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.