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State v. Pagan-Lopez

Court of Appeals of Idaho

September 18, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
CARLOS ENRIQUE PAGAN-LOPEZ, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Lynn G. Norton, District Judge.

         Judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance and introduction of major contraband into a correctional facility, vacated; judgment for restitution, vacated and case remanded.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender; Jenny C. Swinford, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Kale D. Gans, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

          LORELLO, JUDGE.

         Carlos Enrique Pagan-Lopez appeals from his judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance and introducing major contraband into a correctional facility. Pagan-Lopez also appeals from the district court's judgment for restitution. For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the judgment of conviction, vacate the judgment for restitution, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Officers were dispatched to a silent residential alarm at approximately 5 a.m. As part of their investigation, the officers stopped a vehicle to investigate whether "it was potentially involved in the burglary alarm." Pagan-Lopez was a passenger in that vehicle. During the course of the stop, the officers discovered that Pagan-Lopez had an outstanding arrest warrant. He was arrested on the warrant and transported to jail. During a search at the jail, methamphetamine was discovered in his sock. The State charged Pagan-Lopez with possession of a controlled substance, I.C. § 37-2732(c), and introduction of major contraband into a correctional facility, I.C. §§ 18-2510(3) and 19-2520F.

         Pagan-Lopez filed a motion to suppress the evidence discovered as a result of the search, arguing that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and that the search at the jail was the fruit of the unlawful seizure. The district court denied Pagan-Lopez's motion, finding that there was reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop and, therefore, the evidence discovered as a result of that stop was admissible.

         Prior to trial, Pagan-Lopez and the State reached an agreement in which Pagan-Lopez agreed to plead guilty to possession of a controlled substance and, in return, the State would dismiss the introduction of major contraband into a correctional facility charge. The State also agreed to certain sentencing recommendations. However, after questioning Pagan-Lopez, the district court refused to accept Pagan-Lopez's guilty plea, unless it was entered as an Alford[1]plea, finding that he had a potential defense based on his representation that he possessed the methamphetamine with the intent to keep it away from children and dispose of it at some point. The case, therefore, proceeded to trial and a jury found Pagan-Lopez guilty of both charges. The district court subsequently entered a judgment of conviction and an order for restitution and judgment for prosecution costs. Pagan-Lopez appeals.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Whether to accept a defendant's guilty plea is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. State v. Jones, 129 Idaho 471, 474, 926 P.2d 1318, 1321 (Ct. App. 1996). When a trial court's discretionary decision is reviewed on appeal, the appellate court conducts a multi-tiered inquiry to determine whether the lower court: (1) correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) acted within the boundaries of such discretion; (3) acted consistently with any legal standards applicable to the specific choices before it; and (4) reached its decision by an exercise of reason. State v. Herrera, 164 Idaho 261, 270, 429 P.3d 149, 158 (2018).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Pagan-Lopez raises five claims of error on appeal: (1) the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress; (2) the district abused its discretion by refusing to accept his guilty plea; (3) the district court abused its discretion when it excluded certain testimony at trial; (4) a double jeopardy violation; and (5) the district court abused its discretion by ordering restitution for the costs of prosecution. We hold that the district court erred in rejecting Pagan-Lopez's unconditional guilty plea to possession of a controlled substance on the basis that he had a potential defense even though he indicated his desire to waive that defense. Consequently, we decline to address Pagan-Lopez's remaining claims with the exception of his restitution claim. As to Pagan-Lopez's restitution claim, we vacate the judgment for restitution.

         A. Guilty Plea

         Pagan-Lopez asserts that the district court abused its discretion by rejecting his guilty plea because the proffered guilty plea satisfied all of the criteria necessary for its acceptance and Pagan-Lopez should not have been required to pursue a defense he wanted to waive. The State responds that it was within the district court's discretion to conclude that there was an inadequate factual basis for Pagan-Lopez's guilty plea and, as such, the district court could reject it. We hold that Pagan-Lopez's guilty plea should not have been rejected on the basis that he had a potential defense because he was entitled to waive that defense and plead guilty.

         The pretrial plea agreement contemplated that Pagan-Lopez would enter an unconditional[2] guilty plea to possession of a controlled substance and the State would dismiss the charge for introducing major contraband into a correctional facility. The agreement also required the State to be bound by certain sentencing recommendations and contemplated that Pagan-Lopez would pay restitution.

         During the plea colloquy, Pagan-Lopez responded to a series of questions from the district court regarding the validity of his plea. Pagan-Lopez's responses to those questions included that he read and understood the guilty plea advisory form; he did not require further explanation of the contents of the advisory form; he personally signed and initialed the advisory form; he understood the proceedings and was not impaired by any conditions or medications; he was mentally and physically fit to proceed; he was not coerced into entering a guilty plea; he understood he was not required to enter a guilty plea; and he was waiving his right to appeal certain issues by pleading guilty. The district court then engaged in the following colloquy with Pagan-Lopez:

Q. Do you want to enter into this plea agreement?
A. Yes; I do.
Q. And do you want to enter a guilty plea ...

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