STATE v. DANIEL HENDERSON, SC 18930/18931
Judicial District of Meriden at G.A. 7
Criminal; Whether the Defendant's Sentence was Illegal Because it Was Imposed in Violation of his Constitutional Right to Counsel. The defendant was charged in six criminal files with various offenses. The defendant, representing himself, negotiated a plea agreement with the state. At the hearing on the plea agreement, the defendant informed the trial court that he had applied for the services of a public defender, but that the public defender's office had turned down his request on the ground that he was not indigent. The court explained that the defendant was not eligible for a public defender based on the large amount of pretrial bonds that he had posted. Nevertheless, the court temporarily suspended the hearing in order to allow the defendant to discuss the indigency issue with the supervisory assistant public defender, Richard Ackerson, who was present at the hearing. When the hearing resumed, Ackerson stated that he did not believe that the defendant was indigent because (1) the defendant had posted pretrial bonds in excess of $300,000, and (2) the defendant and his brother had recently sold an expensive piece of property. Further, Ackerson indicated that, based on his conversation with the defendant, it was his understanding that the defendant was prepared to proceed without an attorney and accept the plea bargain. The court asked the defendant whether Ackerson's comment regarding his willingness to proceed without an attorney was accurate and the defendant responded that he would like to go forward with his plea. Thereafter, in accordance with the plea agreement, the defendant pleaded nolo contendere to the charges in exchange for a sentence of fifty-four months incarceration. After canvassing the defendant, the court accepted the pleas, finding that the defendant had waived his right to counsel and that the pleas were entered knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. Subsequently, the defendant, now represented by counsel, filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that, because he was indigent and did not waive his right to counsel, the court's failure to appoint counsel violated his constitutional right to counsel and, consequently, rendered his sentence illegal. In support of his claim, the defendant asserted that the pretrial bonds upon which the court had relied in rejecting his claim of indigency were not posted by him, but rather by his mother, who is a surety bail bond agent. He also asserted that he had no ownership interest in the property that was sold. The court denied the motion, stating that it was not aware at the time of the plea hearing that the bonds might not have been posted by the defendant. It also added that it did not rely on the information regarding the sale of the property in finding that the defendant was not indigent. On appeal, the defendant challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to correct. Specifically, he argues that the court, in finding that he was not indigent, improperly relied on information from the public defender's office that was not reliable. Additionally, he claims that his sentencing was illegal because he never made a valid waiver of his right to counsel and that he proceeded without counsel only because, under the circumstances, he felt he had no other choice.