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John Leslie Chapman v. the State of Wyoming

May 10, 2013


Appeal from the District Court of Sweetwater County The Honorable Nena James, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Davis, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT, BURKE, and DAVIS, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] Appellant John Chapman was initially charged with attempted first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder after he allegedly shot a man he believed to have assaulted his fiancee. He was later charged with aggravated assault with a request for habitual criminal enhancement to life in prison based on the same event.

[¶2] Chapman pled guilty to a reduced charge of attempted second degree murder in an oral plea agreement which provided for dismissal of the conspiracy and aggravated assault charges. He was sentenced to a term of twenty-five to fifty years in accordance with the plea agreement. The district court ordered restitution but waived reimbursement of public defender fees.

[¶3] Chapman later moved to withdraw his plea, claiming that his attorney conspired with the court, misled him about the term he would serve, and otherwise coerced him into pleading guilty. After an evidentiary hearing, the court denied the motion. Chapman timely appealed the decision denying the motion to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that the court abused its discretion in denying it. He also claimed in this appeal that the district court abused its discretion in awarding restitution.

[¶4] We find that the district court reasonably concluded that Chapman failed to demonstrate the manifest injustice required to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea. We find that our review of the restitution issue is limited by Chapman's failure to timely appeal the award, and that the district court had authority to make the award it did. We therefore affirm.


[¶5] 1. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it denied Chapman's motion to withdraw his guilty plea?

2. Did the district court have authority to award restitution and waive reimbursement of public defender fees?


[¶6] In October of 2008, the State filed an Information charging Chapman with attempted first degree murder. The Information was soon amended to add a charge of conspiracy to commit first degree murder. The State later charged aggravated assault and battery based on the same facts in a separate Information. It gave notice of its intent to seek sentence enhancement as a habitual criminal on the assault and battery charge under Wyoming Statute § 6-10-201. Each of the charges exposed Chapman to life imprisonment if he was convicted. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-101(b), 6-10-201(b)(ii) (LexisNexis 2009). The two cases were consolidated for trial.

[¶7] The probable cause affidavit supporting the Information in each case alleged that Chapman's fiancee told him that she had been "hurt" by the victim of the shooting. The affiant claimed that the fiancee showed Chapman where the victim lived, and that the couple then drove to a gun show where the fiancee purchased a Remington .270 rifle with which she intended to shoot her alleged abuser. On September 28, 2008, the couple drove to the victim's residence and waited for him to come home. When he did, Chapman drove next to the victim's vehicle and shot him in the face. A bystander who witnessed the incident identified Chapman as the shooter. The victim survived, but sustained major injuries to the right side of his face, jaw and neck.

[¶8] At his arraignment in district court, the district judge advised Chapman of his rights as required by Wyoming Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b), including his right to plead not guilty and to proceed to trial. The court repeatedly asked Chapman if he had questions about his rights, and he responded that he did not. He pled not guilty to both charges.

[¶9] Chapman also pled not guilty to the assault charge at a separate arraignment held almost a year later. The same district judge again advised him of his rights, including his right to a jury trial, and he once again indicated that he understood his rights.

[¶10] The case proceeded slowly as Chapman expressed repeated dissatisfaction with public defenders appointed to represent him. He claimed that one of his public defenders pressured him to plead guilty, which he did not wish to do, and new counsel was therefore assigned. Chapman was evaluated at the Wyoming State Hospital at the request of his second appointed public defender, which resulted in further delay. He was assessed competent to stand trial. A third public defender ultimately became involved in the case to assist the second appointed public defender.

[¶11] Although he initially expressed satisfaction with the second and third public defenders, Chapman eventually became disgruntled and retained a private attorney with financial assistance from his mother. Private counsel entered an appearance on January 6, 2010. At a January 25 hearing on a motion for continuance, Chapman complained that his public defenders had done "nothing . . . so far on my behalf. That is why I went to a private attorney."

