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State v. Tatsu Archuleta

Court of Appeals of Utah

August 8, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
Isak Jo Tatsu Archuleta, Appellant.

          Second District Court, Ogden Department The Honorable W. Brent West The Honorable Jennifer L. Valencia No. 161901927

          Randall W. Richards, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Lindsey L. Wheeler, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate Appleby and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          HARRIS, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Isak Jo Tatsu Archuleta pled guilty to burglary and aggravated assault. Later, on the day scheduled for his sentencing, Archuleta attempted to withdraw his plea, but the district court refused to allow him to do so. Archuleta now appeals that decision, and in addition he claims that his attorney provided ineffective assistance. We reject Archuleta's arguments and affirm his convictions.


         ¶2 On June 5, 2016, [1] two men and a woman-armed with handguns-knocked on the door of a residence. When someone opened the door, the three individuals forced their way inside and held seven adults at gunpoint. The female intruder ordered an adult woman upstairs and stole approximately $400 in cash and a half-ounce of methamphetamine from her. When this woke three children sleeping upstairs, the female intruder ordered the children back into their room at gunpoint.

         ¶3 Meanwhile, the two male intruders stole cell phones, a computer, and a backpack from the other adults. One of the males-who the State believed was Archuleta-ordered one adult to electronically transfer money into his bank account, but when the individual could not do so, the male intruder punched and then repeatedly kicked him in the face. The two male intruders also assaulted two others, punching, kicking, and striking them in the face with their handguns.

         ¶4 While the two male intruders wore bandannas over their faces to conceal their identities, the female intruder did not, and she was recognized and identified as Deana Smith by five of the adult victims. When Smith was arrested two months after the incident, she identified Archuleta and Justin Martinez as the two male intruders.

         ¶5 Based on Smith's identification of him, Archuleta was later arrested and charged with two first-degree felonies (aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery) and three second-degree felonies (possession of a firearm by a restricted person and two counts of aggravated assault). After relatively lengthy pretrial proceedings during which the State proved unable to locate anyone other than Smith who could place Archuleta at the crime scene, the State offered to dismiss the remaining charges if Archuleta would agree to plead guilty to one second-degree felony (an amended charge of burglary) and one third-degree felony (an amended charge of aggravated assault). The State also offered to allow Archuleta to enter an Alford plea[2] in which he would stop short of admitting guilt, and in addition pledged to recommend to the sentencing judge that Archuleta be placed on probation rather than sent to prison.

         ¶6 Archuleta agreed to take the deal, and appeared in court on November 15, 2017 to enter his plea. At the outset of the proceedings, after being apprised of the outlines of the proposed plea, the district court-personified at the time by Judge West- inquired as to why the State was recommending probation for Archuleta after it had, in a companion case, previously recommended a prison sentence for Martinez. In response, the prosecutor acknowledged that "the evidence is a little different" in the two cases and that the evidence against Archuleta was not as strong as the evidence against Martinez.

         ¶7 Archuleta then proceeded to plead guilty in accordance with the agreement. First, his attorney explained to the district court that Archuleta maintained his innocence and was entering Alford pleas for the two amended charges. When the court inquired about the factual basis for the plea, the prosecutor proffered that Archuleta, along with the co-defendants, "entered the victim's residence" while "armed with weapons" and "stole some money," and in so doing he used weapons to inflict serious bodily injury upon the victim. Archuleta did not admit that these facts occurred; instead, his attorney noted that Archuleta agreed that these were "the facts that the State can prove," or at least that "they [think] they can prove."

         ¶8 The district court also conducted a plea colloquy, in which it explained that the charges to which Archuleta was pleading guilty carried the possibility of prison, but commented that "that's a heck of a lot better than all the charges that [Archuleta was] facing before [he] entered into this plea agreement." The court also asked Archuleta whether the plea was "a voluntary plea," and Archuleta answered in the affirmative. The court asked Archuleta if he was "doing this of [his] own free will," and Archuleta said he was. In addition, the court engaged in the following colloquy with Archuleta:

Q: Are you under the influence of any alcohol or drugs, receiving any kind of medical treatment, taking any kind of prescriptive medications, suffering from any kind of mental illness? You're thinking clearly?
A: Yes.

         ¶9 The court also asked Archuleta if he had read and understood the written plea agreement form, and Archuleta answered in the affirmative. In that form, Archuleta certified that he "was not under the influence of any drugs, medication, or intoxicants which would impair [his] judgment when [he] decided to plead guilty," and that he was "not presently under the influence of any drug, medication, or intoxicants which impair [his] judgment." His attorney also certified that Archuleta "fully understands the meaning of [the] contents" of the form, "and is mentally and physically competent." In addition, Archuleta certified that he understood that the sentencing judge was not bound by the terms of any sentencing recommendation made by the parties. After accepting Archuleta's guilty pleas, the district court set sentencing for December 27, 2017.

         ¶10 In late December, a few days before the scheduled sentencing hearing, Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) issued a presentence investigation report for Archuleta, setting forth its recommendation that Archuleta be sentenced to prison. At the outset of the December 27 sentencing hearing, Judge West informed Archuleta that he was not inclined to follow the State's recommendation of probation, but was instead inclined to follow AP&P's prison recommendation. Hearing that statement, and perhaps aware that Judge West was scheduled to retire at the end of the year, Archuleta's counsel asked the court for a continuance so that he could "brief a couple of issues regarding sentencing." Judge West granted that request, and rescheduled Archuleta's sentencing for January 24, 2018.

         ¶11 In the meantime, Archuleta had been writing letters to the court in which he asserted various grievances. Among other things, Archuleta accused the prosecution of being unfair, described his co-defendant as unworthy of the bail he received, requested a speedy trial, asked to be let out of jail because his father was sick, took issue with AP&P's recommendations, asked to withdraw his plea, and maintained his ...

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