August 14th, 2018

Man accused of trafficking wants out of guilty pleas

By Peggy Revell on January 31, 2018.

A 53-year-old man who entered guilty pleas to serious drug trafficking charges said during a hearing to have those pleas revoked he was “no way in the right frame of mind” at the time.

Aaron Grant Hotchen testified Tuesday at the Medicine Hat Courthouse that when he pled guilty on Sept. 12, 2017 to trafficking meth, heroin and possessing a prohibited firearm, he did so while under distress: His sister was extremely ill, his dogs had been taken in by the pound and his trailer was heavily damaged, needing to be moved.

Despite his innocence, Hotchen said he was willing to plead guilty because the Crown would then agree to his release from custody so he could put his affairs in order.

While he said he could win his case, Hotchen said the earliest trial dates available would be late 2018 and into 2019, and he didn’t want to be in custody until then.

Upon questioning by the Federal Crown, Hotchen testified that on multiple occasions he’s pled guilty to charges he was not guilty of, simply because it’s easier to sit and wait and then get time served.

These charges against Hotchen stem back to 2016, but delays have occurred due to him switching between lawyers.

Lethbridge-based lawyer Greg White came on the record in early 2017, until Hotchen said he wanted the pleas withdrawn in October.

Hotchen testified he repeatedly told White he didn’t want him as a lawyer, characterizing him as “pompous” and that he “didn’t have much time for his clients.”

Hotchen said the only sentencing range he was ever informed of by White was three to five years, and that it was only after his pleas and release — and a subsequent arrest on a breach— that he was told the Crown was seeking seven to 10.

Hotchen testified that on Sept. 11, White came to the Remand Centre and met with him for 5-10 minutes, and had him sign written direction for pleading guilty, and initial paragraphs in an agreed statement of facts.

Hotchen testified to initialling the first paragraphs without even reading them, then the others after White read them to him, despite repeatedly saying he wasn’t guilty. This agreed statement of facts was not officially entered alongside the guilty pleas.

White painted a different picture during testimony.

He described Hotchen as affable and not a difficult client. The biggest challenge was that Hotchen is “a talker,” said White, and often goes on tangents, which is why he sets specific time limits. White testified he was not aware of any time Hotchen said he didn’t want him as a lawyer.

White testified that Hotchen first brought up settling the case in August, and that pleading guilty was Hotchen’s decision. Offers from the Crown had been received in July, August and September, which White said he shared with his client.

On Sept. 11, White testified he spent 60-90 minutes going through the file in depth with Hotchen, covering the range of options, elections, defences, sentences and thoroughly going through the agreed statement of facts. They also discussed the personal issues Hotchen faced.

“I wanted to make sure he made an informed decision, regardless of the duress he was under,” said White, saying he took this amount of care because of how many years Hotchen faced. White also testified he didn’t observe anything beyond the typical interactions he had with Hotchen.

The judge’s decision on the matter will occur on Feb. 28.

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