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State of Louisiana v. Jeremy Rachal
Case Number: No. 53,398-KA
Judge: Jay B. McCallum
Court: COURT OF APPEAL
STATE OF LOUISIANA
Plaintiff's Attorney: JAMES E. STEWART, SR.
RICHARD SOL FEINBERG
RON CHRISTOPHER STAMPS
Assistant District Attorneys
Call 918-582-6422 for free help finding a great criminal defense lawyer.
On May 11, 2015, a fire was reported at the Kingwood Forest
Apartments in Shreveport, Louisiana. The fire department was dispatched to
the scene and was able to gain control of the fire and limit the damage.
Investigators determined that an unknown person had intentionally set the
fire in the bedroom of the apartment. Although the entire apartment was
saturated in gasoline, the fire did not burn the living room. An unburned
victim was found with a fatal gunshot to his head. Investigators determined
that someone had set the fire in an attempt to conceal the victim’s murder.
The victim, Jed Howard, lived in the apartment.
Mr. Howard’s vehicle was later found ablaze in a wooded area. Video
footage from a house near the site showed a man drive the stolen vehicle
into the woods and leave the vehicle there. An hour later, a second vehicle
parked near the woods and a man exited the vehicle. The man walked into
the woods and then later exited the woods. Approximately an hour later, a
man walked into the woods with a can of gasoline and then exited. The man
returned forty-five minutes later, at which time the fire was ignited.
Police released the video to the public. The defendant’s siblings,
Candice Rachal and Dustin Rachal, along with the defendant’s mother,
Shelia Rachal, identified the defendant as the man in the video footage. The
second vehicle in the video footage was that of Dustin Rachal. Dustin
Rachal told police he had driven his brother to the woods. John Mosley, a
friend of Rachal, admitted that he drove Rachal to a gas station where
Rachal bought gasoline and a box of matches. The box of matches
identified by John Mosley was the same as the box of matches found at the
side of the victim’s burned vehicle.
Several witnesses identified recent burns on Rachal. He was found to
have purchased medical supplies indicative of a burn treatment around the
same time as the two fires. Friends and family members returned items to
the police or told the police of items that Rachal had stolen from the
apartment of the victim. The returned items matched descriptions and serial
numbers of items missing from the victim’s apartment. Additional items in
the defendant’s possession included the victim’s clothing along with a
muddy pair of boots that matched the boots from the video footage. John
Mosley also admitted that he had sold a watch, gold rings, cocaine, and two
.38 revolvers for the defendant.
Ashley Coleman, a fiancé of a friend of Rachal, told police that she
overheard Rachal admit to the murder of the victim. She stated that she
heard Rachal say that he placed a pillow over the victim’s head and then
shot him. Ms. Coleman’s account of the murder matched the investigator’s
determination even though such information had not been made public.
Finally, after his arrest, Rachal himself confessed to the murder via an
inmate electronic tablet wherein he stated:
I cant live with what ive done. My name is Jeremy Rachal and
I want to confess to the murder I’m here at CCC for I did kill
him and set his house on fire and also my friend Derrick
Thomas told me he did do the murder he’s on because Smurf
the victim used to beat him up everyday for having --- with his
girl and I say all this under oath… Jeremy Rachal1
By Bill of Indictment, Rachal was charged with second degree murder
and aggravated arson. On July 29, 2019, Rachal entered a guilty plea to
second degree murder, pursuant to Alford and Crosby. As part of the
agreement, the state dismissed the charge of aggravated arson, seven other
charges from other criminal dockets, and agreed to not file an habitual
Prior to Rachal pleading guilty, the state had offered an opportunity to
plead to a lesser charge. Instead of taking that deal, or proceeding to trial,
Rachal countered with his own offer to plead guilty to second degree
murder. Because it was particularly important to him that he maintain his
innocence and his right to appeal, Rachal entered the guilty plea under the
specification that he was allowed to do so pursuant to Alford and Crosby.
