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State of Louisiana v. D’Andrae L. McGarr
Case Number: No. 53,529-KA
Judge: Jefferson "Jeff" R. Thompson
Court: COURT OF APPEAL
STATE OF LOUISIANA
Plaintiff's Attorney: PENNY WISE DOUCIERE
Interim District Attorney
K. DOUGLAS WHEELER
Assistant District Attorneys
Call 918-582-6422 for free help finding a great criminal defense lawyer.
COURT OF APPEAL
STATE OF LOUISIANA
In December of 2016, D’Andrae McGarr (“McGarr”) is alleged to
have participated in the burglaries of two separate residences in Richland
Parish. After negotiating a favorable plea offer, McGarr pled guilty to two
of the six charges he was facing from these incidents. After pleading guilty,
but before the date of his sentencing, McGarr unsuccessfully sought to
withdraw his guilty pleas. McGarr alleged he was denied an opportunity for
a contradictory hearing on his request to withdraw his guilty pleas, and after
being sentenced by the trial court, sought review of that ruling. We vacated
McGarr’s sentences, and the matter was remanded to the district court for a
hearing to consider McGarr’s request to withdraw his guilty pleas.
The district court afforded McGarr a hearing on the matter, and after
considering the facts, denied his request to withdraw his guilty pleas. The
district court then sentenced McGarr consistent with the terms and
conditions of his original sentences. McGarr now appeals the district court’s
discretionary decision to deny his request to withdraw his guilty pleas.
McGarr asserts his guilty pleas were not knowing and voluntary, and further
asserts that the hearing on the matter was not of appropriate scope, as
required by the code of criminal procedure and the prior order of this Court.
For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the ruling of the district court.
Many of the facts and much of the procedural history of this matter
are detailed in State v. McGarr, 52,641 (La. App. 2 Cir. 04/10/19), 268 So.
3d 1189, and will not unnecessarily be repeated here. The pertinent facts
are that McGarr was charged in early 2017 with six separate crimes arising
from two separate burglaries in 2016, which charges included: (1)
aggravated burglary, (2) criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary,
(3) armed robbery, and (4) criminal conspiracy to commit armed robbery (all
from the first burglary), and (5) simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling and
(6) criminal conspiracy to commit simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling
(from the second burglary). In March 2018, after lengthy plea negotiations
McGarr entered guilty pleas to two of the pending charges against him,
namely those of aggravated burglary and simple burglary of an inhabited
dwelling. The other four charges against McGarr were dismissed.
The record reflects that McGarr’s attorney, Robert Noel (“Noel”),
began negotiating with the State on a plea agreement in early 2017. As a
result of the subsequent retirement of Noel from the practice of law,
approximately two weeks prior to his guilty pleas, Mitch Hoggatt
(“Hoggatt”) became McGarr’s attorney. Hoggatt continued the efforts of
Noel and spoke with McGarr approximately three times before McGarr
entered his guilty pleas, including a visit to the detention center. During
these two weeks, Hoggatt continued his predecessor’s negotiations with the
district attorney regarding the possibility of a guilty plea by McGarr.
Hoggatt also facilitated a meeting between McGarr and the prosecutor, at
McGarr’s request, so that McGarr could argue on his own behalf for a
On March 9, 2018, one week before McGarr’s trial was set to begin,
McGarr appeared in court with Hoggatt, and pled guilty to aggravated
burglary and simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling. All other counts
were dismissed. McGarr’s plea agreement included a sentencing
recommendation of 15 years at hard labor for the aggravated burglary charge
and 12 years at hard labor for the simple burglary charge, to run
concurrently, which was a significant reduction in the amount of
incarceration McGarr was facing from the original charges and from the
previously extended plea offer from the district attorney.
On March 14, 2018, McGarr appeared before the trial court for
sentencing with attorney John Ellis, who was standing in for Hoggatt on that
day. Prior to being sentenced, McGarr told the trial court that he wanted to
withdraw his guilty pleas and requested to make a statement to the court,
against his counsel’s wishes. The trial court did not inquire why McGarr
wanted to withdraw his guilty pleas, and McGarr was not allowed to give a
statement to the trial court. The trial court sentenced McGarr to 15 years at
hard labor for the aggravated burglary charge and 12 years at hard labor for
the simple burglary charge, to run concurrently, with credit given for time
served. McGarr appealed the trial court’s denial of his oral motion to
withdraw his guilty pleas.
