Westfield Woman Loses Appeal In Meth Production Case

An appeals court has upheld the conviction of a woman convicted of third-degree unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine in 2015.

Cristy L. Stutzman appealed her plea of guilty before former County Court Judge John Ward. Stutzman was represented before the Fourth Department Appellate Division by John A. Cirando of the law firm of D.J. & J.A. Cirando from Syracuse while District Attorney Patrick Swanson represented the county. Stutzman had been charged in 2014 after Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Deputies and the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force reported finding precursors to manufacturing methamphetamine in a Westfield home after neighbors complained of strange activity and smells coming from the property.

After pleading guilty in county court, Stutzman argued her plea was coerced and that she was innocent because she had a defense to one of the charges that had been satisfied by her plea agreement. The appellate court ruled that Stutzman’s attorneys had failed to preserve for the court’s review arguments that her plea colloquy was insufficient because she gave only one-word answers to questions posed by Judge Ward regarding her rights and that she made sentences at sentencing that cast doubt on the voluntariness of her plea. A plea colloquy is the conversation between a judge and a criminal defendant who has been sworn under oath. The colloquy is required when a defendant enters a guilty plea in court in order for the plea to be valid. The Appellate Court wrote that such one-word answers satisfy the requirement for a plea colloquy because there is no requirement for uniform, mandatory questions and answers to be part of the colloquy. The judges also wrote that Stutzman’s comments t sentencing didn’t cast doubt upon her guilt and the voluntariness of her plea enough that the court needed to ask further questions.

“Thus, contrary to defendant’s contention, her ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers during the plea colloquy do not invalidate her guilty plea,” the court wrote.

Stuzman also contended the court abused its discretion when it refused to allow her to withdraw her plea without conducting a hearing. The court wrote that the extent of fact-finding rests largely in the discretion of the judge to whom the request is made and that a hearing will be granted only in rare instances.

“Here, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion in the absence of ‘some evidence of innocence, fraud or mistake in inducing the plea,”’ the court wrote. “Indeed, most of defendant’s contentions regarding the motion, including her protestations of innocence, were belied by the affadavits submitted in support of the motion.”