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State v. Allensworth

May 27, 1997


Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-1-05722-1. Date filed: 02/12/96. Judge signing: Hon. Marilyn R. Sellers.

Per Curiam. James Allensworth contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea; he also contends that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when he was represented by the same attorney at the plea hearing and the plea withdrawal hearing. Because Allensworth's motion to withdraw his guilty plea did not satisfy the demanding manifest inJustice standard, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion. Moreover, under the circumstances of this case, defense counsel was not required to advocate conflicting interests at the plea withdrawal hearing. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment and sentence.

On November 9, 1995, Allensworth entered an Alford plea to a charge of felony harassment. The charge was based on allegations that Allensworth had called his estranged wife and threatened to slit her throat if she left him.

At the plea hearing, Allensworth acknowledged that he had reviewed the plea form with his attorney, that he understood the nature of the charge against him, that he understood the rights that he was giving up by pleading guilty, and that he understood the court was not bound by the State's sentence recommendation. In a colloquy with the trial court, Allensworth also acknowledged that he had read the Statement of Defendant on Plea of Guilty and that he had reviewed the entire case with his counsel, including the identity of the potential witnesses and their testimony. He then indicated that even though he was not guilty, he was entering a guilty plea because he believed he would be convicted and wanted to take advantage of the State's sentencing recommendation.

After Allensworth affirmed that he had not been threatened or promised anything, that he was entering his plea freely and voluntarily, and that he had no questions, the trial court accepted the plea. The court then released Allensworth from custody, in accordance with the terms of the plea agreement.

On January 30, 1996, Allensworth moved to withdraw his guilty plea. At the hearing, Allensworth was represented by Charles DeBruler, who had also represented him at the plea hearing. DeBruler explained that the motion was based on circumstances that "would not be readily apparent to the Court at the time of the plea":

He represents to the Court that he was having anxiety attacks and suffering from pain and saw pleading guilty as the only way that he could get out of jail. His feeling is he did not commit the crime. He was not acting under his own judgment but because of anxiety and pain caused by the lack of medications.

He did bring me in last night a couple of letters from a Dr.

Howard, two letters from Dr. Howard indicating that he does in fact suffer from panic attacks. There is a likelihood that he could have been acting under the influence of his panic attack rather than his own unfettered judgment.

Allensworth then testified that his decision to plead guilty was not intelligent and informed, but rather "a panicky kind of irrational thinking that was going on." He explained that while he was in jail awaiting trial, he had been denied certain medications that he had been receiving for drug withdrawal, chronic back pain, and panic attacks. Allensworth had been taking Methadone and Flexeril for severe back pain, Valium for the panic attacks and as a muscle relaxant, and Toradol as an anti-inflammatory. According to Allensworth, the pain medications and Valium were discontinued while he was in jail and he received only Flexeril and some anti-seizure medication.

As a result of being deprived of his usual medication, Allensworth testified that he started acting irrationally, believing that "everybody" was after him. He became "very panicky" and could not sleep or eat. He also experienced panic attacks. When asked to explain the connection between his guilty plea and the panic attacks, Allensworth replied, I was not making a rational choice. I was thinking of getting out and getting back to my medications rather than what the long-

term consequences on my life and what I was actually doing, because I hadn't done this crime which I stated then. I just didn't know what I was doing. I was very irrational. He further explained that "I was willing to agree to anything so I could get back to seeing my doctors and on my medications."

During cross examination, Allensworth acknowledged that he had not been forced to plead guilty and that he had done so voluntarily. He explained that he had not said anything about his problems at the plea hearing, but the guard had come up to him twice to ask why he was shaking. Allensworth believed that his irrational condition made it impossible to assist DeBruler in his defense: "I couldn't tell him what was going on . . . I don't believe my mental capacity allowed him to do an effective job."

The trial court then asked Allensworth a series of questions:

THE COURT: Did you convey this message to Mr. DeBruler when he ...

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