Defendants who withdraw their guilty pleas after they are convicted of a crime run the risk of getting a harsher sentence the second time around.
The Utah Supreme Court made that point Friday by affirming two cases involving convicted killers who backed out of plea bargains only to find themselves doing more time than they expected.Frank Gene Powell and Brian Edward Maguire had argued that state law doesn't allow the imposition of a more severe sentence when a conviction is set aside "on direct review," or appeal.
However, with one justice dissenting, the court responded that the prohibition doesn't apply to the repudiation of a plea bargain. In that situation the defendants set aside their own convictions, the justices said.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Richard Howe said, "Plea bargains are entered into so that both sides may avoid the expense and uncertainty of a trial. In exchange for conserving state resources, defendant usually re-ceives a lower charge or lesser sentence."
Therefore, it wouldn't make sense to allow a defendant to keep the benefit of an agreement he repudiated while requiring the state to proceed to trial and prove its case, Howe said.
Powell was charged with second-degree murder for running over a man at a Pleasant Grove drinking party in 1987. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in 1988 and was sentenced to one to 15 years in prison.
After spending two years in prison, he asked the court to set aside the plea bargain on grounds he hadn't been properly advised on the consequences of his plea. The trial judge refused, but an appeals court reversed the ruling and allowed Powell to have his trial.
A 4th District Court jury last year found him guilty of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to five years to life in prison.
Howe said when an order denying a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is reversed on appeal, as it was in Powell's case, the appeals court doesn't set aside the conviction. Rather, it simply remands the case to allow the defendant to withdraw the plea.
"Powell withdrew his plea following remand, in effect setting aside his own conviction," Howe said.
Maguire was on parole for a 1972 murder when he assaulted his grandmother in 1987, tearing off the top third of her ear. His parole was revoked, and he was charged with aggravated assault, mayhem and being a habitual crim-inal. In exchange for his no- contest plea on the aggravated assault charge, he was sentenced to up to one year in prison to be served concurrently with the murder sentence.
Maguire later tried to withdraw the plea, winning the right on appeal after he had already served the one-year sentence. After the state reinstated all the original charges, Maquire decided to once again accept a plea bargain on the aggravated assault charge. Only this time, he was sentenced to up to five years in prison, with the sentence to run consecutively.
Citing its ruling in the Powell case, the Supreme Court ruled the lower court wasn't precluded from imposing a harsher sentence.