September 9, 2016
from Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven,
Manasevit, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).
M. Ralls, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the
brief, were Michael Dearington, former state's attorney,
and Brett R. Aiello, special deputy assistant state's
attorney, for the appellee (state).
Keller and Bear, Js.
the trial court's acceptance of his guilty plea under the
Alford doctrine,  the defendant, Earl Simpson, was
convicted of murder in violation of General Statutes
§§ 53a-54a (a) and 53a-8. The defendant now appeals
from the judgment, claiming that: (1) on the basis of facts
and circumstances that were apparent to the court at the time
of the plea and which undermined a finding that the defendant
understood the nature of the charge at issue, the court
abused its discretion by denying the defendant's motion
to withdraw his plea prior to sentencing and, in the
alternative, abused its discretion by failing to conduct an
evidentiary hearing on the motion; (2) the court violated the
defendant's right to counsel by failing to address the
grievances that the defendant raised to the court concerning
his attorney and, in the alternative, abused its discretion
by failing to inquire with respect to such complaints; and
(3) the court abused its discretion by accepting the plea and
that its acceptance of the plea violated the defendant's
right to due process. We agree with the defendant that the
court improperly failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing
with respect to his motion to withdraw his plea and failed to
undertake a necessary inquiry with respect to his complaints
concerning his attorney. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment
and remand the case to the trial court for further
proceedings with respect to those issues.
following undisputed facts, which may be gleaned from the
record of the underlying proceedings, are relevant to the
claims raised in the present appeal. The defendant,
represented by counsel, entered an Alford plea in
this case on September 19, 2014. The state, by way of a long
form information, filed on June 29, 2012,  charged the
defendant in count one with felony murder under General
Statutes §§ 53a-54c and 53a-8, in count two with
murder as an accessory under §§ 53a-54a (a) and
53a-8, and in count three with robbery or attempt to commit
robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes
§ 53a-134 (a) (1). Count two stated: ‘‘And
the [State's Attorney for the Judicial District of New
Haven] further accuses [the defendant] of Murder and charges
that at the City of New Haven, on or about the 9th day of
July, 2011, at approximately 6:00 a.m., in the area of Howard
and Putnam Streets, the said [defendant] did, with intent to
cause the death of another person, to wit: John Claude James,
did shoot such person and caused the death of such person,
said conduct being in violation of [§] 53a-54a (a) and
53a-8 of the Connecticut General Statutes.''
plea canvass, the prosecutor stated that it was his
understanding that the defendant was prepared to enter an
Alford plea ‘‘on the second count of the
information charging murder.'' The court clerk,
addressing the defendant, stated in relevant part:
‘‘[Y]ou've been charged in the second count
with murder in violation of Section 53a-54a of the
Connecticut General Statutes. How do you plead, guilty or not
guilty?'' The defendant replied,
‘‘Guilty.'' The court acknowledged that
the plea was made under the Alford doctrine.
Thereafter, the defendant admitted that he had violated his
probation in violation of General Statutes § 53a-32.
prosecutor addressed the court to set forth the factual basis
underlying the plea with respect to the murder count, as
follows: ‘‘[W]ith respect to the plea on the
second count of murder, the state is prepared to prove the
following facts: On July 9, 2011, at about 6 p.m., New Haven
police officers responded to the area of Howard Avenue and
Putnam Street based upon a report of shots fired. They
located the body of John Claude James, age twenty-six. It was
evident to them that he had been shot several times. A later
autopsy determined that he had been shot five times in the
back area. All but one bullet had exited the body. They were
the investigation, a witness stated she was in her apartment
nearby. Moments after hearing the shots, Cody Franklin and
the defendant . . . ran into her apartment. Franklin said
that he had just shot someone. The witness also said [the
defendant] offered her weed to say that he and Franklin had
not been in her apartment. [The defendant] then called his
sister, Isis Hargrove, asking her to pick them up. Franklin
and the defendant . . . were a short time later seen getting
into Isis' car and leaving the area. Also, a witness told
police he saw Franklin shoot Mr. James and [the defendant]
was with Franklin at the time.
crime scene investigation resulted in the location of six
shell casings found in the immediate area where witnesses saw
the shots being fired. A ballistics examination disclosed
that five casings had been ejected from the same gun, while
the sixth casing was ejected from a different gun. Such
[evidence] is clearly consistent with there being two
shooters. Another witness told police that he saw Franklin
and [the defendant] together just before the shooting and saw
Mr. Franklin fire shots, but he did not admit that he had
seen [the defendant] fire any shots.