Rachal agreed to the sentence of life imprisonment without the benefit of
parole, probation or suspension of sentence. Rachal also entered a guilty
plea to a charge of aggravated battery. His sentence for that conviction was
set to run concurrently with his sentence for second degree murder.
1 We have left the confessional statement by Rachal verbatim, choosing not to
insert “(sic)” the multiple times necessary throughout the paragraph.
Rachal appeals his conviction for second degree murder. He alleges
the following six errors: (1) a Brady violation by the state; (2) the trial court
violated his right to a speedy trial; (3) the trial court erred by failing to rule
on Rachal’s pro se motions prior to accepting his guilty plea; (4) Rachal
received ineffective assistance of counsel; (5) an insufficient factual basis
existed for his guilty plea; and (6) his guilty plea was involuntary.
The case before us includes a plea made pursuant to both North
Carolina v. Alford, supra, and State v. Crosby, supra. Rachal was offered
the opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge. That plea would have been
unqualified. Rachal instead tendered a plea for second degree murder,
pursuant to Alford and Crosby; an alternative resolution that he himself
presented to the state. The state accepted his proposal.
Typically, a defendant admits guilt when pleading guilty. His guilty
plea, when accepted by the trial court, also waives the defendant’s right to
appeal all non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings prior to his plea. The
plea further waives the right to challenge the merits of the state’s case and
the factual basis for the guilt. With an Alford plea, the defendant maintains
his innocence. With a Crosby plea, the defendant maintains his right to
appeal specifically identified pre-plea errors. A Crosby plea allows a fair
and efficient way for a court of review to focus on a central issue which, if
found erroneous, would mandate reversal of any resulting conviction.
Under State v. Joseph, 2003-315 (La. 5/16/03), 847 So. 2d 1196,
failure of the defendant to specify the pre-plea issues for review does not
absolutely preclude his ability to seek review. However, we may limit our
review in scope. In limiting the scope of review, we must presume that the
trial court permitted the Crosby plea reservation to be no broader than
necessary to effectuate the underlying purpose of the plea. Id. As such, our
review will be limited to evidentiary rulings that would “go to the heart of
the prosecution’s case.” Id. Defendant would have waived such issues by
entering an unqualified guilty plea. For example, appellate review of a trial
court’s denial of a motion to suppress is reserved whereas rulings as to the
conduct of the trial, such as a motion to continue, are not preserved.
Rachal alleges that the state withheld exculpatory evidence, in
violation of his rights as expounded upon by the Supreme Court of the
United States in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194, 10 L. Ed.
2d 215 (1963). The Brady court held that where a state fails to provide
evidence favorable to an accused upon his request for such evidence, then
the state violates the due process rights of the accused if the evidence is
material to either guilt or punishment. Id. Good faith or bad faith by the
state in suppressing such evidence is not considered. Id.
Rachal contends that the sheriff’s office had evidence that would
show that his confession was forged. He alleges that another inmate,
Trivenskey Odom, wrote the confession on his inmate tablet. The state
argues that all evidence from the Sheriff’s office was provided to Rachal. It
further contends that it answered and provided all related evidence sought by
Rachal’s subpoena. Indeed, at the plea hearing, counsel for Rachal stated on
the record that she had received such evidence from the state and that she
was providing copies of the evidence to Rachal.
The record before us does not include the documents or the evidence
cited by Rachal. He further did not provide a copy of the alleged evidence
for our review. He fails to establish that any evidence given to him by the
state proves that another inmate typed his confession. Furthermore, it is
clear from the record and the transcript of the hearing that Rachal did in fact
receive copies of the evidence that he had requested before entering his plea.
Furthermore, we cannot find that the evidence in question was
exculpatory. Rachal has failed to establish a Brady violation and therefore,
we find that Rachal did not suffer any prejudice.
This assignment of error lacks merit.
On August 13, 2015, by Bill of Indictment, the state charged Rachal
with second degree murder and aggravated arson. Pursuant to La. C. Cr. P.
art. 578, the state was required to commence trial within two years. For
Rachal, that date would have been August 13, 2017. The state did not
commence trial prior to that date. Rachal entered his guilty plea on July 29,
2019, and argues that his right to a speedy trial was violated.
