Kennedy v. Frazier
In Kennedy v. Frazier, 178 W. Va. 10, 357 S.E.2d 43 (1987), the defendant was indicted on delivery of marijuana and delivery of oxycodone.
Under a plea agreement reached with the prosecutor, the defendant would plead guilty to delivery of marijuana in return for a dismissal of the second delivery count in the indictment.
Additionally, the prosecution agreed not to seek an enhanced sentence. 178 W. Va. at 10, 357 S.E.2d at 43.
The trial court in Frazier accepted the guilty plea initially and sent the matter to the probation department for a pre-sentence investigation. The pre-sentence report contained statements by the defendant indicating that he had been entrapped and that improper sexual advances had been made toward him by a police officer.
After reviewing this report, the trial court rejected the plea agreement and scheduled the matter for trial, stating, in part, that "it's not my desire to send somebody to the penitentiary who is not guilty, who has been pressured, under the circumstances that he alleges in his statement to the probation officer . . ., by the police officers.'" Id. at 12, 357 S.E.2d at 44-45.
Based upon this ruling, the defendant sought a writ of prohibition to require the trial court to accept his guilty plea.
The Court concluded in Frazier that the trial court abused its discretion in rejecting the plea agreement and issued the requested writ. 178 W. Va. at 12 and 13, 357 S.E.2d at 45 and 46.
In reaching this conclusion, we relied upon the decision of the United States Supreme Court in North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970).
The Court specifically acknowledged that Alford "stands for the proposition that a guilty plea that represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternatives available to a defendant is not coerced within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment simply because it was entered into to avoid the possibility of a significantly higher penalty." 178 W. Va. at 12, 357 S.E.2d at 45.
The Court further stated that:
"the Supreme Court in Alford held that there is no bar to imposing a prison sentence upon an accused who is unwilling to admit guilt but who is willing to waive trial and accept the sentence. An accused may voluntarily, knowingly and understandingly consent to the imposition of a prison sentence even though he is unwilling to admit participation in the crime, if he intelligently concludes that his interests require a guilty plea and the record supports the conclusion that a jury could convict him." Id.
Finally, the Court opined that "because guilt, or the degree of guilt, is at times uncertain and elusive, an accused, though believing in or entertaining doubts respecting his innocence, might reasonably conclude a jury would be convinced of his guilt and that he would fare better in the sentence by pleading guilty." Id. at 13, 357 S.E.2d at 46.
The Court ultimately held in syllabus points one and two of Frazier, that:
An accused may voluntarily, knowingly and understandingly consent to the imposition of a prison sentence even though he is unwilling to admit participation in the crime, if he intelligently concludes that his interests require a guilty plea and the record supports the conclusion that a jury could convict him.
Although a judge would be remiss to accept a guilty plea under circumstances where the weight of the evidence indicates a complete lack of guilt, a court should not force any defense on a defendant in a criminal case, particularly when advancement of the defense might end in disaster. (Id. at 10, 357 S.E.2d at 43, Syl. Pts. 1 and 2.)