Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Featured Case - Meece - KRE 410???s exclusion of statements made during the course of plea discussions

William Meece v. Commonwealth, 2006-SC-881 (June 16, 2011) (published)

In a 177 page opinion that found 20 errors harmless, the Supreme Court affirms the defendant’s convictions and death sentences.  The Court holds, among other things, that KRE 410’s exclusion of statements made during the course of plea discussions applies only to statements before the signing of a written plea agreement, and then only if they fit within a standard the Court sets out in its opinion.  The Court professes not to have overruled Roberts v. Commonwealth, 896 S.W.2d 4 (Ky. 1995), which had included statements made as part of the “quid pro quo” of the agreement under KRE 410’s exclusion, in order to avoid violating the defendant’s right to due process of law.

Relying upon United States v. Robertson, 582 F .2d 1356, 1365 (5th Cir.1978), we defined plea discussions as "discussions in advance of the time for pleading with a view to an agreement whereby the defendant will enter a plea in the hope of receiving certain charge or sentence concessions ." Roberts, 896 S .W.2d at 5 . In addition, we adopted the two-prong test set out in Robertson to be applied by the trial court in determining whether a discussion is a plea discussion, to wit:

1 . Whether the accused exhibited an actual subjective expectation to negotiate a plea at the time of the discussion
2 . Whether the accused's expectation was reasonable given the totality of.the objective circumstances .

Roberts, 896 S.W .2d at 6 (citing Robertson, 582 F.2d at 1366) . "To determine whether a discussion should be characterized as a plea negotiation and as inadmissible, the trial court should carefully consider the totality of the
circumstances." Robertson, 582 F.2d at 1366 . "[U]nder a totality of the circumstances approach, an accused's subsequent account of his prior subjective mental impressions cannot be considered the sole determinative factor." Id. In this respect, we noted that "[t]he intent is to protect the accused's subjective expectations while protecting against subsequent, selfserving claims by the accused ." Roberts, 896 S .W.2d at 6 . Given that the appellant in Roberts accepted the Commonwealth's plea offer by the sole act of then giving the statement concerning his participation in eight of the robberies, we held his statement met the two-part test established in Robertson and was a statement "made in the course of plea discussions" and was therefore protected by KRE 410. Roberts 896 S.W.2d at 6 .

Contributed by Shannon Smith