Although La. C. Cr. P. art. 578 requires commencement of trial within
two years, exceptions do exist to suspend the prescriptive two-year period.
In reviewing La. C. Cr. P. art. 580(A), along with this Court’s previous
opinions in State v. Barnett, 50,123 (La. App. 2 Cir. 8/12/15), 174 So. 3d
748), and State v. Richter, 51,259 (La. App. 2 Cir. 8/9/17), 243 So. 3d 1193),
one finds that any motion filed by defense that has the effect of delaying trial
suspends the tolling of the two-year period mandated by La. C. Cr. P. art.
578. Motions to quash, motions to suppress, applications for discovery, bills
of particular, and motions for continuances all suspend the two-year time
delay. See State. Barnett, supra; State v. Richter, supra.
Rachal filed several motions that suspended the two-year period. On
May 9, 2017, he filed a motion to appoint new counsel. On January 28,
2019, he filed a motion to quash. On February 4, 2019, he filed a motion in
limine. Defendant’s counsel also received continuances of Rachal’s case on
November 16, 2016, May 30, 2017, and June 19, 2018.
These motions suspended the prescriptive period in which the state
had to commence trial. We particularly note that prior to his guilty plea, the
trial court had yet to rule on Rachal’s motions in limine. Therefore, the
suspension of the time delay had yet to recommence.
Rachal further argues that he previously filed a motion to quash based
on a violation of his right to a speedy trial. The trial court denied that
motion on February 4, 2019. Rachal argues that the trial court erred in
denying his motion.
We also find that the trial court was correct in denying that motion.
We further note that Rachal sought supervisory review of that trial court
ruling, which this Court declined to consider because Rachal failed to
comply with U.R.C.A. Rules 4-3 and 4-5. Rachal failed to remedy his
failures and he did not seek any further review of the issue at that time.
We find that no violation of defendant’s right to a speedy trial
occurred. This assignment of error lacks merit.
Rachal also contends that his lawyer was ineffective in arguing for his
motion to quash. The issue of ineffective counsel is addressed below.
RACHAL’S PRE-TRIAL PRO SE MOTION IN LIMINE
At the time that Rachal tendered his pleas, the trial court had yet to
rule on his motion in limine. Rachal contends that the trial court erred by
accepting his plea without first ruling on this motion. He alleges that had the
trial court held a hearing on his motion, he would have been able to prove
that another inmate wrote his confession. He provided no evidence or
testimony that substantiates his contention that another inmate, named
Trivenskey Odom, submitted the confession. Furthermore, Trivenskey
Odom, being deceased, could not provide any corroboration of Rachal’s
When a defendant proceeds to trial without raising the issue of the
trial court’s failure to rule on a pre-trial motion, the defendant waives the
motion. See State v. Holmes, 2006-2988 (La. 12/2/08), 5 So. 3d 42, cert.
denied, 558 U.S. 932, 130 S. Ct. 70, 175 L. Ed. 2d 233 (2009); State v.
Winzer, 49,316 (La. App. 2 Cir. 10/8/14), 151 So. 3d 135, writ denied, 2014-
2373 (La. 4/22/16), 191 So. 3d 1044; State v. Farris, 51,094 (La. App. 2 Cir.
12/14/16), 210 So. 3d 877, writ denied, 2017-0070 (La. 10/9/17), 227 So. 3d
828. Although an indigent defendant has a right to counsel or to represent
himself, he does not enjoy a right to be both represented and pro se in
representation. State v. McCabe, 420 So. 2d 955 (La. 1982); State v. Winzer,
supra. In fact, it is well settled in Louisiana that a trial court is not required
to entertain motions filed by a defendant who is represented by counsel.
State v. Outley, 629 So. 2d 1243, 1250 (La. App. 2 Cir. 12/3/93), writ
denied, 1994-0410 (La. 5/20/94), 637 So. 2d 476; State v. McCabe, supra.
