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State v. Badikyan

Court of Appeals of Utah

August 30, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
Stepan Badikyan, Appellant.

          Second District Court, Farmington Department The Honorable David M. Connors No. 141700828

          Scott L. Wiggins, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeanne B. Inouye, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster authored this Opinion, in which Judges Jill M. Pohlman and Ryan M. Harris concurred.



         ¶1 Defendant Stepan Badikyan appeals the district court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. We affirm.


         ¶2 At their home in late May 2014, Defendant used a box cutter to stab his wife (Victim) in the arm.[1] He then agreed to transport Victim to the hospital.

         ¶3 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.

         ¶4 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.

         ¶5 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.

         ¶6 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 investigation report.

         ¶7 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.

         ¶8 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 ...

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