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Parham v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

December 17, 2013

CORDARO RAYEZ PARHAM
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS David F. Pugh, Judge.

Charles E. Haden for appellant.

Donald E. Jeffrey, III, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Humphreys, Beales and Huff Argued at Chesapeake, Virginia

MEMORANDUM OPINION [*]

GLEN A. HUFF, JUDGE.

Cordaro Rayez Parham ("appellant") appeals a ruling of the Circuit Court of the City of Newport News ("trial court") denying appellant's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas to twelve felony charges.[1] Following a hearing, the trial court denied appellant's motion and continued the matter for sentencing, where appellant was sentenced to an aggregate of 125 years' incarceration in the Department of Corrections with 87 years suspended. On appeal, appellant contends that the trial court erred in refusing to allow him to withdraw his guilty pleas pursuant to Code § 19.2-296 because he was pressured into pleading guilty by his family, and the plea agreement contained material errors which demonstrated there was never a meeting of the minds. For the following reasons, this Court affirms the judgment of the trial court.

I. BACKGROUND

On appeal, "'we consider the evidence and all reasonable inferences flowing from that evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party at trial.'" Williams v. Commonwealth, 49 Va.App. 439, 442, 642 S.E.2d 295, 296 (2007) (en banc) (quoting Jackson v. Commonwealth, 267 Va. 666, 672, 594 S.E.2d 595, 598 (2004)). So viewed, the evidence is as follows.

On November 1, 2012, pursuant to a plea agreement, appellant entered guilty pleas to twelve felony charges, of which he was ultimately convicted on eleven. In accordance with the terms of the plea agreement, the Commonwealth moved to nolle prosequi another ten felony charges, but the parties did not have an agreed upon sentencing disposition. Instead, the Commonwealth reserved its right to recommend an active period of incarceration within the statutory limits. During the plea hearing colloquy, appellant represented that he understood the charges against him and the maximum statutory sentence he could receive for each charge. Further, appellant testified that he was pleading guilty freely and because he was in fact guilty. Accordingly, the trial court accepted appellant's guilty pleas, finding they were entered freely, intelligently, and voluntarily with an understanding of the nature of the charges and the consequences.

Thereafter, the trial court discovered an error in the plea agreement and heard a joint motion to amend this error on November 28, 2012. According to the plea agreement, the case number for one of the felony charges was "1676-12, " but the correct case number for this felony was actually "1679-12." Otherwise, the original agreement was to remain unchanged. When the Commonwealth asked the trial court to require appellant to sign the amended plea agreement with the corrected case number, however, appellant responded by stating that he never wanted to accept the plea agreement and was forced into doing so by his attorney. The trial court subsequently granted a motion by appellant's attorney to withdraw as counsel and appointed James S. Ellenson ("Ellenson") in his stead.

Ellenson filed a motion to withdraw appellant's guilty pleas, which was heard on January 7, 2013. At this hearing, appellant first argued that the entire plea agreement should be jettisoned because there was never a true "meeting of the minds." In support of this argument, appellant asserted that the mistyped case number in the plea agreement was a material error and the plea agreement should therefore be set aside. Second, appellant argued he should be allowed to withdraw his pleas because he was pressured into accepting the plea agreement by his family and attorney. In support of his second argument, appellant testified that after he initially decided not to accept the plea agreement, his attorney became upset and convinced appellant's family to pressure appellant into accepting the plea agreement. Appellant's grandmother similarly testified that after speaking with appellant's attorney, she met appellant in the jail and convinced him to accept the plea agreement.

The trial court rejected appellant's first argument regarding the error in the plea agreement, finding that the mistyped case number was a non-material, scrivener's error.[2] Nevertheless, the Commonwealth decided to nolle prosequi the charge which contained the scrivener's error. In regards to appellant's second argument, the trial court initially assumed, without deciding, that the guilty pleas were entered in good faith and as a result of undue influence. The trial court still denied appellant's motion, however, on the ground that appellant never proffered evidence of a reasonable defense to justify withdrawing his guilty pleas under Code § 19.2-296. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court erred in refusing to allow appellant to withdraw his guilty pleas pursuant to Code ยง 19.2-296. In support of this argument, appellant alleges that he was pressured into pleading guilty by his family and the error in the plea agreement demonstrated that there was never a meeting of the minds. The Commonwealth responds by arguing that the trial court did not err ...


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