Florida Criminal Appeals Attorney Law

Appellate Law, Criminal Defense and Appeals and Post Conviction Relief in Florida Courts, Federal District Courts and the 11th Circuit

Tag: ineffective assistance of counsel

Florida’s 4th DCA Applies New Analytical Framework for Claims of Assistance of Counsel

You may recall from two of my posts a few months ago that in Lafler v. Cooper, No. 10-209, and Missouri v. Frye, No. 10-444, the United States Supreme Court revised the analytical framework to be used for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to communicate plea offers.  (To see those posts, click here and here).  Well, Florida’s 4th DCA has now issued an opinion, Gribble v. State, 4D11-4352, addressing both of those US Supreme Court decisions, as well as the Florida Supreme Court decision of Alcorn v. State, 38 Fla. L. Weekly S397 (Fla. June 13, 2013).

In Gribble, the defendant appealed the summary denial of his 3.850 motion, wherein he alleged that his criminal defense attorney was ineffective for misadvising him of the maximum sentence he faced.  Based on counsel’s misadvice, Gribble rejected a plea offer.  After trial, he was convicted of driving on a suspended license, and the State requested habitualization.  The court sentenced Gribble to 8 years’ imprisonment, which is 3 years more than he was advised he could get.  According to Gribble, had counsel advised him that he could get 10 years as an habitual offender on the DWLS count, he would have taken the State’s 5 year plea offer.

On appeal, although the State conceded deficient performance by counsel, the State (predictably) argued that Gribble failed to prove that he was prejudiced because he was sentenced to only 8 years, which is less than the potential 10 years he faced.  However, the Court rejected the State’s argument, and noted that the correct analysis of the prejudice prong under Lafler, Frye, and Alcorn requires an examination of “whether the defendant has shown a reasonable probability that the end result of the criminal process would have been more favorable by reason of a plea to a lesser charge or a sentence of less prison time, not whether he received the same sentence as what he was incorrectly advised.”  Gribble, slip op., pg. 2.  The court reversed the trial court’s summary denial of Gribble’s 3.850 motion, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Alcorn, Lafler, and Frye.

How Will the Florida Bar’s Ethics Opinion Prohibiting Waivers of Claims of Prosecutorial Misconduct and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Be Enforced?

Florida’s criminal defense attorneys are probably aware by now that the Florida Bar has adopted the highly debated ethical opinion which prohibits waivers of claims of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel in plea bargains.  According to the Florida Bar News report, although representatives from the United States Attorneys offices for the Southern, Middle, and Northern Districts of Florida argued against the adoption of the ethical opinion, the Board of Governors adopted the proposed ethical opinion with only a few dissenting votes.

The ethical opinion is a step in the right direction, but how will the opinion will be enforced?  For those of you who practice in State court, if your client is offered a plea that contains a waiver of claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct, perhaps you could bring the new ethical opinion to the prosecutor’s attention.  If that fails, you could bring the ethical opinion to the attention of the court.

However, if you practice in Federal court, the ethical opinion may not necessarily change anything.  Federal court criminal defense practitioners may know that the Department of Justice does not require that the Assistant United States Attorneys be admitted to their state bar.  In other words, AUSAs in the Southern, Middle, and Northern Districts may not necessarily be members of the Florida Bar.   If the AUSAs are not members of the Florida Bar, they would not be bound by any of the Florida Bar’s ethical rules.  Therefore, unless the U.S.  Attorneys in the districts of Florida voluntarily adopt a policy prohibiting plea offers containing waivers of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel, Federal court criminal defense practitioners may see little to no change with regard to plea offers.  I would hope that the US Attorneys take it upon themselves to change their policies, but, given their opposition to the ethical opinion, I wouldn’t expect it.