Counsel represented Rachal when he filed his pro se motion in limine.
The record before us does not show that counsel for Rachal adopted the
motion. Furthermore, lacking any support, we find that the motion
ultimately had no merit. Therefore, the court’s failure to rule on the motion
in limine did not prejudice the defendant. Moreover, when Rachal
proceeded to plead guilty, he waived all non-jurisdictional defects.
Although he did plead pursuant to Crosby, he failed to specify or identify
this issue as preserved for review.
This assignment of error lacks merit.
INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL2
Rachal argues that he had ineffective assistance of counsel in violation
of his Sixth Amendment right. He alleges that his appointed counsel,
Michelle Andrepont, failed to file a subpoena for discovery as he had
requested, made incriminating comments against him, and violated his right
to a speedy trial by filing motions to continue his trial. He points out that he
even made a motion to the trial court for the appointment of a new attorney.
The trial court did allow Rachal to represent himself at a hearing on
August 3, 2017. At that hearing, Rachal withdrew his motion to appoint
new counsel. Michelle Andrepont remained appointed as standby counsel.
However, by September 20, 2017, complaining that a speech
impediment prevented him from properly representing himself, Rachal again
asked the court to appoint a new lawyer. The court explained to him that
although he has a right to appointed representation, he does not have a right
to choose which lawyer will be appointed. Rachal then asked the court to
reappoint Michelle Andrepont to represent him. The court did so.
Rachal now asserts that he was provided ineffective assistance of
counsel. He specifically takes issue with his attorney’s purported ineffective
handling of the state’s alleged speedy trial violation. He also contends that
his attorney refused to file a subpoena for discovery regarding his
2 We note that claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are more properly raised
in an application for post-conviction relief. However, when the record is sufficient, we
may resolve the issue on direct appeal. The record before us is sufficient for such
The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides defendants a right
to effective assistance of counsel. In order to show that counsel was
ineffective, a defendant must show (1) that counsel’s performance was
deficient and (2) that such lacking performance prejudiced the defense.
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674
(1984). The first prong requires a showing that counsel made errors so
serious that he was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed by the Sixth
Amendment. Strickland v. Washington, supra; State v. Reese, 49,849 (La.
App. 2. Cir. 5/20/15), 166 So. 3d 1175, writ denied, 2012-1236 (La. 6/3/16),
192 So. 3d 760. The second prong requires a showing that but for counsel’s
errors, there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would
have been different. Strickland v. Washington, supra; State v. Reese, supra.
A defendant making a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must
identify certain acts or omissions by counsel which led to the claim.
Strickland v Washington, supra, State v. Reese, supra. General statements
and conclusory charges will not suffice. Strickland v Washington, supra,
State v. Reese, supra.
In considering an attorney’s actions in defense of their client, we give
deference to the attorney’s trial strategy. See State v. Jones, 49,396 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 11/19/14), 152 So. 3d 235, writ denied, 2014-2631 (La. 9/25/15),
178 So. 3d 565. The filing and pursuit of pre-trial motions is squarely
within the domain of such strategic decisions required of an attorney when
properly and effectively assisting and representing their defendant client. Id.
We do not require that counsel for a defendant engage in efforts that would
prove futile and unproductive to the effective representation of their client.
We have previously discussed that Rachal’s allegation of a speedy
trial violation lacks merit. We also found that his alleged Brady violation
lacks merit. We have previously discussed that Rachal’s attorney did in fact
file the subpoena that he requested, received the alleged discovery, and
provided the documents to him.
Nevertheless, Rachal assigns fault to his attorney. He specifically
argues that his failure to prove a speedy trial violation before the trial court
was caused by his appointed counsel’s multiple requests to continue his
case. In light of our previous discussion on that matter, we find Rachal’s
counsel was not ineffective. She sought continuances of the trial in order to
resolve the multiple issues that Rachal himself asked her and the court to
resolve prior to trial.
