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Washington Appellate Court Allows Man to Withdraw Guilty Plea in Third-Degree Assault Case

On Behalf of | Dec 15, 2015 | Assault

The Court of Appeals of Washington, Division Two has ruled that a superior court committed error when it denied a defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea of guilty in a third-degree assault case. In an unpublished opinion, a security guard apparently attempted to stop a man from shoplifting at a Cowlitz County retail store. In response, the purported shoplifter clenched his fist and pushed the guard in an attempt to break free.

In the store parking lot, another man knocked the purported shoplifter to the ground with his vehicle. After that, the driver pursued the accused man when he got up to run away. The man then allegedly brandished a knife and acted as if he was going to throw it at the driver. The driver ultimately stopped pursuing the accused shoplifter, and police later arrested the man.

Following the man’s arrest, he entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to one count of second-degree robbery and two counts of third-degree assault. On the same day, the State of Washington amended the charges previously filed against the defendant to include the crimes to which he pleaded guilty. After accepting his plea, a superior court sentenced the defendant to serve 34 months in prison.

About four months after he was sentenced, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Among other things, the defendant argued that he received ineffective legal assistance, and his guilty plea with regard to the assault charge lacked a factual basis. After the court appointed a new lawyer for the defendant, his former attorney offered testimony regarding the information he provided to the man and his willingness to negotiate a plea deal. The man’s former lawyer also indicated that he misunderstood the legal requirements for robbery and failed to inform the defendant that a robbery victim must have a possessory interest in a stolen item, which the men involved in the purported shoplifting altercation both lacked. The defendant then testified that he would not have accepted the plea agreement if he had known that he potentially faced only 36 months in prison without the legally insufficient robbery charge. The man also indicated that he understood the terms of his plea agreement.

After the superior court denied the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea, the man filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division Two. On appeal, the court first ruled that the defendant’s third-degree assault plea was involuntary because the evidence included in the record failed to establish that the defendant “understood the law, the facts, and the relationship between the two.” Additionally, the court stated there was no factual basis to support the conclusion that the man committed assault in order to avoid lawful apprehension, as asserted by the State of Washington.

Next, the appellate court said the defendant’s plea deal constituted one indivisible proceeding. As a result, the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division Two held the defendant should have been permitted to withdraw his entire plea agreement, since the man pleaded guilty to third-degree assault involuntarily. Finally, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s ruling on the motion and remanded the case with instructions to allow the man to withdraw his guilty plea.

If you were accused of committing assault or another crime in Washington, you are advised to contact an experienced Seattle Tacoma criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. To discuss your rights with a hardworking Olympia criminal attorney, do not hesitate to call the Law Offices of Smith & White whether you are in Olympia, Port Orchard, Kent or Tacoma, Contact us at 253-363-8662. You may also contact the dedicated advocates at the Law Offices of Smith & White online.