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State v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Kansas

February 16, 2018

State of Kansas, Appellee,
Chad M. Johnson, Appellant.


         1. In the context of a motion to withdraw a plea, courts in this state generally consider three nonexclusive factors when judging whether a movant has established manifest injustice: (1) whether the defendant was represented by competent counsel; (2) whether the defendant was misled, coerced, mistreated, or unfairly taken advantage of; and (3) whether the plea was fairly and understandingly made.

         2. When a postsentence motion to withdraw a plea alleges ineffective assistance of counsel, the constitutional test for ineffective assistance must be met to establish manifest injustice.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed March 6, 2015.

Appeal from Reno District Court; Trish Rose, judge.

          Christina M. Kerls, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, was on the brief for appellant.

          Keith E. Schroeder, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellee.


          Stegall, J.

         Chad M. Johnson appeals the district court's denial of his postsentencing motion to withdraw pleas. He contends he should have been permitted to withdraw his pleas for three reasons: (1) his counsel and the court did not adequately inform him of the registration required by the Kansas Offender Registration Act (KORA), K.S.A. 22-4901 et seq., or the maximum sentence he could receive if he pled; (2) his attorney misled him regarding the State's position on probation; and (3) his attorney failed to investigate the underlying facts and failed to adequately research possible defenses. For the reasons set forth below, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Johnson's motion. Accordingly, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The State charged Johnson in case 07 CR 368 with one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell (his second such offense), one count of criminal possession of a firearm, and two other drug-related charges. Johnson later entered into a plea agreement with the State. He agreed to plead guilty to the possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell charge, as well as the criminal possession of firearm charge. In exchange, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining counts; not oppose a downward dispositional departure to probation; and recommend that the court impose concurrent sentences.

         On August 1, 2008, the district court conducted the plea hearing. At the outset of the hearing, Thomas Stanton-the prosecutor-explained the parties' agreement to the court. Afterwards, the court confirmed with Johnson that this was indeed their agreement, and Johnson pled guilty to the two counts.

         Before the court could sentence Johnson at a later date, law enforcement officers arrested Johnson for possession of methamphetamine. The State then charged Johnson in case 08 CR 790 with possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell (his third such offense).

         It appears the attorneys and the court handling the first case did not become aware of Johnson's post-plea arrest until the sentencing hearing in 07 CR 368 held on September 26, 2008. As the court was announcing Johnson's sentence, Stanton interjected to inform the court that he had just learned that Johnson had been arrested again for possession of methamphetamine. Donald Snapp-Johnson's attorney-told the court he was unaware of the arrest. The court thus postponed the sentencing hearing to consider the new information.

         Before the court could proceed with sentencing Johnson moved to withdraw his plea. The motion alleged the State previously agreed to recommend a dispositional departure to probation. It further stated that Johnson maintained his innocence and he wished to submit his case to a jury. A while later, Snapp moved to withdraw as Johnson's counsel, reasoning that because he negotiated the plea agreement that was now in dispute, he was a potential witness. At a hearing on Snapp's motion, Stanton told the court that he was "not backing off of [the] agreement" and that he wished to proceed with sentencing. The court noted that "the State is not attempting to withdraw from the agreement" and asked Snapp whether "that change[s] the motion for withdrawal of plea, or are you still opposing on the ground your client does not believe he is guilty?" Snapp told the court that Johnson believed his case should have proceeded to a jury trial. Thereafter, the court permitted Snapp to withdraw and appointed Shannon Crane to represent Johnson.

          Following her appointment, Crane filed an amended motion to withdraw plea in which Johnson "acknowledge[d] the State is not recommending prison, but maintain[ed] the State's actions at the sentencing hearing inherently violated the spirit of the plea agreement." The motion also claimed that Johnson had ineffective assistance of counsel prior to acceptance of the plea.

         In August 2009, Johnson fled to Arizona. Authorities apprehended Johnson in June 2010 and extradited him to Kansas. Upon his return, Crane negotiated a new plea deal for Johnson in both cases 07 CR 368 and 08 CR 790. Stanton later orally recited the agreement, which was not in writing:

"Mr. Stanton: . . . My understanding [of the plea agreement] is as follows: The defendant had filed a motion to withdraw his plea in 07 CR 368. That motion to withdraw his plea will be withdrawn.
". . . The defendant will plead guilty as charged in [08 CR 790] to the one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell . . . . The parties will request that both cases be set over for a special sentencing date, not on a Friday morning-
"The Court: Okay.
"Mr. Stanton: -for sentencing. The agreement is that the parties will recommend that the sentences in Case Number 07 CR 368 run concurrent with the sentence in Case Number 08 CR 790. The parties believe based on the defendant's last PSI in 07 CR 368 that he will be criminal history category C. The, the parties will recommend the midrange sentence, which is, I believe, 178 months. Is that correct?
"Ms. Crane: That sounds correct.
"Mr. Stanton: And that will be the controlling sentence for both cases. Upon successful entry of that, of the plea in 08 CR 790, the state will dismiss Case Number 09 CR 911, which is an agg[ravated] failure to appear case.
"The defendant reserves the right to file a motion for downward dispositional departure. . . . The state at this point in time is taking the position that I will oppose that downward departure subject to anything, of course, that happens between now and the time of sentencing. That might change my, my opinion, but at this point the defendant realizes that my position is going to be that he go and serve that 178 months in the Department of Corrections.
"The Court: Shannon?
"Ms. Crane: Yes, Your Honor, I believe that is our, our agreement. At this time I cannot think of anything that [the State] has left off.
. . . .
"Ms. Crane: We would just ask the court to approve the agreement that we have. We would withdraw our motion to withdraw plea.
"The Court: So the motion to withdraw plea in 07 CR 368 is withdrawn?
"Ms. Crane: That's correct, Your Honor.
"The Court: Is that what you want to do, ...

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