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State v. Morris

Supreme Court of Kansas

March 7, 2014

STATE OF KANSAS, Appellee,
v.
ANDREW H. MORRIS, Appellant

Page 540

Appeal from Crawford District Court; DONALD R. NOLAND, judge.

SYLLABUS

BY THE COURT

On the record in this case, the district judge did not abuse his discretion in denying the defendant's postsentencing motion to withdraw his no contest pleas to two counts of felony murder and one count of aggravated arson.

Meryl Carver-Allmond, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

Natalie A. Chalmers, assistant solicitor general, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellee.

Page 541

OPINION

BEIER, J.:

Defendant Andrew H. Morris is imprisoned after conviction on two counts of felony murder and one count of aggravated arson. Although all involved in Morris' sentencing--the prosecution, the defense, and the district court judge--recommended that Morris serve his time in a security hospital, the Department of Corrections has chosen to house him in one of Kansas' penitentiaries. This appeal arises out of the denial of Morris' motion to withdraw his no contest pleas to the three charges. Morris argues that the denial was an abuse of discretion.

Factual and Procedural Background

At least the opening elements of the factual and procedural context helpful to decide this case can be borrowed from our earlier decision on Morris' direct appeal of the consecutive nature of his felony-murder sentences:

" The State charged Andrew Morris with two counts of felony murder in violation of K.S.A. 21-3401(b) and one count of aggravated arson in violation of K.S.A. 21-3719 for setting fire to a home in Pittsburg, Kansas, on February 11, 2006. Two people inside the home, Waylon S. Boots and Stephen J. Hayes, died as a result of the fire.
" Prior to trial, the court ordered Morris to undergo a psychological examination to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. On May 30, 2006, the [298 Kan. 1092] court found Morris incompetent to stand trial and ordered him committed to Larned State Security Hospital (LSSH) for a 90-day examination to determine whether

Page 542

Morris may attain competency to stand trial in the foreseeable future.
" On August 24, 2006, the trial court found that, based on the information from LSSH, Morris had a substantial probability of attaining competency to stand trial. The court further ordered Morris to remain at LSSH for an additional 6 months, at which time the court would again take up the issue of Morris' competency for trial. Morris remained at LSSH until November 16, 2006, when LSSH discharged him with a recommendation to the court that it find him competent to stand trial. On April 2, 2007, the trial court again found Morris incompetent and ordered him committed to LSSH. Morris remained at LSSH until October 23, 2007, when it discharged him with another recommendation to the court that it find Morris competent to stand trial. The trial court held a competency hearing on January 24 and 30, 2008, and, after hearing all the evidence, took the matter under advisement. On February 20, 2008, after reciting its extensive findings, the court announced its determination that Morris was competent to stand trial.
" On April 21, 2008, the trial court held the preliminary hearing, finding probable cause to believe Morris committed the crimes of felony murder and aggravated arson. On June 27, 2008, at arraignment, Morris pleaded not guilty on all counts and the court set the matter for trial." State v. Morris, 233 P.3d 744, 2010 WL 2816241, at *1 (Kan. 2010) (unpublished opinion).

On November 7, 2008, defense counsel Edward Dosh filed a motion to suppress incriminating statements Morris had made to investigators, including his confession to setting the fire. The motion alleged that investigators failed to inform Morris of his Miranda rights and argued that the statements were uninformed and involuntary. Attached to the motion was a report by a licensed psychologist who had concluded that Morris was incapable, under the circumstances, of knowingly and intelligently waiving his Miranda rights.

Before the motion to suppress was heard, on November 14, 2008, Morris entered into a plea agreement with the State. Under that agreement, he would plead no contest to the three charges. In exchange, the State would recommend that the life sentences for the felony murders run concurrently and that the " Court recommend to the Secretary of Corrections that [Morris] be placed in a secure mental health facility to serve [his] sentence."

The plea agreement contained the following paragraph:

" I offer my plea of 'NO CONTEST' freely and voluntarily, and further state that my plea of no contest is not the result of any force or threats against me, or of any promises made to me other than those noted in this petition."

[298 Kan. 1093] At the plea hearing, the judge explained the charges Morris was facing, described the maximum punishment allowable for each, and heard Morris' pleas of no contest. The judge and Morris then engaged in the following colloquy:

" THE COURT: Okay. Now, I'm going to ask you some questions, Mr. Morris, to make certain that your three pleas of no contest are knowing and voluntary. That is I want to make sure that you understand what you are doing when you plead no contest to these three charges. And I want to make sure that you are doing this voluntarily, that is that nobody is forcing you to enter into these pleas of no contest against your will. Do you understand that?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: And, again, if I ask you something or if I say something or if I use some words that you don't understand, you need to tell me that, and I will further repeat myself. You can always consult or talk to your lawyer Mr. Dosh. Do you understand that?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: Now, let me ask you this. Are you pleading no contest to each of these three charges knowingly and voluntarily?

Page 543

" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: Are you doing this of your own free will?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: Have you had enough time to talk to Mr. Dosh, your lawyer, about your decision to plead no contest to these three charges?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: Now, let me explain--let me explain a no contest plea. A guilty plea is when you admit that you did this, did these three crimes, that you committed these three crimes. You come into Court and you say, Judge, I'm going to plead guilty. I admit that I committed these three crimes. Do you understand that?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: A no contest plea, however, you are not saying you are guilty but you are not saying you are innocent. When you plead no contest, you are telling me, Judge, I do not contest these three charges. I--I'm giving you--I'm allowing you to find me guilty based upon my pleas of no contest. I'm not going to contest the charges. I'm not going to fight it. I'm not going to go to trial. I'm just going to plead no contest and, in doing so, I'm going to allow you to enter a finding of guilty against me on these three charges.
" So when you plead no contest, you are not pleading guilty but you are going to be found guilty if I accept your pleas and when you are sentenced, you will be sentenced as a guilty person. Do you understand me?
" [THE DEFENDANT]: Yes, Your Honor.
[298 Kan. 1094] " [THE COURT]: Now, knowing that you are going to be found guilty if I accept your pleas of no contest, knowing that you are going to be found guilty, do you still desire to follow through with your pleas of no contest?
" [THE DEFENDANT]: Yes, Your Honor.
[District judge explaining rights defendant waives when pleading no contest.]
" THE COURT: Now, when you plead no contest, do you understand a trial will not be conducted?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: So you give up your right to trial and you give up all of those rights that I just told you about. Do you understand that?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: Now, are you giving up your right to trial and all of those rights freely and voluntarily?
" THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: Now, do you understand that when I say freely and voluntarily, I mean this is a product--that you are doing it of your own accord. Nobody is forcing you to do this. Do you understand that?
" THE DEFENDANT[:] Yes, Your Honor.
" THE COURT: And you are doing this freely; is that correct? And if I'm incorrect, you ...

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