A Saskatchewan man who was destined for prison after pleading guilty to three drug charges will have a chance to defend himself in court after a judge agreed that his admissions were neither informed nor unequivocal.
Bobbie Smoke pleaded guilty in Regina to conspiracy to traffic cocaine, trafficking cocaine and possession of cocaine in December 2016. A month later, he fired his lawyer, hired new counsel and applied to have his guilty pleas stricken from the record.
The new lawyer, Bob Hrycan, argued in the application that Smoke received “inadequate advice” from his previous lawyer, Jeff Deagle, which led to him entering guilty pleas even though he is not guilty of the offences,” according to a decision filed late last month.
Canadian law stipulates that guilty pleas must be voluntary, unequivocal and informed to be accepted. Queen’s Bench Justice Jeff Kalmakoff ruled that Smoke’s pleas only met the first condition.
“It is clear from the evidence that Mr. Smoke understood he could … enter not guilty pleas, and proceed with his trial. But, faced with two ‘evils,’ he chose the lesser and did so for a valid reason, that being the hope of a shorter sentence,” Kalmakoff wrote.
Smoke’s pleas were not, however, informed because Deagle made “a very damaging admission of fact” without being instructed to do so and subsequently gave his client advice suggesting the Crown’s case was very strong, according to the decision.
“The level of misinformation that resulted from this series of missteps led to a significant misunderstanding on Mr. Smoke’s part. He did not truly understand the nature of the case against him,” Kalmakoff wrote in the decision.
The judge also ruled that Smoke’s guilty pleas were not unequivocal because he did confirm specific facts when asked by the court, did not admit guilt to his lawyer and the “inculpatory portions” of an agreed statement of facts were those facts he did not ask his lawyer to admit.
“Although there is a presumption that a guilty plea entered in open court, by an accused represented by counsel is valid, I find that presumption is overcome in this case,” Kalmakoff wrote before ordering that not guilty pleas be substituted.