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State v. Harper

State v. Harper, 2020 UT App 84 (Harris, J.)

Criminal

The defendant pleaded guilty to stalking his ex-girlfriend with the understanding that he would not serve any jail time and would, instead, be sentenced to probation. The district court sentenced him to jail, and the defendant appealed, raising two issues. First, he argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to clarify its position regarding the plea bargain. Second, he argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to withdraw his plea. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • The ineffective assistance of counsel claim is unpreserved in the district court. Under the terms of the Plea Withdrawal Statute, any such claim must be brought, if at all, in a post-conviction proceeding.
  • The district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the defendant the opportunity to withdraw his plea. First, a plea bargain is not an ironclad guarantee, and a district court is not bound by its terms. Utah R. Crim. Proc. 11(i) allows a district court to weigh in prior to entry of plea. But the defendant did not avail himself of that rule. Second, the defendant’s plea did not include a guarantee of probation in the first instance, and the defendant acknowledged so at his plea hearing. Third, although the language of the plea agreement is arguably ambiguous, the defendant failed to present to helpful evidence to the district court that would allow the court of appeals to utilize extrinsic evidence to understand the intent of the drafters. Furthermore, after he entered his plea deal, the defendant was arrested again and charged with two felony counts, pleading guilty to one. That relieved the State of any obligation it might have had to advocate for probation.

Read the full court opinion

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