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Wisconsin Supreme Court denies defendant plea withdrawal though trial court misstated maximum sentence

State v. Gerald D. Taylor, 2013 WI 34, on review of court of appeals certification; case activity

In a split decision, the supreme court holds that a defendant is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing under the long-established procedure established by State v. Bangert, 131 Wis. 2d 246, 389 N.W.2d 12 (1986), even though the trial court misinformed him of the maximum penalty he faced:

¶8        We hold that the defendant’s plea was entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily when the record makes clear that the defendant knew the maximum penalty that could be imposed and was verbally informed at the plea hearing of the penalty that he received. Therefore, the circuit court did not err by denying Taylor’s postconviction motion to withdraw his no contest plea.

¶9        Further, plea withdrawal “remains in the discretion of the circuit court and will not be disturbed unless the defendant shows that it is necessary to correct a manifest injustice.” State v. Cross, 2010 WI 70, ¶4, 326 Wis. 2d 492, 786 N.W.2d 64; State v. Cain, 2012 WI 68, ¶20, 342 Wis. 2d 1, 816 N.W.2d 177. Taylor has not demonstrated that withdrawal of his plea is necessary to correct a manifest injustice. Accordingly, the judgment and order of the circuit court is affirmed.

Taylor was charged with a Class H felony as a repeat offender based on prior misdemeanor convictions. (¶11). This carried a basic maximum penalty of six years of imprisonment.  The repeater allegation added two years of possible confinement, making the maximum eight years. (¶¶11, 100). At the plea colloquy, the court stated that Taylor was pleading as a repeater, but said that the maximum penalty was only six years. (¶16). Taylor was later sentenced to six years. (¶17).

Taylor moved for plea withdrawal based on the defective plea colloquy. The supreme court, departing from Bangert, denied the motion without a hearing because the charging documents, pre-plea hearings, and the plea questionnaire, showed the Taylor had been told he faced 8 years.  (¶¶15-16, 35-39). The majority holds that “on this record,” Taylor knew the correct maximum penalty was eight years and thus his plea was knowing and voluntary. (¶¶28, 39, 42, 45, 53, 54, 55).

The majority further found no manifest injustice because Taylor does not—indeed, cannot—argue that he did not enter a knowing plea to the “underlying” felony charge. (¶¶43-54).  If he had been given more than six years his remedy would be commutation of any time imposed because of the repeater allegation, not plea withdrawal. (¶45 nn. 13, 15).

Justice Prosser wrote a concurrence criticizing the majority for its separate manifest injustice analysis, saying it was unnecessary given the conclusion that the record shows Taylor’s plea was valid. (¶¶68-71).

Justices Abrahamson and Bradley dissent, concluding Taylor was entitled to an evidentiary hearing because the record, far from being clear, shows potential confusion about the maximum penalty and criticizing the majority for confusing the law governing plea withdrawal. (¶¶88-128).

Our post on the potential implications of the decision is here.

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