CRIMINAL LAW – Guilty plea, intoxication defense, Boykin Colloquy: Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Thomas Elza, Jr. (SC 5/21/2009)

Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Thomas Elza, Jr.
2007-SC-000538-DG May 21, 2009
Opinion by Justice Cunningham. All sitting; all concur.

The Laurel Circuit Court denied Elza’s request for RCr 11.42 post-conviction relief without conducting an evidentiary hearing. Elza had argued that his guilty plea to murder and burglary charges was not voluntary and intelligent because his attorney failed to advise him of the availability of an intoxication defense. The Court of Appeals remanded, holding that the circuit court erred in not holding an evidentiary hearing since there were issues of material fact that could not be conclusively resolved by examination of the record. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the circuit court’s judgment. The Court held that Elza’s statements during his Boykin colloquy completely refuted his argument that he was so intoxicated that he did not remember committing the crimes. Furthermore, the Court concluded that even if the case had gone to trial and the intoxication defense had been made, there was no likelihood it would have succeeded. The Court also held that Elza failed to show that his defense counsel was deficient in any manner. The plea agreement was reasonable under the circumstances, the Court reasoned, noting that the Commonwealth had been seeking the death penalty against Elza and had opposed all defense efforts to remove the death penalty as a possible sentence.

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