Factual Basis for a Washington Guilty Plea

A guilty plea by a Washington criminal defendant must be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.  A plea can only be voluntary if the defendant understands both the nature of the charges against him or her and the consequences of pleading guilty.  The trial court must be “satisfied that there is a factual basis for the plea.” CrR 4.2.

A defendant recently challenged his guilty plea, arguing there was not a sufficient factual basis for the sentencing enhancement.  According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the defendant pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter with a deadly weapon sentencing enhancement.  The defendant gave a brief statement of guilt stating he “acted recklessly and caused the death of [the victim],” with no mention of a deadly weapon. Although there was a box on the form to indicate the defendant did not make a statement and had agreed the court could review other documents for the factual basis, it was not checked.

The trial court accepted the plea.  The defendant was sentenced to 158 months, increased to 182 months with the sentencing enhancement.

The defendant appealed, arguing there was an insufficient basis for the sentencing enhancement.

The state argued the trial court could consider the declaration of probable cause even if the defendant had not adopted or admitted to the assertions.

The Washington Supreme Court stated in State v. Codiga that “so long as the documents relied upon are made part of the record, the trial court can rely on any reliable source, including the prosecutor’s state of the facts if adopted by the defendant, to establish that there is a factual basis for the plea.”

The appeals court noted that the trial court had not consulted or even mentioned the declaration of probable cause at the hearing.  The state had not sought to introduce the declaration as an exhibit. The appeals court found there was no evidence the declaration had been made part of the record of the plea hearing.

Additionally, the defendant had not agreed the court could rely on the declaration. He had instead provided a statement of guilt of the crime.  At the hearing, the court reviewed the defendant’s statement with him and there was no mention of the declaration of probable cause. The appeals court found it could not conclude the trial court relied on the declaration of probable cause based on the record.  The declaration was not made part of the record of the plea hearing and there was no indication the defendant had adopted the assertions in it.  The appeals court found there was no factual basis to support the deadly weapon sentencing enhancement.

The appeals court held that the defendant’s plea was involuntary because there was not a sufficient factual basis to support it. Following the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Bisson that a plea agreement is indivisible, the appeals court held that the defendant’s remedy was to withdraw his entire guilty plea, not just the enhancement.  Because withdrawal of the entire guilty plea was the only remedy, the appeals court reversed his conviction and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

If you are facing criminal charges, you should seek the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.  A knowledgeable Washington criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your rights, even if you are considering pleading guilty.  Call (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.


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