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State of Idaho v. Maximiliano Raul Sileoni

October 3, 2012

STATE OF IDAHO,
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MAXIMILIANO RAUL SILEONI,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. Renae J. Hoff, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwartzman, Judge Pro Tem

2012 Unpublished Opinion No. 660

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION AND SHALL NOT BE CITED AS AUTHORITY

Judgment of conviction and unified sentence of twenty years, with ten years determinate, for battery with intent to commit a serious felony and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime, affirmed.

Maximiliano Raul Sileoni appeals from his judgment of conviction and sentence imposed following the entry of his guilty pleas to battery with intent to commit a serious felony (rape) and a sentencing enhancement of possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime. Specifically, Sileoni asserts that the district court erred by failing to inquire as to the factual basis for Sileoni's guilty pleas and by imposing an excessive sentence. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

In January 2010, an eighteen-year-old female victim reported that a young adult male, later identified as Sileoni, had attacked her. When police arrived, she stated that Sileoni had come into her workplace, attempted to engage her in conversation, and asked to borrow her cell phone. After using the phone to make two calls, Sileoni grabbed the victim, displayed a pocket knife with the blade extended and grabbed scissors from the counter, which he held together with the pocket knife in one hand against her abdomen, and warned the victim not to yell. The victim reported that Sileoni then proceeded to rub her breasts under her shirt and undergarment and attempted to kiss her. The victim pushed him away, but he continued by unbuttoning her pants, putting his hand down her underwear, and roughly touching her vagina. He also pulled her pants and underwear down to her knees and attempted to lay her on the ground. The victim initially resisted, but then agreed to go with Sileoni to a back room, hoping she could attempt to escape or get help. In pretending to agree to Sileoni's suggestion, she asked Sileoni to leave the knife and scissors behind. As Sileoni put down the scissors and moved to put his knife into his pocket, the victim pulled up her pants and started screaming and pounding on the wall to attract help. While she screamed for help, Sileoni hit her approximately six times in the face before he ran away. The victim reported that Sileoni did not remove his own pants during the encounter. She was able to describe the knife as a small, silver pocket knife, roughly five to six inches long. Police found a pocket knife, matching the victim's description, in an open position (blade extended) roughly a half-block away from the crime scene. Police noted, after the initial interview, that the victim had physical marks and injuries consistent with her account of the crime.

The police contacted the person whom Sileoni had last called from the victim's cell phone and, in doing so, determined Sileoni's identity. Police found and arrested Sileoni later that same day. Though Sileoni cooperated and gave the police a statement, his version of events differed from that given by the victim. Sileoni indicated that the victim looked at Sileoni in a way he described as "an attractive way as if she wanted something with me." He stated that he and the victim had been talking, and when she gave him that look, he kissed her and touched her breast. Sileoni stated he put his hand down her pants at first, but that she thereafter pulled her own pants down. He did not know how his pocket knife fell out or how it ended up in his hand, but that she got scared and asked Sileoni to put it away. Sileoni told her he was not going to do anything and did put the knife aside. He said the victim had also laid on the ground with her pants down and asked him to touch her, but he suggested they go to a different room. As relayed by Sileoni, it was then that the victim began screaming and that he picked up the knife and scissors. To "bring her back to her senses," Sileoni slapped the victim approximately three times and, when she did not stop screaming, ran outside to his car and left. He told the police that he did not intend to have sex with the victim and denied having an erection during the encounter. He said he did not know exactly how things got out of control, but that he had recently experienced emotional turmoil and was just coming off of alcohol and marijuana when he encountered the victim. He indicated he wanted to take responsibility for his actions--that he knew he had done something wrong and wanted some help--but he partially blamed the victim for what had happened. He stated that he did not force the victim or try to violate her, he believed she did not tell the police everything that happened, and that she had a different role in the events than what she stated. Sileoni confirmed that the pocket knife police had recovered was his.

The State charged Sileoni with first degree kidnapping, battery with the intent to commit a serious felony (rape), and a sentencing enhancement of possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the State moved to dismiss the kidnapping charge and Sileoni entered guilty pleas to the battery charge and the sentencing enhancement. After accepting the guilty pleas, the district court ordered a psychosexual evaluation and a presentence investigation (PSI) report for the scheduled sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, Sileoni requested an interpreter, which was provided. From Sileoni's need for an interpreter at sentencing, the court determined that Sileoni had experienced difficulty in speaking with the presentence investigator because the investigator did not speak Spanish and there was no interpreter during the interview. Instead of proceeding with sentencing, the district court again advised Sileoni, this time with the aid of an interpreter, of the rights he was waiving by pleading guilty and again took his guilty pleas to battery with the intent to commit rape, Idaho Code §§ 18-903(b), 18-911, and the sentencing enhancement of possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime, Idaho Code § 19-2520. The district court also ordered an updated PSI to be conducted with an interpreter and a new psychosexual evaluation with a Spanish-speaking evaluator. At the rescheduled sentencing hearing, the district court imposed a unified sentence of twenty years, with ten years determinate, and ordered Sileoni to pay a $5,000 civil penalty and restitution. Sileoni timely appeals, asserting the district court erred by failing to inquire as to the factual basis for his guilty pleas and by imposing an excessive sentence.

II.

