State v. DeClue
Thomas DeClue pled guilty to second degree manslaughter and first degree unlawful possession of a firearm. DeClue later moved to withdraw his guilty plea because he claimed he was on medication and thus was unable to knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waive his constitutional rights. I guess you could say he didn’t have DeClue as to what he was doing! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
The trial court held an evidentiary hearing and several people testified as to DeClue’s competency at the time he plead guilty. A nurse from the jail testified that DeClue had taken several medications at different times including Vicodin, BuSpar, Skelaxin, and Seroquel. I guess incarceration wasn’t too painful.
DeClue testified that the medications made him feel like a zombie and he wasn’t able to process information. Others, including inmates at the jail, also testified that DeClue was drowsy and couldn’t concentrate. However, DeClue’s attorney when he entered the plea testified that DeClue was sharp, astute, paid attention, and had no problems communicating. The judge also reviewed a videotape of the plea. The judge held that entry of the plea did not violate DeClue’s constitutional rights. DeClue appealed.
DeClue contended that since he claimed he was not competent to enter the plea, the statute required that a competency hearing was required not an evidentiary hearing. “If a defendant supports his motion to withdraw a guilty plea with substantial evidence of incompetency, the trial court must either grant the motion or hold a formal competency hearing under RCW 10.77. 060.” The important part of this rule is that the claim must be supported by “substantial evidence of incompetency.” If substantial evidence is lacking, then the motion is denied and no competency hearing is required.
DeClue’s claim that the judge made an error by having an evidentiary hearing rather than a competency hearing failed. The evidentiary hearing was held for the purpose of exploring DeClue’s claim that he was not competent. That exploration ended in a finding that there was no substantial evidence of incompetency and thus no competency hearing was necessary.
DeClue also challenged the trial court’s finding that he was competent. However, given the nurse’s testimony that DeClue didn’t appear intoxicated, DeClue’s attorney’s testimony, and the judge’s own recollection (with assistance from video) of the plea, the Court of Appeals could not find that the judge abused her discretion. Affirmed! Get a clue.