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Guilty Plea Colloquy: Party-to-a-Crime Liability

State v. Calvin L. Brown, 2012 WI 139 (recommended for publication); case activity

A guilty plea colloquy need not include an explanation of ptac liability when the defendant directly committed the crime:

¶13      …  Although the trial court did not explain that, by directly committing the La Quinta robbery, Brown was “concerned” in its commission as defined by the party to a crime statute, it did explain the elements of the crime that Brown directly committed.  We therefore agree with the trial court that because the elements of direct liability for the La Quinta robbery were in fact explained, and because Brown admitted the facts demonstrating his direct liability—including that he threatened the hotel clerk with a knife, demanded money, and took approximately $170 from the cash drawer—it was not necessary in this circumstance for the trial court to additionally explain the concept of party to a crime liability.

¶15      We therefore conclude that, because an explanation of party to a crime liability in this particular circumstance would have been superfluous, the trial court did not err by failing to explain party to a crime liability during Brown’s plea hearing, and did not err in denying Brown’s postconviction motion without an evidentiary hearing.  See Allen, 274 Wis. 2d 568, ¶9.  Accordingly, we affirm.

The court stresses that, had he taken more “limited” (i.e., vicarious or accomplice) responsibility, Brown would have to have been aware of ptac liability, ¶14. Contrast, albeit undiscussed by the court, State v. Howell, 2007 WI 75, ¶¶40-50, 301 Wis. 2d 350, 734 N.W.2d 48 (colloquy held defective because “the circuit court failed to explain party-to-a-crime liability adequately” during plea colloquy, given that guilt was indeed premised on such liability). For further discussion on this point, see Nash v. Israel, 707 F.2d 298, 303 (7th Cir. 1983) (“At a minimum, the trial judge should have explained how Nash could be charged with and convicted of first degree murder when he did not directly commit the crime. He should have included adequate explanation of the elements of aiding and abetting and conspiring to commit the crime, and of how Nash’s conduct fell within the purview of one or both of these definitions.”)

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