On April 10, 2019, this Court ruled on McGarr’s first appeal, finding
that “[t]he record clearly reflects that Defendant was properly informed of
his rights at the time his guilty pleas were accepted. However, there is
nothing in the record to indicate why Defendant desired to withdraw his
guilty pleas.” McGarr, 268 So. 3d at 1198. This Court noted that La. C. Cr.
P. art. 559(A) mandates a contradictory hearing once a defendant has made a
motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and we were unable at that time to
evaluate the exercise of discretion by the trial court, as no contradictory
hearing was held prior to the denial of Defendant’s motion to withdraw his
pleas. As such, this Court held that:
[w]ithout a record of the required hearing reflecting an inquiry
by the trial court into the reasons for Defendant’s request to
withdraw his guilty pleas, this Court is unable to evaluate the
exercise of discretion by the trial court. We therefore are
constrained to set aside Defendant’s sentences and remand the
case to the trial court to hold a hearing on Defendant’s motion
to withdraw his guilty pleas, with full opportunity to be
afforded to Defendant to present reasons and evidence of any
pertinent facts in support of the withdrawal of the pleas. The
trial court can then exercise its vast discretion to either deny or
allow withdrawal of the pleas.
McGarr, 268 So. 3d at 1199.
On May 15, 2019, a hearing in accordance with La. C. Cr. P. art.
559(A) and the order from this Court was held to consider McGarr’s request
to withdraw his guilty pleas.
Although McGarr’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas was made pro
se, the trial court appointed attorney Marcy Allen (“Allen”) for the hearing,
at McGarr’s request. The trial court gave McGarr and Allen an opportunity
to confer before the hearing commenced. After conferring with McGarr and
reviewing at least a portion of the transcript of McGarr’s guilty plea
colloquy with the court, Allen declined the trial court’s offer of additional
time to review materials or to further discuss the hearing with her client. In
addition to the arguments of Allen on McGarr’s behalf, at the outset of the
hearing the trial court allowed McGarr to make a statement to the court and
encouraged him to describe any reasons that he believed the court should
allow the withdrawal of his guilty pleas.
McGarr testified that he was 17 years old at the time of the charges
against him, he had a limited formal education, and he had little knowledge
of the law at the time of his pleas. He further testified that he did not receive
guidance from his attorney, who had only been on his case for two weeks
prior to the pleas, and that he felt pressure to take the plea deal, as his trial
was starting the Monday following his pleas. Finally, McGarr argued that
he did not agree with the factual basis recited by the state as to the charge of
simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling but that his trial counsel confirmed
his agreement for him at the time of the guilty pleas.
The state argued in response that McGarr’s original attorney was an
experienced attorney who negotiated with the state regarding a plea deal for
McGarr for almost a year. After Noel’s retirement, Hoggatt continued the
plea negotiations for McGarr and was able to reduce the prison term an
additional 15 years from the best plea offer extended to Noel. The state
noted that discovery was taken and McGarr met with Hoggatt a number of
times during their negotiations. The state further argued that McGarr
conducted his own negotiations, with the prosecutor and in the presence of
his attorney, in an effort to reduce his potential sentence. Finally, the state
argued that McGarr never objected to the factual basis of the aggravated
burglary and that his only objection during the recitation of facts of the
simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling charge was that he did not have a
gun when he entered the home, an element unnecessary for that charge.
At the conclusion of the contradictory hearing, the district court
denied McGarr’s request to withdraw his guilty pleas. Subsequently, on July
17, 2019, McGarr was sentenced and the sentence imposed mirrored the
previously negotiated, recommended, and imposed sentences of 15 years at
hard labor on the aggravated burglary charge and 12 years at hard labor on
the simple burglary charge. The sentences were likewise ordered to run
concurrently with credit for time served. This appeal by McGarr followed.
Assignment of Error: The trial court abused its discretion when it
found that Mr. McGarr’s pleas were knowing and voluntary and denied
Mr. McGarr’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas.
In addition to the clear language of the assignment of error that
McGarr’s guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary, there was an
additional argument by counsel that argued the scope of the contradictory
hearing afforded McGarr fell short of the scope outlined in this court’s prior
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. Article 556.1
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,
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 this
record, his guilty plea was involuntary. State v. Cooper, 52,408 (La. App. 2
Cir. 11/08/18), 261 So. 3d 975; State v. Martin, 48,045 (La. App. 2 Cir.
05/15/13), 115 So. 3d 750; see also Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S.
