Winfrey v. State, 304 Ga. 94 (816 S.E.2d 613) (2018), Giddens argues for the first time on appeal that the trial court improperly participated in the plea negotiations in violation of USCR 33.5 (A) when it failed to correct the impression left by the State's remarks that he would receive a life sentence if he went to trial and lost, which he contends resulted in an ...


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