Rachal contends that his attorney further provided ineffective counsel
in failing to zealously pursue his motion to quash. The attorney believed
that his motion to quash lacked merit. She was correct. Pursuing that
motion, as Rachal believes was required of his counsel, would have been
nothing but futile.
Rachal fails to prove either prong of the two-prong Strickland test.
He does not make a showing that his attorney was deficient. He likewise
fails to show that but for her performance, his outcome would have been
different than the plea that he proposed himself to the state. The record
lacks a showing that the actions and decisions by Rachal’s attorney were
improper or deficient.
This assignment of error lacks merit.
Rachal argues that the factual basis read into the record at the time of
his guilty plea was not sufficient as proof of his guilt. He specifically
alleges that the factual basis was insufficient to prove that he shot the victim,
set either the apartment or car on fire, stole the victim’s car or belongings,
suffered any burn associated with the two fires, or that he made the
confession on his inmate tablet.
For an Alford plea, the record must contain “strong evidence of actual
guilt.” North Carolina v. Alford, supra. The standard under Alford is not
whether the state may prevail at trial by establishing the essential elements
of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt and negating all possible defenses.
State v. Orman, 97-2089 (La. 1/9/98), 704 So. 2d 245; State v. McMillion,
supra. Rather, the standard is whether the strength of the factual basis,
coupled with the other circumstances of the plea, reflect that the plea
represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternatives. State v.
Orman, supra; State v. McMillion, supra. Appellate courts have used
evidence adduced at evidentiary hearings, such as a preliminary examination
or a hearing on a motion to suppress, to find a factual basis to support an
Alford plea. See State v. Orman, supra; State v. Kelly, 17-221 (La. App. 5
Cir. 12/29/17), 237 So. 3d 1226; State v. Linear, 600 So. 2d 113 (La. App. 2
Therefore, the trial court was required to find that a significant factual
basis for the plea existed. The state read the following factual basis into the
The state alleges that on or about May 11, 2015, Jed Howard
was murdered at Kings Terrace Apartments. There was a fire
set at that time. We subsequently learned that the victim had
suffered a gunshot to the top of his head and that the fire was
set in his apartment.
His car was also stolen at that time. It came up torched on
Camrose Street, the 3800 block of Camrose Street. There was
video surveillance on Camrose Street that the state alleges
shows the defendant coming to the scene and leaving the scene
after the car was torched as well.
The state would also note that the defendant suffered a severe
burn during this time period providing inconsistent statements
as to how the burns occurred indicating to his employer that the
burns occurred at home, indicating to his mother that the burns
occurred at work.
Further, there was a television that was taken from the victim’s
home that was subsequently sold to the defendant’s sister or
brother and that TV was ID’d as one of the -- a TV that was
taken from the victim’s home.
Further, the sister corroborates that the vehicle that was driven
by the -- that was used to torch the vehicle was driven by the
defendant’s brother, Dustin, and the car was owned by his
sister, both identified the defendant as being present at the
And finally, the state alleges that there is a tablet that was used
at CCC that confirms the event admitted by the defendant that
we intended to show at trial.
The factual basis recited by the state is sufficient. It provides details
of the murder and the arsons involved. It links the defendant to the vehicle
arson through both surveillance video and witness identification of the
defendant at the scene of the vehicle fire. It links the defendant to property
stolen from the victim’s apartment. It details the defendant’s injuries that
corroborate his involvement in the arsons. It finally provides the evidence of
a confession, made by the defendant, on his inmate tablet, while in jail.
Even if we were to find that the state’s recitation of facts was
insufficient standing alone, our inquiry would not end there. On August 12,
2015, the trial court presided over a preliminary examination. At the
examination, the state presented the testimony of Detective Marlin Clark, of
the Shreveport Police Department. Detective Clark provided with detail the
witness statements and evidence against Rachal. The trial court, at that time,
found probable cause to hold Rachal.
The state’s factual basis and the evidence from the preliminary
examination are sufficient to support Rachal’s Alford plea. The factual basis
provides strong evidence of Rachal’s guilt for second degree murder.
