In re Dunham

In In re Dunham, 144 Vt. 444, 479 A.2d 144 (1984), the defendant pled to second degree murder for his role involving the murder of an accomplice to an earlier attempted burglary. At the change-of-plea hearing, a written plea agreement was submitted to the court, in which defendant agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder and to testify against another defendant charged with the same murder, in exchange for an agreed-upon sentence. At the hearing, the prosecutor read into the record a description of the events constituting the offense charged. After presenting a description of the events immediately preceding the murder, the defendant testified briefly as to what he saw and did during that time. After defendant testified, the prosecutor requested that the court inquire as to the willfulness element of second degree murder, because the prosecutor did not believe the defendant's testimony had established this element. The record showed that there was no further inquiry made of defendant, and that the prosecutor's request went unanswered. Dunham, 144 Vt. at 445-47, 479 A.2d at 145-46. The Court reversed, vacating the judgment and sentence imposed, and granting defendant leave to withdraw his guilty plea. In so doing, the Court recognized that the court failed to comply with Rule 11(f) by not establishing a "factual basis for the willful element of second degree murder." Id. at 448, 479 A.2d at 147. The Court held that: "Since the defendant's understanding of the elements of an offense as applied to the facts goes directly to the voluntariness of the plea, the record must affirmatively show sufficient facts to satisfy each element of an offense. The requirement of V.R.Cr.P. 11(f) involves an understanding by the defendant that the conduct admitted violates the law as explained to him by the court." Id. at 451, 479 A.2d at 148. In In re Dunham, a post-conviction-relief proceeding in which petitioner attacked a guilty plea because of noncompliance with Rule 11(f), the Court held: "Unlike collateral review of alleged defects under V.R.Cr.P. 11(c), which places a burden of proving prejudice upon the defendant, collateral attacks for defects under Rule 11(f) require no showing of prejudice."