Jimmie Sturgill v. Commonwealth (two consolidated cases), Kentucky Court of Appeals, to be published (9/15/17):
Jimmie Sturgill accepted the Commonwealth’s guilty plea offer on two separate but related cases. At the sentencing hearing for the two cases, defense counsel told the court Sturgill had contacted him a few weeks before and said he wanted to withdraw his pleas. Defense counsel told the court the motion to withdraw was “absolutely” against his advice. Defense counsel also told the court that if it granted the motion to withdraw the pleas, he wanted to be removed from Sturgill’s cases.
The court placed Sturgill under oath and asked him a series of questions about why he wanted to withdraw the pleas. Defense counsel and the Commonwealth then did the same. During questioning from the Commonwealth, Sturgill said the plea was “against my will” and he had not wanted to do it. Neither defense counsel nor the court followed up with any questions about that statement. The court found Sturgill’s testimony to be “incredible” and said Sturgill simply changing his mind or having regrets was not sufficient reason to withdraw the plea. The court sentenced Sturgill to the agreed-upon sentence.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the convictions. It found Sturgill was denied effective representation at the withdrawal hearing because defense counsel adamantly opposed Sturgill’s attempt to withdraw his pleas. It said it was troubling that defense counsel did not specifically ask why Sturgill felt he made the pleas against his will. On remand, Sturgill will be returned to the point in time between when he accepted the guilty plea and before he sought to withdraw it. Steven Buck represented Mr. Sturgill on appeal.