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Defendant didn’t show his mental illness rendered his guilty plea invalid

State v. Douglas E. Hanson, 2014AP623-CR, District 4, 12/11/14 (1-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Hanson failed to present sufficient credible evidence that he did not understand the consequences of pleading guilty to second offense OWI.

After engaging Hanson in the standard colloquy the circuit court accepted his guilty plea and proceeded to sentencing. During sentencing, Hanson’s lawyer noted Hanson was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and said the circumstances surrounding the field sobriety tests were “very confusing and confounding” to Hanson. Shortly after sentencing, Hanson went to his trial lawyer’s office, appeared to be distraught and to have made a “180-degree change,” and accused his lawyer of tricking him into entering the plea. (¶¶9-12).

Hanson filed a plea withdrawal motion, and at a hearing on the motion Hanson’s  sister testified about his limited ability to understand simple information and his increasing episodes of paranoia around the time the case was pending. (¶¶12-13). The circuit court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirms:

¶20      …. The testimony presented at the postconviction hearing was insufficient to establish that Hanson’s mental condition resulted in him not knowing or understanding the consequences of entering his plea. It is undisputed that, prior to Hanson entering a plea, Hanson’s attorney went over the required documents with Hanson, line by line, and that Hanson stated that he understood those documents. At the plea hearing, Hanson was given an opportunity to ask questions, and the court even asked about his mental condition and whether he was taking any medication. The circuit court’s finding that the record and the testimony provided does not contain evidence that supports Hanson’s claim that his plea was not knowing, voluntary or intelligent is not clearly erroneous.

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¶22      It is true that Hanson’s sister testified about Hanson’s mental illness and how his mental illness allegedly affects his ability to process uncomplicated information in general. But … Hanson’s sister is not qualified to give an expert opinion on whether Hanson’s mental illness affected his ability to understand the rights that he was waiving by entering a guilty plea and the consequences of doing so on the day he entered his plea. ….

¶23      Based on our review of the record, we agree with the court that, aside from [Hanson’s sister’s] general testimony regarding Hanson’s difficulties with managing the ordinary affairs of life because of his mental illness, there is nothing specific in the record regarding Hanson’s relative ability to understand what transpired during the plea hearing or prior to entering his guilty plea.  ….

The circuit court premised its findings in part on the lack of expert medical evidence regarding Hanson’s mental illness and how it affected Hanson’s ability to know or understand the information necessary to make his plea knowing and voluntary. (¶¶15, 21). Hanson argues that expert medical evidence was unnecessary because he is not claiming to be legally incompetent. The court of appeals doesn’t decide whether medical expert testimony was necessary, but simply concludes the testimony that was presented was insufficient to establish that Hanson’s mental illness made his unknowing or involuntary. (¶21).

Hanson also claimed trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress evidence based on an unlawful arrest because, due to the conditions at the site of the traffic stop, police took Hanson to a police garage about a mile away to conduct field sobriety tests. (¶¶3-6). After hearing evidence at the postconviction hearing the circuit court concluded that taking Hanson to the police garage didn’t constitute an arrest. (¶7).

On appeal Hanson argues that had counsel timely moved to suppress the evidence, a suppression hearing would have been held early in the proceedings and memories of key witnesses would have been fresher and more accurate. The court of appeals rejects this claim, as the record shows that regardless of when the officer would have provided testimony his testimony is consistent with his police report, and Hanson doesn’t explain what evidence would have been presented had a hearing been conducted earlier or how that evidence would have led to the court granting Hanson’s motion. (¶¶25-30).

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