People v. Jennings.
2021 COA 112. No. 18CA1934. Guilty Plea—Waiver of Appeal Right—Actual Bias.
August 19, 2021
Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to manufacture or distribute. Before doing so, she confirmed that no one had forced her to plead guilty, and she expressed no concerns with her attorney. The court advised her that by pleading guilty she would waive various rights, including the right to appeal. Defendant said she understood, and the court accepted her guilty plea.
On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court violated her constitutional right to counsel of choice (1) by not immediately appointing the public defenders’ office when she moved to dismiss her second retained attorney, and (2) by not appointing alternate defense counsel when an alleged conflict arose with the public defender, her third attorney. Defendant maintained that her guilty plea did not waive this challenge because it concerns an important constitutional right, the improper denial of which constitutes structural error. A guilty plea waives fundamental Sixth Amendment rights unless the claim relates directly to the adequacy of the guilty plea. Defendant did not challenge the adequacy of her guilty plea in the trial court or on appeal. Thus, she waived her claim that the court denied her right to counsel of choice. Therefore, the Court of Appeals declined to address her claims about her counsel.
Defendant also argued that the judge exhibited bias against her by repeatedly declining her motions to reduce her $250,000 bond, expressing displeasure with her second retained attorney, and appointing the public defender’s office after allowing her second retained attorney to withdraw. A guilty plea does not waive review of an actual bias claim, even if it arose before the plea. Here, the judge did not act arbitrarily and without offering a reason in denying the motions but denied the motions due to defendant’s prior failures to appear. Second, the judge criticized defendant’s second retained attorney in passing as he was leaving the case, and this brief reproach did not reflect such intense hostility as to require recusal. Third, the judge’s comments about defendant were relatively mild and did not reflect a deep-seated antagonism toward defendant that rendered the proceedings inexorably unfair. Accordingly, the trial judge did not exhibit actual bias or prejudice.
The judgment was affirmed.