Ct. 1709, 23 L. Ed. 2d 274 (1969).
An express and knowing waiver of those rights must appear on the
record, and an unequivocal showing of a free and voluntary waiver cannot
be presumed. Boykin, 395 U.S. at 243; State v. Johnson, 51,430 (La. App. 2
Cir. 07/05/17), 224 So. 3d 505; State v. Kennedy, 42,850 (La. App. 2 Cir.
01/09/08), 974 So. 2d 203. A plea of guilty normally waives all
nonjurisdictional defects in the proceedings prior to the plea, including
insufficiency of the evidence. State v. Crosby, 338 So. 2d 584 (La. 1976);
State v. Johnson, 51,430 (La. App. 2 Cir. 07/05/17), 224 So. 3d 505; State v.
Stephan, 38,612 (La. App. 2 Cir. 08/18/04), 880 So. 2d 201. A validly
entered guilty plea, or plea of nolo contendere, waives any right a defendant
might have had to question the merits of the state’s case and the factual basis
underlying the conviction. Cooper, 261 So. 3d at 978; State v. Bourgeois,
406 So. 2d 550 (La. 1981); State v. Hardy, 39,233 (La. App. 2 Cir.
01/26/05), 892 So. 2d 710.
Was the contradictory hearing on McGarr’s request to withdraw his
guilty pleas conducted in accordance with La. C. Cr. P. art. 559(A)
and the instructions of this court?
The question whether McGarr was entitled to a hearing on his request
to withdraw his guilty pleas has been resolved as noted above. Louisiana
Code of Criminal Procedure Article 559(A) provides that “[u]pon motion of
the defendant and after a contradictory hearing, which may be waived by the
state in writing, the court may permit a plea of guilty to be withdrawn at any
time before sentence.” The discretion to allow the withdrawal of a guilty
plea under Article 559(A) lies with the trial court and such discretion cannot
be disturbed unless an abuse or arbitrary exercise of that discretion is shown.
State v. Martin, supra. A defendant has no absolute right to withdraw a
guilty plea. Id.
This Court previously ordered the case remanded to the trial court “to
hold a hearing on Defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas, with full
opportunity to be afforded to Defendant to present reasons and evidence of
any pertinent facts in support of the withdrawal of the pleas.” McGarr, 268
So. 3d at 1198. The right to and guidance regarding the scope of the hearing
to which McGarr was entitled is set forth La. C. Cr. P. art. 599(A).
McGarr argues that he was not afforded a hearing of the scope ordered
by this Court because his appointed counsel was not given sufficient time to
discuss the case with McGarr, to examine the evidence, to question potential
witnesses, to gather additional evidence, or to present that evidence to the
trial court. McGarr argues that the state was able to prepare for the hearing
and present evidence that previously had not been disclosed to counsel and
could not be investigated.
In response, the state argues that the trial court complied with this
Court’s order to hold a hearing on McGarr’s motion to withdraw his guilty
pleas and that full opportunity was afforded to McGarr to present reasons
and evidence of any pertinent facts in support of the withdrawal of his pleas.
A review of the record shows that McGarr’s motion to withdraw his
guilty pleas was pro se but that the trial court provided counsel upon his
request. The trial court gave McGarr’s newly assigned counsel time to meet
with the McGarr prior to the hearing. The following exchange between the
court and counsel occurred at the hearing:
STATE: Are you prepared to argue that…
MS. ALLEN: Your Honor, on Mr. McGarr’s matter, if the
argument is going to be heard today, I’m
probably as prepared as I will be. Of course,
I would like to make it clear for the record
that I was only appointed earlier in the day. I
have not read the record. I started picking
out a part of the transcript of the guilty plea
that belongs to Mr. Wheeler. And I have not
finished reading that but I think the
argument is very—it appears to be pretty
simple, as I see it.
STATE: Well, we can do it later this afternoon if you
need to go over lunch to look at it further?
MS. ALLEN: I believe, like I said, Your Honor, I am as
prepared as I will be.
At the hearing, McGarr was given the opportunity to testify and tell
the trial court in his own words the reasons that he wanted to withdraw his
guilty pleas. McGarr was well prepared, spoke at length about his reasons
he would like his guilty plea withdrawn, and even cited to a legal handbook.
Attorney Allen provided legal arguments on his behalf, and after the state
presented its case, the trial court allowed McGarr to make another statement
in response to the state.
Nothing in this Court’s prior order expanded or added additional
minimal requirements for a hearing beyond the general constructs of La. C.
