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Bradley v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

May 20, 2019

BRADLEY
v.
THE STATE.

          Ellington, Justice.

         In July 2014, Montravious Bradley entered a non-negotiated guilty plea to murder and other offenses in connection with the death of Jerrick Jackson during the armed robbery of Jackson and his fiancée, Kimberly Little.[1] After entry of judgment, Bradley filed a timely motion to withdraw his guilty plea, contending that his guilty plea was not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered. The trial court denied the motion. Bradley appeals, contending that the trial court failed to advise him of the sentencing range for murder and felony murder, but advised him instead only of the maximum sentence authorized for those offenses, and that the trial court therefore improperly failed to advise him of the direct consequences of entering a guilty plea. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm, except that we vacate in part to correct a sentencing error.

         1.The State presented the following factual basis for Bradley's guilty pleas. On May 7, 2013, Bradley and his co-defendants, all members of a gang known for armed robberies, were driving in the vicinity of Lowe Street in Fulton County when they spotted a Porsche Cayenne being parked in a residential driveway. Jerrick Jackson was driving the Cayenne, and his fiancée, Kimberly Little, was a passenger. Bradley and his co-defendants, armed with guns, approached Jackson and Little and forced them to the ground. They took Jackson's wallet and cell phone and took Little's purse and cell phone. The men asked who was in the house. They forced the victims inside and forced them to turn off the silent alarm. Bradley and a co-defendant held Jackson at gunpoint at close range, and asked again who was upstairs in the house, and he said "just my daughter." Some of the robbers started to go upstairs and, when Jackson tried to stop them, they shot him several times. He died shortly after being transported to the hospital.

         2. Bradley contends that the trial court improperly failed to advise him on the record of the direct consequences of entering a guilty plea to the offenses charged. Specifically, he argues that he was not advised on the record as to the "mandatory minimum" sentences for the crimes of murder and felony murder. Bradley contends that, rather than being advised during the guilty plea hearing "as to the proper sentencing ranges for the crimes of [m]urder and [f]elony [m]urder[, ]" he was "only advised, in a deceptive manner, that the 'maximum' sentence for [m]urder and [f]elony [m]urder was [l]ife" imprisonment, which left him confused regarding the sentencing options available to the trial court.[2] Bradley argues that, as a result of this failure, his guilty plea was not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered, thereby causing manifest injustice and prejudice to him.

After sentencing, a defendant may withdraw his guilty plea only to correct a manifest injustice, which exists if the plea was in fact entered involuntarily or without an understanding of the nature of the charges. See . . . Uniform Superior Court Rule 33.12 (B).[3] When a defendant challenges the validity of his guilty plea in this way, the State bears the burden of showing that the defendant entered his plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The State may meet its burden by showing on the record of the guilty plea hearing that the defendant understood all the rights being waived and possible consequences of the plea or by pointing to extrinsic evidence affirmatively showing that the plea was voluntary and knowing. In evaluating whether a defendant's plea was valid, the trial court should consider all of the relevant circumstances surrounding the plea. The court's decision on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea will not be disturbed absent an obvious abuse of discretion.

Johnson v. State, 303 Ga. 704, 706-707 (2) (814 S.E.2d 688) (2018) (case citations and punctuation omitted).

         The Uniform Superior Court Rules require that, before a court accepts a guilty plea, the defendant be informed on the record, inter alia, "of the mandatory minimum sentence, if any, on the charge." USCR 33.8 (D) (4). The information that must be given to the defendant under USCR 33.8 "may be developed by questions from the judge, the prosecuting attorney or the defense attorney or a combination of any of these." USCR 33.8. If a defendant on direct review challenges the validity of his guilty plea based on an alleged violation of the superior court rules prescribing the procedures for accepting a guilty plea, "the State has the burden of showing substantial compliance with USCR 33, along with the constitutional requirements that underlie portions of that rule." Smith v. State, 287 Ga. 391, 399 (3) (697 S.E.2d 177) (2010) (citation omitted). "As to any complaint by [an appellant] about the trial court's failure to follow the letter of the applicable Uniform Superior Court Rules, the salient inquiry is the same, that is, whether the record, as a whole, affirmatively shows that the plea in question was knowing and voluntary." Lewis v. State, 293 Ga. 544, 547 (1) (748 S.E.2d 414) (2013) (citation omitted). See also Phelps v. State, 293 Ga. 873, 878 n.5 (750 S.E.2d 340) (2013) (accord).

         The record of the guilty plea hearing in this case shows the following. At the beginning of the hearing, after placing Bradley under oath, the trial court asked Bradley questions to establish his capacity to understand the proceedings. Then the prosecutor reviewed the possible consequences of Bradley's plea with Bradley, as follows:

PROSECUTOR: Do you understand that this is a non-negotiated plea and that your counsel will make a recommendation to the Court and the State would make a recommendation to the Court, but ultimately the Judge will make a final determination as to what your sentence will be; do you understand that? BRADLEY: Yes, sir.
PROSECUTOR: Because it's a non-negotiated plea, you won't have an opportunity to withdraw your guilty plea; do you understand? . . . BRADLEY: Yes, sir. . . .
PROSECUTOR: Do you understand that Count 1, participation in gang activity, carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Do you understand that? BRADLEY: Yes, sir.
PROSECUTOR: Do you understand that Count 2, murder, and Counts 3, 4, 5 and 6, felony murder, they carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Do you understand that? BRADLEY: Yes, sir.

         After the prosecutor recited the maximum sentences for the remaining counts, he reviewed the rights that Bradley would give up by pleading guilty. Later in the hearing, the prosecutor outlined what he expected the evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and then stated that the State recommended a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The prosecutor explained that Jackson's father felt that Bradley's co-defendant who was the driver should receive a more lenient sentence but felt that Bradley and his other co-defendants, "the shooters in the case and those who entered the home and ultimately caused the death of Jerrick Jackson," should ...


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