Friday, May 08, 2009

Can't use uncounseled misdemeanors for enhancement

Michelle Davis won in State v. Youngblood, No. 96,850 (Kan. May 8, 2009), reversing a Harvey County conviction for second-time possession of a hallucinogenic drug. The critical issue was whether the distrrict court could use a prior municipal conviction for enhancement purposes. There were two issues: (1) did the state prove waiver of counsel and (2) did Mr. Youngblood have a right to counsel? On the first issue, the KSC held that the state had failed to prove a waiver:
Defense counsel asked the municipal judge whether he had any independent recollection of whether Youngblood waived counsel on the day he pled or whether he waited to waive counsel until he signed the waiver form on November 1. The judge responded that he had "the general gist of the conversation with Mr. Youngblood in going through the standards, having done it hundreds of times with that inquiry but in terms of the exact quote of what he said, no. I don't." Again, no clarification was sought as to what "standards" the witness was referring or the nature and extent of the "inquiry" the municipal judge had made hundreds of times.

Apparently, the State would have us accept on faith that the municipal judge's standard procedure includes sufficiently informing the defendant of his or her rights, so as to meet the criteria for a valid waiver. However, [In re Application of Gilchrist, 238 Kan. 202, 208, 708 P.2d 977 (1985)] stressed the need to have either a record of the court proceedings in which a criminal defendant waives the right to counsel or a written waiver of counsel "for the purpose of proving an accused was properly advised of his rights and that he knowingly and intelligently waived those rights."

It is not enough to show that Youngblood, after the fact, corroborated that he had waived counsel. The State must also prove that the initial waiver was properly obtained after appropriate advice as to the right to counsel, i.e., that the plea hearing waiver was knowingly and intelligently made. A post-sentencing written waiver will not legitimize an invalid pre-plea waiver.

On the second point, the KSC applied Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654 (2002),a fairly recent SCOTUS decision, and held that even though Mr. Youngblood was not required to serve the suspended sentence in the prior municipal case, the suspended sentence was sufficient to trigger the right to counsel.
Youngblood was entitled to counsel when the municipal court found him guilty and sentenced him to a prison term, even though the jail time was conditioned upon probation. The denial of that right to counsel renders the uncounseled misdemeanor conviction in municipal court unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment. Accordingly, the unconstitutional conviction could not be collaterally used in district court for sentence enhancement. Youngblood's conviction for felony possession of hallucinogenic drugs is reversed.

This seems to be an accurate application of Shelton.

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