District Court, Farmington Department The Honorable David M.
Connors No. 141700828
L. Wiggins, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes and Jeanne B. Inouye, Attorneys for Appellee
Michele M. Christiansen Forster authored this Opinion, in
which Judges Jill M. Pohlman and Ryan M. Harris concurred.
CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, JUDGE.
Defendant Stepan Badikyan appeals the district court's
denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. We affirm.
At their home in late May 2014, Defendant used a box cutter
to stab his wife (Victim) in the arm. He then agreed to transport
Victim to the hospital.
On the way, however, he changed course and told Victim that
they were "both going to die" that day. When the
vehicle stopped at an intersection, Victim fled from the car.
Defendant chased Victim and tackled her to the ground. He
proceeded to stab her in the side and cut her neck with the
box cutter. Several citizens intervened to stop Defendant,
holding him down until police took him into custody.
Following this incident, the State charged Defendant with
attempted murder, tampering with evidence, and aggravated
assault. Defendant initially entered not guilty pleas to all
charges, but he eventually reached a resolution with the
State pursuant to which Defendant agreed to plead guilty to
attempted murder. In exchange for his plea, the State agreed
to dismiss the remaining charges and agreed not to oppose a
request that the sentencing court grant Defendant credit for
the jail time he had already served.
An interpreter was present at the change-of-plea hearing and
provided translation for Defendant. Defendant's counsel
advised the court that Defendant "speaks very little
English, and does not read English." In anticipation of
Defendant's guilty plea, counsel for Defendant (Plea
Counsel) prepared a "statement of defendant in support
of guilty plea" (the Plea Agreement), which contained
information about the plea deal and the agreed-upon facts.
The Plea Agreement was written in English and stated that
"Defendant on or about May 29, 2014[, ] in Davis
County[, ] Utah, did attempt to intentionally and knowingly
cause the death of another. Furthermore[, ] the defendant was
a co-habitant of the victim." Plea Counsel asserted in
open court that the interpreter "translated [the Plea
Agreement] verbatim word-for-word" and stated that he
had "every confidence in the interpreter." Plea
Counsel also expressed confidence that Defendant understood
the Plea Agreement.
The district court engaged in a colloquy with Defendant, who
confirmed through an interpreter that he understood and
agreed with the factual basis for the guilty plea. Defendant
also acknowledged his waiver of important constitutional
rights, that he was pleading guilty freely and voluntarily,
and that he understood the charge and possible sentence. Plea
Counsel then noted for the record that he had informed
Defendant he was subject to an immigration hold, and counsel
described for the court the inquiry he made to an immigration
attorney regarding the charges in this case. At the
conclusion of the change-of-plea hearing, the district court
accepted Defendant's guilty plea, scheduled a sentencing
hearing, and ordered the preparation of a pre-sentence
Shortly after the change-of-plea hearing, Defendant sent a
letter to the district court, pro se, requesting to
"retract" his plea. The court forwarded the letter
to the State and Plea Counsel, and the State filed a motion
to strike the letter. At a subsequent hearing, the parties
discussed Defendant's letter, and the court granted the
motion to strike "to the extent [the letter] purports to
be a motion for retraction of plea." The State requested
that the district court appoint conflict counsel to represent
Defendant, which the court granted. Through his new counsel
(Conflict Counsel), Defendant formally requested permission
to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting that it was not
"knowing and voluntary." Defendant argued that he
would not have entered the plea if he had understood the true
nature of the plea, if he had had proper interpretation at
the change-of-plea hearing, and if he had not been coerced
into pleading guilty by Plea Counsel.
The court held an evidentiary hearing to address
Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and at
that hearing the court provided Defendant a different
interpreter than the one present at the earlier
change-of-plea hearing. Defendant testified that he had
concerns regarding the translations given by the
change-of-plea hearing interpreter. He stated that the
interpreter had read the Plea Agreement, but that Defendant
"couldn't understand everything." He later
testified that the interpreter explained the meanings of
words to him, "but there were times that [the
interpreter] wouldn't get the time or opportunity to do
it, maybe there were words that [the interpreter]
wouldn't understand or he wouldn't say." When
asked whether he was pressured by Plea Counsel to plead
guilty, Defendant ...