By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A man who rejected his attorney’s initial advice to plead “not guilty by reason of mental illness” to a criminal charge cannot later claim his attorney was not effective, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.
Justices on Tuesday unanimously rejected the appeal of Gilber Aldolfo Delgado Jr., who claimed he should have been allowed to withdraw a plea of “no contest” to charges filed in connection with allegations he threatened his wife with a knife.
The ruling stems from an incident in Evanston in November 2019 in which Delgado threatened his wife with a knife while she was driving their car. He was charged with aggravated assault and battery.
While in jail, Delgado’s attorney visited him and was concerned that he as making statements she considered delusional, including that he was going to join the Denver Broncos football team as a “walk on,” the ruling said.
The attorney recommended that Delgado plead not guilty by reason of mental illness, but he said he did not want to pursue the option.
Later, when Delgado was released from jail, he met with the attorney again, but showed no signs of the behavior that had concerned the attorney in their first meeting.
The ruling said Delgado’s father thought he was suffering from a mental condition and, while calling police to report the threat, his wife said he needed mental help.
The attorney again suggested a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but Delgado said he did not want to enter such a plea because of the stigma attached and the chance he could be sent to the Wyoming State Hospital.
The attorney negotiated a plea agreement under which Delgado pleaded “no contest” to a reduced charge of possession with a deadly weapon with the intent to threaten another, a felony.
“No contest” is not an admission of guilt, but a statement on behalf of the defendant that prosecutors could probably probably prove the charges filed in a court proceeding.
Delgado was sentenced to two years of supervised probation.
However, after entering the plea, the ruling said, Delgado asked that he be allowed to withdraw it, in part because his employer told him that if he was convicted of a felony, he would lose his job.
Also before sentencing, Delgado was diagnosed with alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder. He said that when he threatened his wife with a knife, he was experiencing an episode of manic behavior and he argued he should be able to withdraw his plea as a result.
The state district court rejected Delgado’s request and he filed an appeal, alleging his attorney was ineffective because she did not ask that he be the subject of a mental evaluation.
But justices agreed that after their initial meeting in jail, Delgado gave his attorney no reason to suspect he needed a mental evaluation.
“Although Mr. Delgado made delusional statements while in jail, those symptoms of incompetence did not persist,” the ruling said. “There was no evidence that, at any point between when Mr. Delgado was released from jail and when he entered his no contest plea, defense counsel had reasonable cause to believe Mr. Delgado had a mental illness or deficiency which undermined his capacity to comprehend his position, understand the proceedings against him, conduct his defense in a rational manner, or cooperate with defense counsel.”
In fact, his attorney successfully negotiated a reduction in the charge against Delgado that saw him sentenced to probation rather than prison, the ruling said.
“Thus, defense counsel made effective use of Mr. Delgado’s mental condition, while representing him within the confines of his instructions,” it said.