A defendant must understand their plea before it can be entered in front of the court. With juveniles, MCR 3.941(C) says “the court shall tell the juvenile: the possible dispositions.” At a very basic level this means that the defendant must understand the consequences of what will come as a result of their plea. Also MCR 3.941(C) states “the court may not accept a plea of admission or of no contest without establishing support for a finding that the juvenile committed the offense: either by questioning the or by other means when the plea is a plea of admission.” Someone may not plea guilty to something if they cannot admit to doing some acts that would meet the elements of the crime they are being charged with. In re Jackson, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued August 29, 2017 (Docket No331632). The defendant accepted a plea deal. The plea was for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, the defendant attempted to withdraw his plea because he was not informed properly of the dispositions and also there was insufficient facts to convict of CSC-IV. Slip op at 1. The trial court denied the withdrawal, but the Court of Appeals remanded this case for further proceedings to determine on the record whether the defendant actually had to use force to overcome the victim, which would provide sufficient factual basis for the plea. Slip op at 6.
The defendant must be aware of the possible dispositions, or consequences, that may be faced. MCR 3.941(C). The trial court will make the defendant aware of the dispositions by informing him, on the record, the possible outcomes associated with the plea. The trial court here informed the defendant very vaguely of the possibilities, “If you plead guilty and support those facts I’ll send you to a group of sociologists, psychologists, educational experts and others... They would test you in a variety of different ways... [I]f there were problems that I could not fix in the home then I’ll pull you out of the home.” Slip op at 3. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals determined this to be sufficient to inform the juvenile of the consequences that could come as a result of this plea “we are not convinced that the trial court’s decision to deny respondent’s motion to withdraw his plea fell outside the range of principled outcomes.” Slip op at 3. Although vague, the trial court had sufficiently explained the possible outcomes to the juvenile. As for the “possible dispositions,” the Court of Appeals affirmed.
The factual basis that was provided on the record was not enough according to the Court of Appeals. The factual basis must be able to be proven by all of the elements. The fact that the contact element is proven is not sufficient to provide a factual basis for the force or coercion element. “A factual basis to support a plea can be established if an inculpatory inference could be drawn to prove the underlying offense based on what respondent admits, even if an exculpatory inference could also be drawn.” Slip op at 4. Just because someone is touched does not mean that they were forced or coerced into that touching. This is not an inference that can be made.
A court must protect the juveniles in such a way to make sure they have full understanding of the consequences, and that also the juveniles know what must be proven against them to convict on the charges. Juveniles generally do not have the basic knowledge of the legal system, which would allow them to truly understand what was happening. This makes the defense attorney and the judge especially important in these cases. The Judge and defense attorney need to make sure they take extra time allowing the defendant to fully understand everything that is happening, the juvenile understands what they are agreeing to, and why they are doing so. In a case like this when the court accepts the plea without providing a sufficient factual basis on the record it allows the juvenile to plea when there is the possibility that the factual basis is not actually proven allowing the juvenile to admit to a crime they may not have committed.