Challenge to Post-Plea Sentencing Procedure does not Require Certificate of Probable Cause

After being found mentally competent to stand trial, Rodney Oglesby pleaded guilty to committing domestic violence, aggravated assault and — worst of all, or at least co-equal with his other crimes, at least according to PETA — killing a kitten.  The competency finding was based, per the stipulation of the parties, on just one of the psychiatric reports.  The other psychiatrist opined he was incompetent.

Oglesby fought his court-appointed attorney every step of the way.  He asked for, and was denied, new counsel, then accepted a plea deal offered by the People, in which his lawyer refused to join.  In fact, his lawyer insisted that Oglesby was not competent.  He reminded the court that the second psychiatric report had found him incompetent and that Oglesby’s stipulation to use only the psychiatrist report finding him competent was “a tactical decision at the time . . . because we felt that . . . Oglesby needed to proceed back to trial.”  The court declined to reconsider competence and imposed sentence per the plea agreement.

Oglesby appealed in People v. Oglesby, case no. G037796 (4th Dist. Jan. 7, 2008), claiming that the trial court erred by failing to reevaluate his competence before imposing sentence.  The state argued that the issue was barred on appeal under Penal Code section 1237.5, which requires an appellant to obtain a certificate of probable cause when appealing “from a judgment of conviction” after a guilty plea, because the trial court refused to issue the certificate.

The court neatly sums up the competing arguments and its conclusion at the outset of its discussion:

The People assert Oglesby’s failure to obtain a certificate of probable cause bars this issue on appeal. They assert any challenge to a stipulated sentence implicates the validity of the plea and requires a certificate. Oglesby contends he is not challenging the sentence, but rather the sentencing procedure. He argues the court should have suspended sentencing to inquire into his competence, but did not. We conclude this is a distinction that makes a difference. No certificate was required.

The key for the court is that the appeal raises a post-plea question over whether the court should have held a new competence hearing before sentencing and he was not appealing the conviction or sentence itself.