[¶12] Replacement counsel promptly moved for a continuance of a trial then set to begin on March 2, 2010, arguing that the charges against Chapman were sufficiently complex that he could not adequately prepare to effectively try the case on that date. The trial was rescheduled to begin on June 28, 2010 by an order entered on January 27, 2010. Waivers of speedy trial had already been filed at various times during the pendency of the case.

[¶13] After learning that private counsel had been retained, the public defenders still assigned to the case moved to withdraw and for an order awarding public defender fees on January 19, 2010. The court set a hearing on that motion on January 29, but was forced to reschedule it because all of the involved attorneys did not appear at the appointed time, evidently due to a misunderstanding as to whether the pending issue had been resolved by stipulation. The district judge observed at the aborted hearing that Chapman had refused to come out of his jail cell to attend. The hearing was rescheduled to February 5, 2010.

Change of Plea

[¶14] Before the rescheduled hearing on public defender fees began on February 5, the court was advised that Chapman wished to change his plea. The district judge noted after calling the case that "It is my understanding that we are here today because there is a plea agreement, we are anticipating a plea from you on the basis of that plea agreement. Is that your understanding?" Chapman replied, "Yes, ma'am."

[¶15] As already discussed, the court had previously advised Chapman of his rights on two prior occasions because the two cases now before it had originally been filed separately. The trial judge referred to the two prior advisements, and asked if Chapman understood his rights. He replied that he did.

[¶16] Despite this assurance, the court advised Chapman of the nature of the original charges against him as well as the penalties for attempted first degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and aggravated assault. The effect of the habitual criminal enhancement was also explained--if the State could prove its case on this point, Chapman faced the possibility of life imprisonment on that charge as well as on the attempt and conspiracy charges. The court also advised Chapman of the consequences of a guilty plea, including that he "would be giving up the right to the presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, the right to do a trial, the right to be confronted by witnesses and to cross-examine those witnesses, and the State wouldn't have to prove any allegation against you."

[¶17] Chapman indicated that he understood the consequences of a guilty plea, that his plea was voluntary and that he was satisfied with his current attorney's representation:

THE COURT: . . . . Do you understand the consequences of a guilty plea?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

THE COURT: Are you ready to plead today?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

THE COURT: Will your plea be entered voluntarily?


THE COURT: Has anyone forced, threatened or promised you anything outside of a plea agreement?


THE COURT: Have you talked with [your attorney] about this case in general and the plea that it is anticipated that you will be entering today?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

THE COURT: Are you satisfied with his representation of you so far?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

[¶18] Defense counsel then described the plea agreement. The State would amend the Information charging attempted first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder to one count of attempted second degree murder and recommend a sentence of twenty-five to fifty years on the reduced charge. Chapman would consent to the amendment, waive any right he might have to a preliminary hearing, and plead guilty to the amended charge. The conspiracy and aggravated assault charges on which the State sought habitual criminal enhancement would both be dismissed.

[¶19] Chapman would also stipulate to the amount of public defender fees incurred before he retained private counsel, as well as to the amount of restitution required to pay the victim's medical bills. However, his counsel would be free to argue that he was financially incapable of paying the public defender fees or restitution, while the State was free to argue that he was able to pay both.

[¶20] After hearing the terms of the plea agreement, the district court addressed Chapman again, and established that he understood the agreement, that he consented to the amendment of the Information, that he waived any right to a preliminary hearing on the amended charge, and that he wanted to proceed to sentencing that day. The presentence investigation required by Wyoming Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(a) had been completed early in the case, and so it was not necessary to wait for it to be compiled to proceed to sentencing if Chapman did in fact plead guilty.

[ΒΆ21] The district judge explained the elements of second degree murder, noting that the elements of attempt were the same for the amended charge as for the original charge. She also explained the minimum and maximum penalties for attempted second degree murder, which were a minimum of twenty years and a maximum of life in prison. After hearing the explanation, Chapman asked for further clarification and then expressed his understanding of what he had been told. The judge asked him again if he understood his constitutional rights, which she ...

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