ANALYSIS

A. Failure to Inquire as to the Factual Basis for Entry of Guilty Pleas

Sileoni argues that the district court has an obligation to sua sponte inquire into the factual basis for a plea if, after the plea is entered and a sentence has not been imposed, the court receives information raising an obvious doubt as to whether the defendant is guilty, and that, before sentencing, both the language barrier that became apparent and the information in the PSI report about Sileoni's lack of intent to commit rape raised obvious doubt as to his guilt. Sileoni further claims that the district court's failure to conduct a sua sponte inquiry into the factual basis of a guilty plea is analogous to a failure to sua sponte order a competency evaluation under Idaho Code § 18-211, reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard, and that under such standard of review, this Court should remand the case for the proper inquiry. The State responds that Sileoni's arguments have no merit for three reasons: (1) Sileoni did not enter an Alford*fn1 plea, meaning he admitted the State's charge and there was never a requirement to establish a factual basis independent of the guilty pleas; (2) the overwhelming evidence that Sileoni groped the victim's breasts and touched her vagina at knife-point was an adequate factual basis to support the charges; and (3) they are essentially arguments to withdraw his guilty pleas without showing fundamental error under State v. Perry, 150 Idaho 209, 245 P.3d 961 (2010).

Prefatorily, we need not determine the proper standard for review because we conclude that under either an abuse of discretion standard or fundamental error, Sileoni cannot show the district court erred. The district court meticulously advised and inquired of Sileoni when taking Sileoni's guilty pleas, the record clearly establishes a factual basis for the pleas, and the evidence Sileoni relies on does not raise an obvious doubt as to his guilt.

Courts are generally under no obligation to establish a factual basis prior to accepting a guilty plea. State v. Coffin, 104 Idaho 543, 545-56, 661 P.2d 328, 330-31 (1983). A guilty plea admits the essential elements of an indictment. Lewis v. State, 137 Idaho 882, 884, 55 P.3d 875, 877 (Ct. App. 2002); State v. Byington, 135 Idaho 621, 623, 21 P.3d 943, 945 (Ct. App. 2001). A voluntary, valid guilty plea is, therefore, conclusive as to guilt and obviates the necessity of the prosecution going forward with evidence. State v. Hawkins, 117 Idaho 285, 290, 787 P.2d 271, 276 (1990). However, there are exceptions to the general rule that no factual basis is required in order to accept a guilty plea: (1) when the defendant does not recall facts of the incident resulting in the charge; (2) when the defendant is unwilling or unable to admit participating in the acts constituting a crime; and (3) when the defendant couples the plea with continued assertions of innocence. State v. Horkley, 125 Idaho 860, 862, 876 P.2d 142, 144 (Ct. App. 1994). The court should also inquire as to the factual basis supporting the charge if after accepting a plea, but before sentencing, the court receives information raising an obvious doubt as to the defendant's guilt. Id. at 862-63, 876 P.2d at 144-45; State v. Hoffman, 108 Idaho 720, 722, 701 P.2d 668, 670 (Ct. App. 1985).

Sileoni asserts that both the lack of intent to have sexual intercourse, evidenced by statements in the police reports and presentence report, and the language barrier that became apparent at the hearing initially scheduled for sentencing, raised obvious doubts as to his guilt. If a defendant pleads guilty while denying a particular element of the offense, such as intent, the plea nevertheless may be accepted if there is a strong factual basis for it. Hoffman, 108 Idaho at 722, 701 P.2d at 670. A strong factual basis need not be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, as a guilty plea should not involve a mini-trial of the case; rather, the object of ascertaining a factual basis is to assure that the defendant's plea is made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. Id.*fn2 A factual basis for a guilty plea may be determined from the record, including presentence reports and transcripts. See Fowler v. State, 109 Idaho 1002, 1005, 712 P.2d 703, 706 (Ct. App. 1985). In determining whether a district court erred in accepting a guilty plea without further inquiring into the factual basis, this Court held that a defendant's statements that he lacked the intent for the crime charged are not dispositive. Hoffman, 108 Idaho at 722, 701 P.2d at 670. We came to a similar conclusion in Fowler, 109 Idaho 1002, 712 P.3d 703, where the defendant pled guilty to first degree burglary. He argued that statements contained within the PSI report, regarding a lack of intent to steal anything once inside the building, created a duty upon the district court--at the time of sentencing--to inquire into the factual basis for the pleas. In deciding whether the statements raised an obvious doubt as to the defendant's guilt, thereby creating such a duty, we considered evidence in the record from officers, information in the PSI report, and prior transcripts. We found that, despite the defendant's assertions in the PSI, there was considerable circumstantial evidence from which strong inferences could be made that the defendant intended to commit theft when he broke into the building. Id. at 1005-06, 712 P.2d at 706-07. We concluded by stating, "[The defendant's] assertion in the presentence report of his lack of criminal intent was not sufficient to raise an obvious doubt as to his guilt. The court did not err in accepting [the defendant's] guilty plea." Id. at 1006, 712 P.2d at 707.

Turning to the record in this case, we find that the district court meticulously advised Sileoni of his rights and waivers and made a thorough inquiry into Sileoni's understanding of the proceedings, not once, but twice. In the first instance, the district court asked about Sileoni's education, ability to read and write, and whether the defendant had been apprised of the charges. The transcript reveals that Sileoni had roughly a ninth-grade education, but had no trouble reading and writing--by Sileoni's own account--and that Sileoni had discussed the charge and the decision to plead guilty with his attorney:

[The Court]: Were you able to look at the evidence that had been gathered in this case to prosecute you such as the police reports and/or the Grand Jury proceeding?

[Sileoni]: Yes, ma'am.

[The Court]: And did that help you decide how you wanted ...


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