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Guilty Pleas – Required Knowledge — Understanding Nature of Charge – Colloquy, Generally

State v. Andrae D. Howell, 2007 WI 75, reversing 2006 WI App 182
For Howell: Ellen Henak, SPD, Milwaukee Appellate

Issue/Holding: The defendant’s understanding of the charge must be detailed, in anon-perfunctory manner, on the record of the guilty plea:

¶52      The circuit court did not establish Howell’s understanding of the information it relayed to Howell by personally questioning him. Rather than asking Howell to summarize his understanding, the circuit court asked him questions that required simple “yes” or “no” responses.

¶53      As we explained in Bangert, “[a] defendant’s mere affirmative response that he understands the nature of the charge, without establishing his knowledge of the nature of the charge, submits more to a perfunctory procedure rather than to the constitutional standard that a plea be affirmatively shown to be voluntarily and intelligently made.” [30] By referring simply to Howell’s “assistance” in the crime and asking Howell for only a single word response, the circuit court did not appropriately ascertain Howell’s understanding. A defendant must “at some point [have] expressed his knowledge of the nature of the charge” to satisfy the requirement of Wis. Stat. § 971.08. [31]

¶54      The circuit court did not establish that Howell was properly advised of the nature of the charge by his trial counsel. The circuit court asked Howell’s trial counsel only whether he was satisfied that Howell was entering the guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily, to which counsel answered “yes.” This question by the circuit court and Howell’s trial counsel’s response were not adequate. “A statement from defense counsel that he has reviewed the elements of the charge, without some summary of the elements or detailed description of the conversation, cannot constitute an ‘affirmative showing that the nature of the crime has been communicated.'” [32]

¶55      We thus agree with Howell that, as demonstrated by the record, the plea colloquy was defective in that the circuit court failed to inform Howell of the nature of the charge and failed to ascertain Howell’s understanding of the nature of the party-to-a-crime charge.

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