This decision is published in table format in the Pacific and Hawai'i reporter.
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST CIRCUIT. SPECIAL PRISONER PROCEEDING NO. 12-1-0051. FAMILY COURT CRIMINAL NO. 06-1-0017.
Lionel Letoto, Petitioner-Appellant, Pro se.
Loren J. Thomas, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, City and County of Honolulu for Respondent-Appellee.
By: Foley, Presiding J., Fujise and Leonard, JJ.
SUMMARY DISPOSITION ORDER
Petitioner-Appellant pro se Lionel Letoto (Letoto) appeals from the " Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order Denying Petition to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Judgment or to Release Petitioner From Custody," filed May 21, 2013 in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court).
On appeal, Letoto contends that he did not enter into his plea agreement with Respondent-Appellee State of Hawai'i (State) knowingly and voluntarily and that his counsel at the plea proceeding was ineffective for " fail[ing] to present a clear and understandable complete profile of the plea and its possible outcome" and failing to " present any defense strategies, including non-intended injury by appellant[.]"
Upon careful review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties and having given due consideration to the arguments advanced and the issues raised by the parties, as well as the relevant statutory and case law, we conclude that Letoto's appeal is without merit. In light of the record of the trial court proceeding, it is clear Letoto presented no colorable claim in his Hawai'i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 40 petition (Rule 40 Petition).
See Dan v. State, 76 Hawai'i 423, 427, 879 P.2d 528, 532 (1994).
Pursuant to a plea agreement with the State, Letoto pled guilty to an amended charge of reckless manslaughter, in lieu of his original charge of murder in the second degree. The crux of Letoto's Rule 40 Petition hinged on his belief that he did not enter into his plea agreement voluntarily and knowingly.
In a petition seeking relief under [HRPP] Rule 40 on [the] ground that the guilty plea was entered into involuntarily, the court is required to look at the entire record in order to determine whether the petitioner's claims or recantation are credible and worthy of belief. The record is vital to the ultimate determination of whether the plea was made voluntarily[.]
Eli v. State, 63 Haw. 474, 477, 630 P.2d 113, 116 (1981).
Letoto contends that " the court itself failed to obtain any near clear understanding by the defendant/appellant who declared he did not understand the deal or its possible alternatives." Letoto also contends that " neither [his counsel] nor the court ever gave the [him] a detailed explanation of the term 'recklessly' and the [he] discovered the term by his own research[.]" However, during the plea proceeding, the circuit court " double cover[ed] some of [the] items to make sure" that Letoto understood the nature of the plea agreement and engaged in a colloquy of numerous questions. Letoto characterizes the circuit court's questioning as " senseless." However, the circuit court's questioning was the type of inquiry required under HRPP Rule 11.
See State v. Solomon, 107 Hawai'i 117, 126, 111 P.3d 12, 21 (2005). " Although no specific dialogue is required, the court should make an affirmative showing by an on-the-record colloquy between the court and the defendant wherein the defendant is shown to have a full understanding of what the plea of guilty connotes and its consequences." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The circuit court engaged in such a colloquy.
After the circuit court questioned Letoto as to whether he understood the charge of reckless manslaughter, the circuit court asked Letoto whether his attorney explained the elements of reckless manslaughter, " the things that the State would have to prove in order for you [Letoto] to be found guilty of this amended charge." Letoto stated " Yes, he explained them." The circuit court then asked whether Letoto understood whet the State would have to prove under the charge of reckless manslaughter to which Letoto responded that the elements of reckless manslaughter were " [n]ot in [his] head at this moment," Letoto's counsel, William Bento (Bento), asked the circuit court for " one moment. .. [to] go over it with Mr. Letoto again." After Bento and Letoto conferred about the elements ...