May 19, 2014, the defendant . . . was being interviewed by a
member of the State's Attorney's Office in Waterbury
in connection with another shooting. When asked about the
previous shooting of John Claude James, the defendant . . .
admitted that he was one of the shooters.''
the court canvassed the defendant with respect to his pleas.
During the canvass, the defendant stated that he was not
under the influence of any alcohol, drugs or medication; he
had had a sufficient opportunity prior to the plea canvass to
discuss his pleas with counsel; he was satisfied with his
counsel's advice; he was entering his
‘‘guilty plea'' and his
‘‘probation plea'' voluntarily; and
nobody was forcing or threatening him to enter the pleas. The
defendant stated that he understood the rights he was giving
up by entering his pleas, including his right against
compulsory self-incrimination, his right to a trial by jury,
and his right to confront his accusers.
following colloquy between the court and the defendant
‘‘The Court: A person violates their probation
when they are on probation and they violate the terms of it,
and you could have gotten up to three years on that. Do you
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes.
‘‘The Court: Do you agree you violated your
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes.
‘‘The Court: And on that, I'm going to
terminate [probation] at the time of sentencing. On the crime
of murder, the state would have to prove that with the intent
to cause the death of another person, you caused the death of
such person or of a third person, and that is punishable by
up to sixty years in prison, twenty-five years at the minimum
or nonsuspendable portion. Do you understand that?
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes.''
court proceeded to ask the defendant if he understood the
nature of an Alford plea and if he understood the
sentence to which he was exposed as well as the agreement in
place with the state for a sentence of thirty-two and
one-half years imprisonment, with a twenty-five year minimum
sentence. The defendant stated that he understood these
matters and that no additional promises had been made to him
with respect to the pleas. The court stated:
‘‘Once I accept these pleas, you can't change
your mind later on unless there's some valid legal
reason. Do you understand that?'' The defendant
replied affirmatively. At the conclusion of the canvass, the
defendant stated that he had understood the questions
directed to him by the court and that there was nothing that
he wished to raise to the court or his attorney prior to the
court's acceptance of the pleas.
court accepted the defendant's pleas, finding that they
were ‘‘understandably made with the assistance of
competent counsel.'' The court found that the
defendant was ‘‘guilty'' and that he had
violated his probation. The court then continued the matter
to a later date.
handwritten letter dated October 27, 2014, and addressed to
the court, the defendant stated that he wanted to withdraw
his plea and that he desired a new attorney. In relevant
part, the letter, signed by the defendant, stated:
‘‘I request to withdraw my guilty plea. I have a
legitimate claim. I am not guilty of murder. I am claiming
ineffective counsel. I was not explained all elements of the
crime of murder. There was no testimony at Cody
Franklin's trial that I assisted, aided, or conspiracy.
There was no intent on my part. The mere fact that I did not
assist and help Cody Franklin from the testimony of the state
witnesses is enough to have the charges against me dismissed.
my attorney investigated and told me all the facts I
wouldn't have pled guilty to a charge that I didn't
commit. I felt pressured to take the plea because I was told
I had ‘no chance' of winning [at] trial.
Individuals trying to say I confessed to things I did not. I
didn't sign anything or state anything on the record.
(Absent this so-called confession.)
need a new attorney and I need for him to request a
‘Motion to Vacate' and a ‘evidentiary
hearing.' My counsel also failed to file a ‘Motion
to Dismiss' the murder charges after the Cody Franklin
trial. Please look into this matter.''
the defendant wrote: ‘‘My attorney never told me
the difference between accessory after the fact and
obstruction of justice, and aiding and abetting. I never and
did not encourage, and or facilitate or participate in the
[crime] by the testimony of the state witness. I had
‘no' knowledge that anyone was going to kill
anyone. I request a new attorney and to withdraw my plea.
