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A trial judge has broad discretion in ruling on a defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing. La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 559. When circumstances indicate that the plea was constitutionally invalid, the trial judge should allow the defendant to withdraw his plea. Under Boykin, the validity of a guilty plea turns on whether the defendant is informed of the rights he waived and whether his decision to waive his rights by pleading guilty is knowing and voluntary. However, as a general rule, an otherwise valid plea of guilty is not rendered involuntary merely because it was entered to limit the possible maximum penalty to less than that authorized by law for the crime charged.
After Landor Bouie drove the co-defendant to the victim's home, the co-defendant shot and severely injured the victim. Bouie told the trial judge that he wanted to go to trial, and consistently maintained his innocence. The trial judge told him that in his 20 years' experience, he had seen only two acquittals in felony cases; that Bouie was almost certainly going to be convicted; that he would be sentenced to as much as 100 years; and that if he accepted the plea bargain, he would receive no more than 25 years. Bouie pled guilty to attempted second degree murder. After the State filed a multiple offender bill, he moved to withdraw his plea, alleging that he had been under "extreme emotional stress" when he entered it. The trial court denied the motion, and sentenced him to 25 years' imprisonment at hard labor. The court of appeals affirmed. Bouie sought further review.
Did the district court abuse its discretion in not allowing Bouie to withdraw his plea of guilty, given that the trial judge had previously interjected his own opinions into the plea negotiations as to whether Bouie would be acquitted or found guilty after a jury trial?
The supreme court noted the dangers of trial judges directly participating in plea discussions, but declined to adopt a per se rule forbidding such involvement. However, the trial judge, by telling Bouie his personal view that Bouie’s conviction was all but certain, clearly conveyed his opinion that Bouie had no realistic choice other than to plead guilty or face penalties that would up to four times as great as the trial judge offered. This message was inherently coercive because it came from the trial judge, not from the prosecutor. The trial judge abused his discretion in not granting Bouie’s motion to withdraw the guilty plea.