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Mother’s no-contest plea in TPR was knowing and voluntary

State v. Connie P., 2013AP2854, District 1, July 1, 2014 (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

Connie’s no-contest plea at the grounds phase of her TPR proceeding was knowing and voluntary despite her post-termination assertion that she was unduly influenced by the trial court’s comments before the scheduled trial and by the decision of her child’s father, Ray, to stipulate to grounds for termination.

While awaiting the jury panel on the morning of the grounds trial, the judge made comments to Connie and Ray about the TPR process that, while assuring them they could have a trial if they wanted, also suggested they consider foregoing a grounds trial and instead argue their case at disposition. The court told them to “think about” what to do and then took a short break, after which Ray stipulated to a ground for termination and Connie pleaded no contest to the same ground. (¶¶6-7).

The thorough colloquy at the time of the plea show the trial court fulfilled its duties under § 48.422(7), and Connie’s own admission at the post-termination hearing shows she understood the consequences of her plea and voluntarily entered that plea. (¶¶16-21, 23-26).

22      The crux of Connie’s argument is that, as a cognitively disabled adult, she was particularly perceptible to coercion and that both the trial court’s statements prior to her plea and Ray’s decision to forgo a trial improperly influenced her decision to plead no contest. However, even if we were to accept that argument as sufficient to establish a prima facie showing that she did not know or understand the information provided by the trial court, the State has demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that Connie’s decision to plead no contest was made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.

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