State v. McGill, ___ N.C. App. ___, 791 S.E.2d 702 (Oct. 18, 2016)

In this robbery case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Shortly after the jury was empaneled, the defendant decided to enter into a plea arrangement with the State. In exchange for his guilty plea, the defendant received a PJC, apparently so that he could provide the State with information concerning an unrelated criminal case in exchange for a potentially more lenient sentence. After entry of the plea and prior to sentencing, the State determined not to use the defendant as a witness in the other case. The defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting that his trial counsel provided incomplete or erroneous advice concerning habitual felon sentencing which resulted in his misunderstanding the consequences of his plea and also conspired with the State to “trick” him into pleading guilty. Analyzing the case under the State v. Handy, 326 N.C. 532 (1990), “any fair and just reason” standard for withdrawal of a plea before sentencing, the court held that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion. It noted, in part, that the defendant did not assert legal innocence; that the State’s case was not weak; and that the defendant waited nine days to file his motion to withdraw his plea after the chance of receiving a more lenient sentence evaporated, suggesting “a well thought out and calculated tactical decision.” Citing the record, which “plainly and unambiguously” showed that the defendant was fully informed of the consequences of his plea, the court rejected the defendant’s contention that he was operating under a misapprehension of the law regarding habitual felon sentencing due to trial counsel’s incorrect legal advice, which he claimed was intentionally provided pursuant to a broad but undefined conspiracy between court appointed attorneys and the State to trick defendants into entering unfavorable pleas.