This assignment of error lacks merit.
Under La. C. Cr. P. art. 556.1, a valid guilty plea must be a voluntary
choice by the defendant and not the result of force or threats. It also
provides that prior to accepting a guilty plea, the court must personally
inform the defendant of the nature of the charge to which the plea is offered,
along with any mandatory minimum penalty and the maximum possible
penalty. When the record establishes that an accused was informed of and
waived his right to a trial by jury, to confront his accusers, and against selfincrimination, the burden shifts to the accused to prove that despite the
record, his guilty plea was involuntary. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238,
89 S. Ct. 1709, 23 L. Ed. 2d 274 (1969); State v. McGarr, 52,641 (La. App.
2 Cir. 4/10/19), 268 So. 3d 1189; State v. Johnson, 52,965 (La. App. 2 Cir.
9/25/19), 280 So. 3d 1245. An express and knowing waiver of the above
rights must appear on the record. Boykin v. Alabama, supra; State v.
Johnson, supra. We may not presume an unequivocal showing of a free and
voluntary waiver. Boykin v. Alabama, supra; State v. Johnson, supra.
As previously discussed, the “best interest” or Alford plea, which
derives from the case of North Carolina v. Alford, supra, is one in which the
defendant pleads guilty while maintaining his innocence. Under Alford, a
defendant may plead guilty without forgoing his protestations of innocence
if the plea represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative
courses of action open to the defendant. Id.
The test for the validity of a guilty plea does not depend upon whether
the district court specifically informed the accused of every element of the
offense. State v. Cooper, 52,408 (La. App. 2 Cir. 11/8/18), 261 So. 3d 975;
State v. Johnson, supra. Rather, the defendant must establish that he lacked
awareness of the essential nature of the offense to which he was pleading.
State v. Cooper, supra; State v. Johnson, supra. Violations of Article 556.1
that do not rise to the level of Boykin violations are subject to the harmless
error analysis. State v. Cooper, supra; State v. Johnson, supra. The proper
inquiry is whether the defendant’s knowledge and comprehension of the full
and correct information would have likely affected his willingness to plead
guilty. State v. Cooper, supra; State v. Johnson, supra.
We note the following key statements made on the record at the plea
(1) Asked to confirm that he offered the plea deal and that it
was his desire to enter a plea pursuant to Alford, Rachal stated,
“As long as I’m maintaining my innocence and as long as I’m
maintaining my innocence in docket No. 333,082 for the
second-degree murder, but I’m reserving my right for appeal.
… I’ll plead under Alford.”
(2) Asked if he understood the nature of the charges against him
for second degree murder and aggravated battery and that he
would receive the sentences of life in prison without any
benefits, and ten years at hard labor to run concurrently, the
court asked, “Is that what you want to do?” Rachal replied,
(3) Asked again by the court if he understood the sentence he
would receive, Rachal replied, “As long as I’m maintaining my
innocence… and reserving my right for appeal.”
(4) When asked if he understood his right to a jury trial and that
he was waiving that right, Rachal replied, “Right.”
(5) After an explanation of his right to confront his accuser,
cross-examination, and to question witnesses, and if he
understood he was waiving that right, Rachal replied, “Yeah.”
(6) After a back and forth explanation of the right against selfincrimination and if the defendant understood that he was
waiving that right, Rachal replied, “So all right,.. So by me
pleading under Alford, you’re basically saying that I’m not …
I’m not incriminating myself, I’m still maintaining my
innocence, I’m reserving my right to appeal?” The court
replied, “Right.” Rachal replied, “All right.”
(7) When asked if he understood that the possible penalty for
second degree murder was life imprisonment at hard labor
without any benefits, Rachal replied, “Right.”
(8) When asked if he understood the possible penalty for
aggravated battery was ten years imprisonment and a fine of up
to $5,000, Rachal replied, “Yeah.”
