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Commonwealth v. Fugate

Supreme Court of Kentucky

August 24, 2017


          RENDERED: APRIL 27, 2017


          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky Micah Brandon Roberts Assistant Attorney General

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Kathleen Kallaher Schmidt Assistant Public Advocate




         William Fugate was arrested for operating a motor vehicle on a DUI-suspended license. Because it was his third such offense in less than three years, the Commonwealth charged him with a Class D felony under the penalty-enhancement provision in KRS 189A, 090(2)(c). Fugate challenged this enhancement by collaterally attacking his earlier convictions, arguing that his guilty pleas in those cases were invalid under Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969), which requires trial judges to ensure that guilty pleas are made . intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily before accepting them.

         The circuit court rejected that challenge on the merits, and Fugate conditionally pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal that decision. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling and vacated the judgment of conviction because it viewed the record as lacking sufficient evidence showing that Fugate's past guilty pleas complied with the Boykin requirements. Because that court misapplied or ignored controlling precedent from- this Court, as explained below, we reverse the Court of Appeals' opinion and reinstate Fugate's conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Police arrested Fugate in January 2014 for operating a motor vehicle on a DUI-suspended driver's license. Because he was twice convicted of the same offense in 2012, the Commonwealth charged him under the enhancement provision in KRS 189A.090(2)(c), which makes the third offense committed within'10 years a Class D felony (as opposed to a first-offense Class B misdemeanor under KRS 189A.090(2)(a)).[1]

         Fugate moved to suppress the evidence of his two 2012 convictions and bar the Commonwealth from using them to enhance the 2014 offense, and he asked the circuit court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the motion. In his motion, he claimed that his two guilty pleas in district court[2] were invalid under Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969), because the records in those cases contained nothing showing that he was informed of and made a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of his constitutional rights.[3] Instead, his motion alleged, the audio record of his arraignments and pleas showed that he was not represented by counsel or informed of his right to counsel, did not verbally waive any of his constitutional rights, and did not affirmatively say the word guilty in responding to the judge's questioning about whether he wanted to plead guilty. The motion added that, at the time he pleaded guilty in district court, "he did not fully appreciate or understand the constitutional rights which were ended by the entry of his guilty plea."[4] It also asserted that he did not understand his right to consult with an attorney or that the misdemeanor convictions could be used to enhance a future offense to a felony.

         The circuit court held a hearing during which it reviewed recordings of the 2012 district-court proceedings. The recordings of those cases showed that the district court recited the constitutional rights and explained briefly the consequences of pleading guilty to all who were present before it took up their individual arraignments. Later, the court reprised portions of that recitation in the course of questioning Fugate about whether he wanted to plead guilty without having counsel appointed. In reciting the constitutional rights, the judge was mostly, but not completely, comprehensive.[5] Rugate confirmed that he understood what the district court had told him. The Commonwealth also introduced to the circuit court evidence of Fugate's driving record and extensive criminal history. Fugate did not testify.

         The circuit court denied the suppression motion. In doing so, it . addressed the merits of Fugate's Boykin challenge, finding that his earlier pleas were intelligent, knowing, and voluntary under the totality of the circumstances. The court found that the district court's explanations of his rights had been adequate, and that where Fugate may not have explicitly expressed to the district court in those proceedings his understanding of every one of those rights and the significance of waiving them by pleading guilty, his statements and conduct demonstrated as much. In considering the totality of Fugate's particular circumstances-as Kotos v. Commonwealth, 565 S.W.2d 445, 447 (Ky. 1978), directs-the circuit court also relied on Fugate's lengthy criminal record as further circumstantial proof that he indeed had understood what his rights were and how pleading guilty would affect them.

         Fugate appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals acknowledged that Fugate's failure to testify seemed to be fatal to his claim in light of this Court's holding in Conklin v. Commonwealth,799 S.W.2d 582, 584 (Ky, 1990). Yet despite that, the Court of Appeals believed that "to affirm in this case would be disingenuous" because it could not say "with confidence Fugate's pleas . . . were intelligent, knowing, and voluntary." Curiously, the Court of Appeals also declined to reach ...

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