By Peggy Revell
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A Medicine Hat Judge will allow the withdrawal of guilty pleas entered by a Seven Persons man on serious drug trafficking charges — although video evidence from the local Remand Centre backed up testimony made by the accused’s former lawyer at a hearing in January.
“In this very unique set of circumstances I’m not satisfied the guilty pleas were entered voluntarily … or if we proceeded that it would not be a miscarriage of justice,” said Judge Eric Brooks in his ruling on Thursday over the pleas entered by 53-year-old Aaron Grant Hotchen in Sept. 2017 to drug trafficking and firearm charges.
At a January hearing, Hotchen made multiple complaints on how his former counsel, Greg White, handled his case. This included testimony that the night before guilty pleas were entered, White only spent five to 10 minutes with him at the Remand Centre to go over and sign an agreed statement of facts. Testimony from White said the meeting lasted 60 to 90 minutes. This agreed statement of facts was not officially entered alongside guilty pleas the next day.
The court heard Thursday that video later obtained from Remand Centre by Crown and defence showed the pair met together for an hour and 10 minutes.
“It think that speaks for itself,” said the Crown, arguing that Hotchen’s motivation to withdraw the plea is due to not liking the possible sentence.
“Obviously that one part of the argument has to be discounted,” said defence counsel Marc Crarer, but added that the other grounds for the withdrawal of the plea still stand.
Brooks affirmed in his ruling that he accepts White’s testimony about what occurred, “reject in large measure” Hotchen’s testimony.
“I do not accept that there has there is enough to indicate inadequate counsel,” said Brooks.
But several aspects of what occurred troubled Brooks.
This included Hotchen not wearing glasses when initialing the first few paragraphs of the statement of facts, he said, that there was a focus by Hotchen at the time on obtaining release from custody to put his affairs in order — which could be viewed as an inducement since he had been in custody for months.
And that Hotchen seemed — even to White — as being under duress, and was not in the frame of mind to plead guilty. Hotchen had testified that at the time he was under duress as his sister was extremely ill, his dogs were in the pound, and his trailer had been heavily damaged by a fire and needed to be moved.
Guilty pleas were entered on March 29 by one of two Manitobans arrested by Redcliff RCMP earlier this month, who are suspected to be connected to a robbery that took place in Swift Current.
Robyn Boersma of Carberry, Mta. was sentenced to 30 days of jail and $600 in fines after pleading guilty to being in possession of a stolen license plate, possessing just over a gram of meth, and breaching conditions that require her to stay within Manitoba.
The 32-year-old has six days of this sentence to serve due to in-custody credit, while she still has to deal with the charges stemming out of Saskatchewan.
RCMP arrested Boersma and a co-accused Jordan Harkness-Brown, also of Carberry, Man., on March 14 when they were on patrol and noticed a motor vehicle parked off the highway. A query showed the plate was stolen, and the vehicle was associated with a robbery that occurred in Swift Current earlier that morning.
During sentencing it was heard that while Boersma has a child in her custody, job and mortgage. While has a record, she hasn’t had any criminal charges in nine years – but the recent passing of her father and marital issues led her to slip on her sobriety and the ensuing incidents.
Harkness-Brown’s next court appearance is April 14, and he is charged with possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000, possession of property obtained by crime under $5,000, two counts of fail to comply with undertaking, simple possession of meth and possession of a weapon for dangerous purpose.
Fingerprints and a liquor store receipt were the downfall of a 30-year-old man who entered guilty pleas on March 27 to being in possession of a stolen vehicle.
With 48 days of credit towards, Ronald Furet has 10 days remaining in the sentence handed down at the Medicine Hat Courthouse.
According to the agreed statement of facts, on Feb. 9, 2018 Redcliff RCMP came across observed a red truck that was known to have been stolen out of Tilley. While they attempted to catch up to the vehicle, they were unable to.
Then on Feb. 12, RCMP received a report of an abandoned red truck north of Township Road. The vehicle was identified as the same one observed earlier, and as being stolen.
Two fingerprints were picked up from the vehicle, which were a match to Furet. The truck was released back to its owner, who on Feb. 22 found in it a receipt for a Redcliff Liquor store — police were able to use the time stamp on the receipt to look at the store’s video footage, and Furet was identified as the person in the video.
He was arrested on Feb. 24, and has been in custody since.
Alongside pleading guilty to being in possession of stolen goods over $5,000, Furet also pled guilty to two breaches of his release condition after making admissions to police in his statement that he had been in contact with two people he had a court order not to be in contact with.