(9) After a back and forth with the court about coercion or
being forced into any plea deal, the court asked, “But you want
to plead to the charge?” Rachal replied, “As long as I’m
maintaining my innocence.” Not satisfied, the court gave an
example of coercion and asked Rachal, “It’s something you
decided to do because of the situation. Is that what you’re
saying?” Rachal replied, “I guess.” The court then continued
to press Rachal in order to ensure that he was pleading of his
own free will. Ultimately, after Rachal’s attorney spoke with
him, the attorney stated, “Your Honor, it’s my understanding
that his concerns are addressed with the Alford and Crosby
pleas. That under Alford he will not admit the facts, but will
admit that it’s in his best interest to take a plea.” The court then
asked if that was indeed the case and Rachal replied, “Yes.”
(10) Again, later asked if he desired to plead pursuant to Alford
and Crosby, for second degree murder, Rachal replied, “Yes. I
plead under Alford, to reserve my right to appeal under State
versus Crosby and I maintain my innocence in the second
degree murder charge.”
(11) When asked if he pleads guilty and admits the facts
pertaining to the aggravated battery charge, Rachal replied,
“Yeah. All right. Yeah. Yeah.”
When a defendant voluntarily pleads pursuant to Alford, the defendant
will generally receive a benefit or advantage. One of the advantages most
often seen in Alford cases is that of a plea to a lesser charge or the defendant
receiving a lesser sentence. At first glance, this case may appear atypical
since the defendant received life in prison, without any benefits; the same
sentence as he would have received via a guilty verdict by jury.
It is necessary to stress that the defendant himself requested the deal
that he received. Rachal proposed to the state that he would plead guilty to
second degree murder, and he agreed to the sentence of life in prison at hard
labor, without any benefits. It is clear from the record that the crucial
benefit that Rachal wished to receive was that he would maintain his
Rachal faced a seemingly overwhelming case against him. The state
had evidence of Rachal’s involvement at the both the apartment where the
murder occurred and at the site where the victim’s vehicle was burned. The
state further had the incriminating statements of Rachal’s own family and
friends. They confirmed Rachal’s involvement with the murder of the
victim and one friend even stated to officers that she overheard Rachal
confess to the murder. The state had Rachal’s confession to the murder of
the victim and the subsequent arson.
Rachal was undoubtedly steadfast and passionate about maintaining
his innocence to the point of avoiding a jury trial altogether. The transcript
of his plea shows a defendant unyielding in his insistence that he avoid any
possibility of ultimately being found guilty, and that he be allowed to
maintain his innocence and a right to appeal his conviction.
Furthermore, we must be clear in noting that Rachal did receive the
following additional benefits with his Alford plea: the state dismissed the
charge of aggravated arson against Rachal; the state dismissed charges
against Rachal in seven other criminal dockets; and the state agreed to not
file a habitual offender bill against Rachal. Finally, the court, on that same
date, accepted a second guilty plea by Rachal to aggravated battery against a
correctional officer, in which Rachal caused serious bodily injury. Part of
Rachal’s plea offer to the state was that his sentence for aggravated battery
would run concurrent to his sentence for second degree murder. It is not
even altogether ascertainable from the record that the prior offer of the state
to a “lesser” charge would have resulted in any significant diminution of
Rachal’s motives for making the agreement he made are his own.
Purposes that are of paramount importance to one person may be nugatory to
another. The question is not whether one would have made the same
decisions as the defendant, but whether he understood what he was doing.
His actions and words indicate he did. The constitutions of the United States
and Louisiana do not vest us with the authority to decide for a defendant
what considerations he should most cherish and we decline to do so.
In light of the above and in consideration of the entire record, we find
that Rachal voluntarily pleaded to second degree murder and aggravated
battery, pursuant to Alford and Crosby. As he most ardently wished, his plea
agreement allowed him to maintain his innocence with regard to the second
degree murder. He also had numerous charges against him dropped and the
state agreed to not file an habitual offender bill.
3 The plea offer made by the state to Rachal was not placed into the record.
This assignment of error lacks merit.
Outcome: The conviction and sentence of the defendant are AFFIRMED.