Cr. P. art. 599(A). McGarr has failed to present facts or evidence that the
trial court abused its discretion in the manner in which it conducted the
remand hearing. The record is clear to the satisfaction of this Court that
McGarr was afforded ample opportunity by the district court to present
argument and evidence on his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. There
appears to have been thoughtful review by that court of its interaction with
McGarr when the guilty pleas were accepted. This Court cannot find a
deviation by the trial court from the contradictory hearing to which McGarr
was entitled and no abuse of discretion by the trial court in conducting the
Were McGarr’s guilty pleas knowing and voluntary?
In addressing McGarr’s assignment of error that the trial court abused
its discretion in concluding his guilty pleas were not knowing and voluntary
this Court has the opportunity to consider: (1) McGarr’s actions leading up
to his guilty pleas, (2) McGarr’s interaction with the court and responses to
questions at the time of his guilty pleas, and (3) the arguments presented by
McGarr and his counsel at the contradictory hearing.
1. McGarr’s Actions Leading up to Pleading Guilty
McGarr argues that the trial court failed to address his argument that
Hoggatt and Noel focused only on a plea bargain. When McGarr pled
guilty, he confirmed that he did, in fact, commit the crimes for which he was
being prosecuted. Due to his pleading guilty and stating on the record
specific facts regarding his knowledge of and involvement in the crimes, it is
understandable if McGarr’s strategy at the time was not to allege innocence
but rather to negotiate a favorable plea agreement and not risk decades of
incarceration at a trial where codefendants may have been eager to satisfy
the terms of their plea agreements by providing truthful testimony against
The charges against McGarr had been pending almost one year prior
to his pleading guilty, and his trial was imminently approaching. He was
represented by experienced counsel who negotiated with the district attorney
at length to obtain a plea offer. Upon receiving the plea offer, McGarr,
understandably, continued to attempt to negotiate a better deal and lesser
sentencing range for the crimes he was facing. When McGarr’s counsel
retired and his file was reassigned, he visited with his new counsel and
requested a continuation of plea negotiations as the trial approached. That
attorney was able to negotiate a plea offer to lesser charges with a substantial
reduction in the recommended sentencing from what had been presented to
McGarr earlier. Due to the efforts of counsel and his own personal
negotiations with the district attorney, McGarr accepted the benefit of his
successful negotiation and was able to plead guilty to lesser charges with
reduced recommended sentences.
2. McGarr’s Interaction with the Court When Pleading Guilty
This Court has previously found that “Defendant was properly
informed of his rights at the time his guilty pleas were accepted.” McGarr,
268 So. 3d at 1198. McGarr argues that during his original plea hearing, he
“disagreed with at least part of the shortened factual basis, was never
questioned about the full factual basis, and was being pressured to make a
In effect, McGarr argues that his guilty plea was invalid because he
disagreed with the shortened factual basis presented by the state as to the
charge of simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling, but the record shows that
the state presented a significant factual basis for McGarr’s guilty plea. The
following exchange took place at the time of McGarr’s guilty pleas:
TRIAL COURT: You are charged with committing the crime
of simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling
in that on or about December 31, 2016, you
committed simple burglary of an inhabited
dwelling belonging to Deanna Harrison and
Michael Ray Harrison located at 308
Morgan Street, Rayville, Louisiana. Do you
understand that, that’s the other charge
we’re talking about today?
DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
PROSECUTOR: Judge, on that, before you go ahead? My
understanding is that talking with the
witnesses in that case, the simple burglary of
an inhabited dwelling, that the facts are that
Rashad Naylor went into the house with him
and Rashad actually had a weapon with him
in that particular case but you didn’t. Is
that—am I stating that correctly?
DEFENDANT: Yes, sir. But neither of us had a weapon.
PROSECUTOR: Oh, neither one of you did?
DEFENDANT: No, sir.
In order to convict an accused of simple burglary of an inhabited
dwelling, the state must prove: (1) there was an unauthorized entry, (2) the
structure was inhabited at the time of entry, and (3) defendant had the
specific intent to commit a felony or theft inside the structure. La. R.S.
14:62.2. The factual basis, as presented by the state and agreed upon by
McGarr, was sufficient to support the offense charged. McGarr merely
noted that neither he, nor his codefendant, possessed a weapon at the time of
the offense. The possession of a weapon is not an essential element of the
offense to which McGarr was pleading guilty, and he agreed with the factual
basis as to all essential elements.
