Knowingly and Fairly Made Pleas

State v. Terning, No. 119,904 (Kan. Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2020).

Issue: Under a motion to withdraw, is a plea knowingly and fairly made when the possible sentence term was mathematically different from the corrected sentence term?

Answer: Yes, a plea is knowingly and fairly made when there is no meaningful difference between the sentence that the defendant accepted in the plea and the later corrected sentence. 

Facts: In 2008, Aaron Terning pled no contest to aggravated kidnapping and rape. He was sentenced to 330 months of imprisonment for the two crimes and thirty-six months postrelease supervision. After the Kansas Court of Appeals rejected his initial appeal, Terning filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing the district court incorrectly determined that kidnapping was the controlling crime. Terning’s motion argued that he should be sentenced to a lifetime of postrelease supervision instead of the thirty-six months he received. Terning sought to withdraw his plea on the basis that it was not knowingly and fairly made, as he was told the wrong term of post-release supervision at his hearing.

Discussion: The court analogized this case to Barahona, which found that “failure to advise a criminal defendant of the applicability of a postrelease supervisory period” does not violate due process “if the sentence assigned to the defendant and any mandatory supervised period following his or her release does not exceed the maximum penalty term the defendant was told at sentencing.” Here, the maximum penalty term that Terning was told at sentencing was 818 months, or sixty-eight years and two months. Because Terning was thirty-seven years old at the time of sentencing, and thus would have been 105 at the end of the maximum term, the court found that this was not “meaningfully different” from the life sentence he ultimately received.

Additionally, the prosecution would have sought an upward departure from the mandatory minimum sentence in Terning’s case, further lengthening his sentence. The difference between the maximum possible sentence and eventual sentence is not meaningfully different when, regardless of the post release term, the defendant faces a period longer than his or her natural life. Because there was no meaningful difference between Terning’s maximum possible sentence and the actual sentence he received, his plea was knowingly and fairly made, and he was not allowed to withdraw it.

Key Authorities: 

Kan. Stat. Ann. § 22-3210(a)(2) (Supp. 2018).

Kan. Stat. Ann. § 22-3210(d) (Supp. 2018).

State v. Beauclair, 130 P.3d 40 (Kan. 2006).

State v. Barahona, 132 P.3d 959 (2006).

State v. Metzger, 399 P.3d 285 (Kan. Ct. App. June 30, 2017) (unpublished opinion).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.