Also a evidence hearing on this matter. Ineffective
assistance and evidence hearing. Please withdraw my plea. I
couldn't make an intelligent decision. Please look into
December 4, 2014, through counsel, the defendant filed a
motion to withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to Practice Book
§§ 39-26 and 39-27. In relevant part, the motion
stated: ‘‘In subsequent written and oral
communications between the defendant and undersigned counsel,
the defendant has indicated he did not possess knowledge or
fully understand the sentence that could be imposed or the
consequences thereto at the time he entered the guilty
plea.'' The state filed a written opposition to the
defendant's motion. Therein, the state asserted that the
transcript of the plea canvass of September 19, 2014,
reflected that, in compliance with Practice Book §
39-19, the court addressed the defendant with regard to the
mandatory minimum sentence and maximum possible sentence on
the charge. The state directed the court's attention to
the portion of the transcript in which the court indicated,
and the defendant verbally acknowledged, that the total
sentence exposure on the charges of murder and violation of
probation was sixty-three years' incarceration, with
twenty-five years being nonsuspendable. Moreover, the state
argued, the transcript reflected that the defendant
understood that, pursuant to the plea agreement, he would
serve a minimum term of incarceration of twenty-five years
and a maximum term of incarceration of thirty-two and
one-half years. The state argued that the plea transcript
reflected that the defendant understood the sentence to be
imposed, that the defendant's motion should be denied,
and that an evidentiary hearing on the motion was not
second handwritten letter, dated December 8, 2014, and
addressed to the court, the defendant renewed his request to
withdraw his plea and for new counsel. The letter, signed by
the defendant, stated in relevant part: ‘‘[T]here
are a few things I would like to bring to your attention.
First and foremost, I was in (special aid) in school and
didn't have enough time to be fully explained anything
about my charges. I just came and it was on the table.
(Accept or reject.) My lawyer never explained the full
conditions to . . . such charge I was supposed to plea to in
which any evidence points to me as an accessory to. I never
had a legal visit or anything. I would really like to take
this plea back. My lawyer talked me into something I
didn't want to do. I was confused. When I came to court
I've told him this personally and that I would like a new
lawyer. (Ineffective counsel.) He didn't put any motions
in to try to get any hearings when I asked for some. When I
was explained about my charge after the fact I told him to
withdraw my plea. He wants to wait until after the last
minute going against my wishes. This is my life on the line
and I would like to withdraw and go to trial. Because I'm
not responsible for this charge that's against me. Please
I would really appreciate it a lot. Also requesting a new
lawyer. I told my old lawyer, Thomas Farver, [that] I wanted
to request a new one and I don't think he put it in and
went around what I said. I have [a] court [appearance] on
December 19, 2014 that is supposed to be a sentencing date. I
really hope you grant the motion for my plea to be
defendant, represented by counsel, appeared in court on
December 19, 2014, for sentencing. At the beginning of the
hearing, the court stated: ‘‘I know the defendant
had sent some letters to me which seemed to indicate that,
possibly, he was interested in withdrawing his
plea.'' The court did not inquire into the
defendant's claim that he had not been apprised of the
nature of the charge to which he had pleaded guilty. The
court, however, referred to the motion to withdraw that was
filed on the defendant's behalf by his attorney. The
following colloquy then occurred:
‘‘The Court: So, I guess I should . . . ask [the
defendant] . . . is he still pursuing a motion to withdraw
this plea? . . .
‘‘[The Defendant]: Mm-hm. Yes.
‘‘The Court: All right. And the basis I just read
that your lawyer put in [the motion to withdraw the plea], is
that . . . you did not possess knowledge or fully understand
the sentence or the consequences thereto?
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes.
‘‘The Court: All right. Do you want . . . to
explain it any more than that? Why is it you . . . want to
withdraw your plea?
‘‘[The Defendant]: Why do I want to-because I
feel like everything wasn't explained. It was, like, as
soon as I got to court, boom, it's just like . . . take
this right now. You go to trial, you losing. It was like I
was forced to take it. I felt like I was forced to take the
‘‘The Court: And who forced you to take the plea;
the system, you mean, or the court or-
‘‘[The Defendant]: No, my lawyer.
‘‘The Court: Your lawyer, how did he force you?
‘‘[The Defendant]: It's like, he told me
right there, if I don't take it . . . I'm gonna lose;