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Prater v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

February 20, 2014

JAMES PRATER, APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY, APPELLEE

Released for Publication April 10, 2014

Page 381

ON APPEAL FROM PULASKI CIRCUIT COURT. HONORABLE DAVID A. TAPP, JUDGE. NO. 12-CR-00379.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Samuel N. Potter, Assistant Public Advocate.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Jack Conway, Attorney General of Kentucky; Todd Dryden Ferguson, Assistant Attorney General.

OPINION

Page 382

SCOTT, JUSTICE.

AFFIRMING

Appellant, James Prater, entered a plea of guilty to two counts of manufacturing methamphetamine, one count of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, and one count of promoting contraband, for which he was sentenced to thirty-eight years' imprisonment. He now appeals his sentence as a matter of right, Ky. Const. § 110(2)(b), asserting that the trial court erred by not allowing him to withdraw his

Page 383

guilty plea. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In exchange for Appellant's guilty plea, the Commonwealth agreed to recommend a sentence of twenty years' imprisonment, to be probated for five years. Additionally, the plea agreement conditioned the prosecution's sentencing recommendation upon Appellant's compliance with the terms of his bond until sentencing.[1] In particular, the agreement prohibited Appellant from committing additional criminal acts, consuming alcohol or illegal drugs, or failing to comply with the requirements of home incarceration. If Appellant breached the terms of his bond, the agreement provided that the trial court could release the Commonwealth from its original recommendation and allow it to recommend up to the maximum penalty under the law--forty-eight years' imprisonment.

A plea agreement provision, such as the one described above, that allows the Commonwealth to recommend a harsher sentence if a defendant fails to comply with the conditions of his bond is colloquially known as a " hammer clause." [2] In the present case, the hammer clause also contained a provision that ostensibly required the trial court to deny any motion by Appellant to withdraw his guilty plea made after a violation of his bond conditions. Appellant's arguments, addressed below, attack the propriety of this provision.

Before his sentencing date, Appellant removed his ankle monitor and fled home incarceration, violating the conditions of his bond. Appellant was later discovered passed out in a bathroom stall at Wal-Mart, and found in possession of methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, and a one-step meth lab. He was then taken into custody and charged with four additional drug-related offenses.

Following his arrest, Appellant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he was suffering from mental disorders and was under the influence of drugs at the time he entered the plea. Concurrently, the Commonwealth filed a motion to be relieved of its plea offer. The trial court subsequently denied Appellant's motion to withdraw the guilty plea and found that, due to Appellant's violation ...


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