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Plea Withdrawal Requires Reasonable Defense

Defendant cannot withdraw his guilty plea to 12 felonies after receiving an active sentence of 38 years, the Court of Appeals says; defendant never proffered a reasonable defense to the charges which included burglary with intent to commit murder, rape or robbery with a deadly weapon.

Defendant was charged with 12 felonies including abduction, robbery and burglary with intent to commit murder, rape or robbery with a deadly weapon.  His lawyer urged him to accept a plea agreement to nolle prosequi 10 felony charges but with no agreement as to active sentence.  Defendant initially rejected the offer but was persuaded by his grandmother who visited him in jail to accept it.  Defendant represented to the trial court that his plea was made freely, intelligently and voluntarily.  About a month later, the court discovered an error in the plea agreement and granted a joint motion to correct a case number error in one of the felony charges (from 1676-12 to 1679-12); the commonwealth opted to nolle prosequi this charge as well.  Defendant refused to sign the corrected plea agreement and claimed coercion by his attorney who was granted leave to withdraw.  Defendant’s new attorney moved to withdraw his plea citing pressure from family and the original attorney and material errors.  The trial court denied the motion and convicted defendant of 11 felonies with cumulative sentences of 125 years with 87 years suspended.

On appeal, defendant contends he should have been allowed to withdraw his plea due to family pressure and the case number error without offering any reasonable defense.  We disagree.  Settled case law following Parris v. Commonwealth, 189 Va. 321 (1949), require the defendant to proffer some reasonable ground of defense before a plea can be withdrawn under Va. Code § 19.2-296.  Defendant failed to offer any reasonable defense and the trial court correctly denied his motion to withdraw his plea.

Parham  v. Commonwealth (Huff) No. 0290-13-1, Dec. 17, 2013; Newport News Cir. Ct. (Pugh) Charles E. Haden for appellant; Donald E. Jeffrey III Sr. AAG. VLW 013-7-352(UP), 7 pp.

VLW 013-7-352

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