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United States v. McIntosh.

No. 20-5089.  N.D.Okla. Judge Ebel. Knowing and Voluntary Guilty Plea—Motion to Withdraw Plea—Procedural Due Process.

March 21, 2022

Defendant was charged with five counts of Hobbs Act robbery and five counts of brandishing a firearm during the robberies. He was diagnosed with substance abuse disorders but was found competent to stand trial. About one month before trial, defendant notified the court that he intended to accept a plea deal and plead guilty to eight of the charges. However, at the beginning of the change-in-plea hearing, defendant expressed doubts about the agreement, claiming that he was being denied access to his medications and his judgment was consequently impaired. After an off-the-record conference, defendant’s counsel informed the court that defendant changed his mind and wished to go to trial. But following a second conference between the prosecution and defense counsel, defendant again indicated his willingness to proceed with the plea agreement. He then pleaded guilty, and the court accepted the plea. However, before sentencing, defendant filed a motion to withdraw his plea, contending that it was neither knowing nor voluntary. The court denied the motion and sentenced defendant to 25 years’ imprisonment.

On appeal, defendant challenged the district court’s acceptance of the plea and its subsequent denial of the motion to withdraw the plea. The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause requires that a defendant knowingly and voluntarily enter a plea of guilty. Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 11(b) governs a federal district court’s duties in voluntariness determinations. Where the district court is made aware during a plea proceeding that a defendant may be experiencing a mental illness, it must consider that fact in its voluntariness determination. The extent to which the claimed mental disorder affects voluntariness depends on the totality of the circumstances, and the district court’s response under Rule 11 must address the specifics of the situation. Here, defendant told the district court that he had not been taking his medications and specifically indicated that the absence of those medications was impairing his judgment, but the district court failed to meaningfully investigate defendant’s statements by not asking follow-up questions about his medication, his underlying illness, or the effects of his not taking his medication. Consequently, it was never established that defendant entered his plea knowingly and voluntarily.

Defendant also argued that his plea was involuntary because he was overcome by mental coercion from the government and the district court’s conduct during the hearing. However, a district court does not have to reject a plea just because a defendant is having trouble making up his mind. Further, there was no evidence that the off-the-record conferences affected defendant to an extent that overbore his will, and the district court’s statements about the wisdom of the plea agreement were not coercive.

The convictions were vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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