To Honorable Judge Ellis: I am writing to inform you that I was coerced into signing the plea agreement. This is my motion to withdraw my plea agreement, entered on the 29th of March 2012. I move to have a hearing on the illegal coerced plea. I also move to represent myself and have counsel of choice represent me at the illegal coerced plea hearing. I motion/move to withdraw the plea agreement. Please give me notice of the coerced plea hearing five business days prior to the hearing. Thank you, without prejudice. — Christopher Diaz
Embattled Texas medical marijuana defendant Chris Diaz, 22, facing 5-99 years prison for 14 grams of cannabis hash that he uses as legal medicine in California, got a rare piece of good news from the trial court on 4/20/12.
Judge Stephen Ellis granted Diaz a hearing, May 10, 1:30pm, in Brownwood Superior Court on the right to withdraw his felony intent-to-sell plea as coerced and involuntary. Chris adamantly insists he was not in his right mind when he agreed to the plea and that he had no intent to sell the small amount of cannabis he carried for his own medical use, driving thru Texas to visit his ill grandmother. If Chris’ motion to withdraw his plea is granted and a mistrial declared, his conviction and 3-year prison sentence would be reversed, allowing him to start again in his effort to challenge the Texas marijuana law for lack of medical access.
The DA can file the same or different charges...or decide not to bother, considering the mounting evidence of criminal coercion and civic humiliation heaped on the little town of Brownwood Texas from this wrong-headed prosecution of a qualified California asthma cannabis patient for a tiny amount of medicine.
On the other hand, the more likely scenario is that Chris' motion to extinguish his plea will be denied, the Judge will say it was not coerced, giving as proof that he asked Chris at his 3/29 plea hearing if he was aware he was giving up his right to appeal and Chris answered, “Yes.”
What Chris was not aware of were the implications of forfeiting his right to appeal, since his lawyer was so busy extracting the plea that he never explained to Chris the practical effects of the plea. Chris was misled to believe that agreeing to the plea would more or less get him immediate parole with time served rather than a year of prison, allowing him to continue his fight on the outside with legal assistance that has been lacking on the inside.
Involuntary pleas are strictly illegal. Defendants are required to state that their plea is voluntary and knowing — no promises, no threats — for the court to accept it.
Nine months of incarceration under miserable conditions from Mendocino County California to Brown County Texas, including 111 days in solitary confinement, took its toll on Chris Diaz. Waiting for trial in total isolation, deprived of mail, phone calls, visits, all human contact, even legal mail prior to trial when defendants most need guidance, Chris, at age 22 with no prior record, felt confused, scared, abandoned by family & friends, and just wanted release from the “nightmare you never wake up from,” as his Public Defender Rudy Taylor had promised if he’d agree to the plea.
It appears there was never any intention of putting on a defense at trial. Diaz qualifies as a genuine medical necessity patient since his lifelong severe allergy condition is life-threatening, but his doctor was never contacted. In his Mar 31 letter to Judge Ellis, Dr. Courtney wrote: “Your honor, I am confused as to why my patient's lawyer has not made contact with me regarding my appearance nor reviewed my participation in Mr. Diaz' defense...the family understood that Mr Taylor would make a motion to the court...but to date I have yet to receive such notice.”
At Chris' plea hearing 3/29, Judge Ellis asked, “Do you understand you are giving up your right to appeal?” Chris answered “Yes.” He was totally alone in the hearing, unaware of what was going on. His family and supporters were not present because they were not told about the hearing or that a plea agreement would cancel the trial.
Chris later wrote his mother that he'd never been informed of the implications of giving up his right to appeal. “I would never have knowingly given up my right to challenge all the wrong that has been done to me.” This is a classic example of an unknowing plea; he did not understand the consequences of his signature on the plea agreement. Rudy Taylor's ineffective counsel was responsible for that.
Chris Diaz was misled into thinking the plea would spring him from “the nightmare you never wake up from” by substituting parole for prison. He believed his lawyer was on his side, seeking justice at trial based on medical necessity, in a challenge to the Texas marijuana laws. The act went on for months of deception and degradation with promises never kept, instead solitary confinement imposed without lawyer or family communication, until it came time to extract the plea that would end the case forever. Such treatment cannot possibly be legal, unless torture is now considered legal.