While a court of review is not limited to the sentencing colloquy
between a judge and a defendant, the involvement and statements of a
defendant under oath should be afforded appropriate weight. Here the trial
court enjoyed the significant benefit of having presided McGarr’s charges
from the bill of information to the actual acceptance of guilty pleas. These
actions by McGarr are an important component of the totality of facts
considered by the district court in reaching its ultimate decision.
3. Contradictory Hearing on Motion to Withdraw Guilty Pleas
When ruling on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, the trial court
should look beyond the Boykinization and consider all relevant factors.
State v. Griffin, 535 So. 2d 1143 (La. App. 2 Cir. 1988); State v. Banks, 457
So. 2d 1264 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1984); State v. Green, 468 So. 2d 1344 (La.
App. 1 Cir. 1985). When called upon to ascertain an accused’s state of
mind, a court has the power, notwithstanding a record waiver of
constitutional rights, to determine whether other factors present at the time
of a guilty plea were sufficient to render the plea involuntary or
unintelligent, whether those factors are present inside or outside the plea
colloquy record. State v. Galliano, 396 So. 2d 1288 (La. 1981); State v.
Lewis, 421 So. 2d 224 (La. 1982); Griffin, 535 So. 2d at 1145.
The due process clause imposes no constitutional duty on state trial
judges to ascertain a factual basis prior to accepting a guilty plea. Louisiana
law, unlike federal law, has no statutory provision requiring accompaniment
of a guilty plea by the recitation of a factual basis. Cooper, 261 So. 3d at
978; State v. Estes, 42,093 (La. App. 2 Cir. 05/09/07), 956 So. 2d 779, writ
denied, 07-1442 (La. 04/04/08), 978 So. 2d 324. However, where a
defendant protests his innocence, or the trial court is put on notice that a
defendant may be innocent, a guilty plea may only be accepted by the trial
court upon a judicial finding that there is a significant factual basis for the
defendant’s plea. North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S. Ct. 160, 27
L. Ed. 2d 162 (1970); Cooper, 261 So. 3d at 978; State v. Bass, 45,298 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 08/11/10), 47 So. 3d 541, writ denied, 10-2405 (La. 02/25/11),
58 So. 3d 457.
Reasons supporting withdrawal of the plea would ordinarily include
factors bearing on whether the guilty plea was voluntarily and intelligently
made, such as breach of a plea bargain, inducement, misleading advice of
counsel, strength of the evidence of actual guilt, or the like. Lewis, 421 So.
2d at 226; Griffin, 535 So. 2d at 1145. A mere change of heart or mind by
the defendant as to whether he made a good bargain would not ordinarily
support allowing the withdrawal of a bargained guilty plea. Griffin, 535 So.
2d at 1145.
The test for the validity of a guilty plea does not depend upon whether
or not the district court specifically informed the accused of every element
of the offense. Rather, the defendant must establish that he lacked
awareness of the essential nature of the offense to which he was pleading.
Cooper, 261 So. 3d at 979.
This record shows that McGarr was properly informed of his rights at
the time that his guilty pleas were accepted by the trial court. Although
McGarr now asserts that he was pressured to accept the plea agreement by
his trial counsel, at the time of the pleas, McGarr informed the trial court
that he did not need additional time with his trial counsel and that he was
completely satisfied with the services provided by his trial counsel.
As noted by the trial court during the remand hearing, McGarr was
likely feeling pressure due to his upcoming trial date, but he accepted the
plea agreements in order to avoid possibly being found guilty of more severe
charges and facing a much greater sentence. McGarr’s case had been
pending for a year prior to his guilty pleas, and his trial was set as a priority
case for one week after the date of his guilty pleas. McGarr received
significant benefits in the form of the length of his exposure to incarceration
from pleading guilty. Those benefits were the result of lengthy negotiations
between McGarr’s two separate trial counsel and the state, as well as
McGarr’s personal discussions with the district attorney. At the time of his
guilty pleas, McGarr affirmed that he had been treated fairly with the plea
agreement, and that he was pleading guilty voluntarily and of his own free
will because he was guilty.
Considering the foregoing, McGarr’s assignment of error is without
merit. We conclude the trial court fully complied with this Court’s opinion
and with controlling law in conducting the contradictory hearing as ordered,
and that it did not abuse its discretion in denying McGarr’s motion to
withdraw his guilty pleas.
Outcome: For the aforementioned reasons, McGarr’s convictions and sentences