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State v. Thomason

Supreme Court of Montana

May 15, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
WILLIS LOUIS THOMASON, JR., Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 25, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause Nos. DC-13-223(B); DC-95-045(A); DC-96-204(B); DC-96-286(A); DC-09-089(B) Honorable Robert B Allison, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Eileen A. Larkin, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee:Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          Edward J. Corrigan, Flathead County Attorney, Alison E. Howard, Deputy County Attorney, Kalispell, Montana.

          OPINION

          INGRID GUSTAFSON JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Willis Louis Thomason, Jr. (Thomason) appeals from the September 15, 2014 order of the Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County, denying his motion to withdraw guilty plea. We affirm.

         ¶3 In 2013, the State filed an Information charging Thomason with two felony counts of robbery. Thomason was charged after he came forward and confessed to two unsolved robberies. On February 3, 2014, the morning of trial, Thomason decided to accept a plea deal. Prior to orally pronouncing the plea deal, Thomason expressed he would accept the plea deal but wanted a mental health evaluation. The State stated it would not oppose a mental health evaluation and the District Court agreed that such evaluation may assist the District Court at sentencing. The District Court stated Mr. Bennett, Thomason's counsel, should file a motion to allow the District Court to order a mental health evaluation. However, no such motion was ever made by Mr. Bennett.

         ¶4 Mr. Bennett proceeded with oral pronouncement of the plea deal. Mr. Bennett stated the agreement would provide: (1) Thomason would plead guilty to both counts of robbery, (2) the State would recommend a fifteen-year sentence on each count to run consecutive with no suspended time, (3) the State would recommend a net sentence of 25 years to run consecutive to the robbery counts for Thomason's four revoked sentences, [1](4) Thomason would be free to argue a lesser amount of time, (5) the State would dismiss its request for persistent felony offender designation, and (6) the State would not oppose Thomason's request for a mental health evaluation, leaving it up to the District Court to determine whether or not to order a mental health evaluation.

         ¶5 The District Court then proceeded with the colloquy ensuring Thomason fully understood the plea agreement. Thomason indicated he comprehended the plea agreement, was satisfied with his attorney's services, and that he entered into the agreement freely and voluntarily. Thomason pled guilty to both counts of felony robbery. The District Court set a sentencing hearing for April 24, 2014. Mr. Bennett requested a continuance to complete the pre-sentence investigation report and mental health evaluation. The sentencing hearing was reset for June 19, 2014.

         ¶6 On June 19, 2014, Mr. Bennett informed the District Court Thomason wanted to withdraw his guilty plea. Specifically, Mr. Bennett stated Thomason was unhappy with Mr. Bennett's handling of the plea agreement and as such Mr. Bennett was uncomfortable with continuing to represent Thomason at sentencing. After this discussion, the District Court proceeded with sentencing. The State recommended a net total of 55 years to Montana State Prison. Before the District Court imposed sentencing, Thomason then requested postponement for a week. Thomason stated he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea because he had discovered evidence proving he was innocent of one of the robberies. Thomason further stated his ground for withdraw of plea was not Mr. Bennett's performance as an attorney, it was about evidence being presented. Thomason also complained he had not yet received a mental health evaluation. The District Court explained no motion requesting a mental health evaluation had been filed and no mental health evaluation had been ordered. Sentencing proceeded and the District Court ultimately followed the State's recommendation sentencing Thomason to 55 years to the Montana State Prison.

         ¶7 On August 21, 2014, Thomason, appearing pro se, filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Thomason's motion outlined several pieces of evidence which he asserts show his innocence in one of the robberies. This motion failed to mention the lack of a mental health evaluation. The District Court denied the motion, concluding Thomason failed to establish his guilty plea was involuntary.

         ¶8 On appeal of the denial of a motion to withdraw guilty plea, this Court reviews findings of underlying fact for clear error and conclusions of law for correctness. State v. Warclub, 2005 MT 149, ¶ 24, 327 Mont. 352, 114 P.3d 254. This Court reviews mixed questions of law and fact regarding the voluntariness of a plea de novo. Warclub, ¶ 24. This Court reviews ineffective assistance of counsel claims de novo. Whitlow v. State, 2008 MT 140, ¶ 9, 343 Mont. 90, 183 P.3d 861. This Court reviews denials ...


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