Posts tagged with "plea canvass"

Attorney Did Not Ineffectively Represent Her Non-Citizen Client, Despite Failing to Seek Plea Agreement That Would Avoid Deportation

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, because the petitioner’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were unpersuasive.

Case Background

In this case, the petitioner, a legal resident of the U.S., was charged with larceny in the first degree and possession of narcotics. Trial counsel discussed the possibility of participation in the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (CADAC) program, which upon successful completion would result both in dropped charges and avoiding deportation. However, the petitioner did not want to undergo drug addiction treatment, so this option was not pursued.

Defendant Unable to Escape Deportation

Trial counsel was extremely knowledgeable about the immigration consequences of non-citizen defendant convictions. As such, she made it a part of her regular practice to thoroughly discuss such with her clients. The State presented the petitioner with a plea agreement that would result in no jail time.

While trial counsel told her client that the deal was good for that reason, because of the petitioner’s legal status and the nature of the charges, accepting the plea would subject the defendant to mandatory deportation. She did not attempt to provide an alternative agreement or counteroffer that would avoid deportation, nor did she discuss such possibilities with the petitioner. Thus, the petitioner accepted the State’s terms, and during the plea canvass, he responded that he understood the possible immigration consequences of the plea.

The petitioner was given a suspended sentence, but violated his probation with another drug offense. New defense counsel unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate terms that would avoid deportation, and the petitioner came to the attention of immigration authorities once he was incarcerated. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel did not properly investigate the petitioner’s legal status and risk of deportation; he was not properly advised regarding the risk of deportation; and counsel did not include his immigration status and deportation risk as part of the plea bargaining process.

The Court’s Verdict

When a court considers an ineffective assistance claim, it applies a two-part test from Strickland v. Washington: deficient performance and prejudice to the outcome of the case. A habeas petition can be denied on either ground. In this case, the Superior Court did not believe that trial counsel’s conduct was deficient. It credited the extent of her background and training in immigration matters, and found that she properly advised her client on the consequences of accepting the plea agreement.

The Court further noted the petitioner’s unwillingness to participate in the CADAC program, which “demonstrates that the petitioner was not concerned with the possible immigration consequences of his situation.” Further evidence of the petitioner’s understanding is found in the plea canvass, where the trial court specifically asked whether he knew the consequences of pleading guilty, to which he responded “yes.” Finally, that trial counsel did not present an alternative plea or counteroffer is not a duty imposed on attorneys in this State in the context of ineffective assistance of counsel. Therefore, the Superior Court denied the habeas petition.

Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Guilty Plea Found Invalid Where Defendant Was Left in Dark Regarding What Constitutes a Larceny and Robbery

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded a case where the defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into a plea agreement.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 20, 2004. A man robbed a bank at knifepoint, securing $15,000 in cash, before escaping in a vehicle driven by the defendant. Police soon located the duo along with the stolen money. The defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree and larceny in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48, 53a-134(a)(2), and 53a-122.

Guilty Plea Made Unknowingly

On February 21, 2006, the defendant sought to enter a guilty plea to these charges. During a plea canvass conducted by the judge, the defendant stated that her defense attorney did not discuss the nature and elements of the charges she faced: “No, I don’t think I heard about what the state had to prove.” The defense attorney did not refute this contention, and the court did not seek from the defendant’s attorney “any assurance that he had, in fact, explained to the defendant the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.”

Though the court adequately read to the defendant the elements of conspiracy, it failed to properly set out the elements of both larceny and robbery. Nonetheless, the court accepted the defendant’s guilty plea and sentenced her to twelve years of incarceration, suspended after seven years, with five years of probation. The defendant appealed, arguing that she did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into her plea agreement.

When a defendant decides to plead guilty, he or she waives numerous constitutional rights, such as the right to a trial by jury. Therefore, a critical due process requirement is that a guilty plea must be made knowingly and voluntarily, which includes apprising the defendant not just of the rights being waived but also the essential criminal elements of the charges faced. Defense counsel is “generally presumed to have informed the defendant of the charges against him,” though this presumption may be overcome if the record shows that counsel failed to so inform. Should this presumption not apply, proper waiver may still be established if the court itself explained all of the elements.

Court’s Ruling

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the record showed “some positive suggestion that the defendant’s attorney had not informed the defendant of the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.” It noted that during the canvass, the defendant said she did not know what the State had to prove, and her counsel did not counter this statement. As such, the presumption was not applicable.

The Appellate Court further held that the trial court failed to apprise the defendant of the essential elements of larceny and robbery. Though the court did read to the defendant what first-degree larceny and first-degree robbery encompassed, but failed to explain what acts constituted a robbery or larceny under Connecticut law. Therefore, the case was reversed and remanded with directions to the lower court to withdraw the guilty pleas.

When faced with a charge of conspiracy, larceny, or robbery, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Where Defendant Created Multiple Problems for Representation, Court Determined Counsel Did Not Render Ineffective Assistance

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus where petitioner could not successfully argue ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

In this case, the petitioner pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter, operation under suspension, and evading responsibility. Pursuant to the plea agreement, he faced fifteen years incarceration, execution suspended after four years, with five years’ probation. The petitioner asked that sentencing be briefly postponed to “[allow him] to get his affairs in order.” The request was granted, though the trial court stressed the ramifications for failure to appear at sentencing.

The petitioner did not appear at court on the rescheduled sentencing date, and a warrant was issued for felony failure to appear, which has a maximum potential sentence of five years. Soon thereafter, the petitioner was brought before the court on this warrant, and defense counsel negotiated a plea agreement with the State: a two-year non-suspended sentence to be served consecutively to the original sentence. When the court initiated a plea canvass, the petitioner stated, “I want to know if I can try my case over because I’m not guilty for this, ma’am.” The judge declined to accept the guilty plea and continued the matter.

At the next court date, the State withdrew the two-year sentence and instead sought the imposition of three years. The petitioner accepted this new agreement and was sentenced to fifteen years incarceration, execution suspended after seven years, with five years probation. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.

When a court considers an ineffective assistance claim, it applies a two-part test from Strickland v. Washington: deficient performance and prejudice to the outcome of the case. A habeas petition can be denied on either ground. “There is no constitutional right for a defendant to enter into a plea agreement with the state.” Courts are free to accept or reject a plea agreement, and such decisions will be overturned only upon a showing of abuse of discretion. However, a court is within its discretion to deny an agreement “when there is even the slightest manifestation of a hesitance or a reluctance on part of a defendant to enter into a plea.”

In this case, the Superior Court determined that defense counsel did not provide ineffective assistance, but instead pointed to the petitioner as “his own worst enemy.” As the Court explained, the petitioner “grossly complicated” his defense counsel’s representation: he failed to appear at court, then “created a problem with that plea canvass by indicating he did not want to plead guilty because he didn’t commit the offense.” In addition, the State was not obligated to enter into a plea agreement with the petitioner, and that it took back the initial two-year agreement was not illegal. Furthermore, the Superior Court determined that the judge did not abuse his discretion in declining to accept the plea agreement, noting that “he would have been remiss had he not done so.” Therefore, the Superior Court denied the writ of habeas corpus petitioner.

Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.