Pagan v. State, No. 2D11-3804: Florida’s Second DCA Issues Opinion Touching On Issue of Plea Bargain Waivers of Claims of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

On November 14, 2012, the Second DCA issued an opinion in Pagan v. State, No. 2D11-3804, wherein the court held that the trial court erred in summarily denying Pagan’s Rule 3.170(l) motion to withdraw his plea based on misleading advice of counsel.  According to the opinion, after Pagan was sentenced to 30 years for his involvement in the death of a child, Pagan moved to withdraw his plea.  The trial court appointed conflict free counsel to represent Pagan, and a hearing was set.  Just before the hearing commenced, the State offered Pagan a reduced sentence of 15 years in exchange for Pagan’s waiver of any right to seek collateral relief.  The court gave Pagan time to consult with his attorney, after which Pagan accepted the State’s offer.  The court resentenced him to the lesser term, remarking to Pagan that “you would be agreeing that you will withdraw this motion to withdraw your plea and you will also be agreeing that you will not file any further post-conviction motions attempting to reduce this sentence that I am about to impose.”  Later the court added: “And just to reiterate part of the deal is you will not be filing any more post-conviction motions.  This—this is it. You filed it.  It worked for you.”  After resentencing, Pagan filed several Rule 3.850 motions, alleging that he received ineffective assistance in connection with the State’s offer to resolve his rule 3.170(l) motion.  Predictably, the trial court denied each of his motions.  On appeal, the Second District reversed.

In support of its holding, the Court first noted that a Rule 3.170(l) motion is not a postconviction matter, and that a defendant is entitled to effective assistance of counsel in connection with such motion.  See Pagan, slip op., pg. 3.  The Court also observed that “a defendant can waive his right to collaterally attack his judgment and sentence when the waiver is expressly stated in the plea agreement and he knowingly and voluntarily agrees to the waiver.”  See Pagan, slip op., pg. 4 (citing Stahl v. State, 972 So. 2d 1013, 1015 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008); Williams v. United States, 396 F.3d 1340, 1342 (11th Cir. 2005)). However, “ineffective assistance of counsel claims attacking the advice received from counsel in entering into the plea and waiver cannot be waived.”  See Id.

While the opinion seems to have reached the right result by holding that Pagan did not waive his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, it is troubling that the court’s opinion closed with a cautionary note:

We remand to the circuit court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on
Pagan’s allegations of ineffective assistance in connection with the agreement to
resolve his rule 3.170(l) motion. We caution that Pagan may subject himself to a worse
result if he goes forward with this process, but that is his decision to make.

Pagan, slip op. pg. 4.

I also find it troubling that the Court failed to address the obvious ethical issue presented by the opinion: whether a defendant can be offered a plea bargain that requires him or her to waive future claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (or prosecutorial misconduct)?  Florida’s criminal appeals and criminal defense attorneys may remember that this past August, the Professional Ethics Committee of the Florida Bar issued Proposed Ethics Advisory Opinion 12-1, which states that plea bargains which require defendants to waive future claims of prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel violate Bar rules.

To view a few of the articles that appeared in the Florida Bar News regarding the Advisory Opinion, click here and here.  Although the Advisory Opinion has not yet been adopted by the Florida Bar Board of Governors, if there is no appeal of the proposed opinion, the Advisory Opinion will become final.

Padilla v. Kentucky: Will it Apply Retroactively? United States Supreme Court Oral Argument Set for October 30, 2012

Criminal defense and criminal appeals lawyers may be interested to know that on October 30, 2012, the United States Supreme Court will be having OA in the case of Chaidez v. United States, No.11-00820, to consider the question of whether Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), will apply retroactively to defendants whose convictions became final before the Padilla decision was rendered.  The formal Question Presented, as framed by the Court, reads as follows:

DECISION BELOW: 655 F.3d 684
CERT. GRANTED 4/30/2012
QUESTION PRESENTED: In Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), this Court held that criminal
defendants receive ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment
when their attorneys fail to advise them that pleading guilty to an offense will
subject them to deportation.  The question presented is whether Padilla applies to
persons whose convictions became final before its announcement.

The Florida Supreme Court is considering the retroactivity issue as well, in the case of State v. Hernandez, No. SC11-1357.  According to the docket, the Florida Supreme Court held OA in May of 2012.  Since the Florida Supreme Court has yet to issue a decision, perhaps it’s waiting to see what the United States Supreme Court decides in Chaidez.  My last post on the Hernandez case can be found here.

United States Supreme Court Addresses Claims of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel for Failure to Communicate Plea Offers: Missouri v. Frye, No. 10-444

Any experienced criminal defense lawyer should know that he or she has a duty to communicate plea offers to their client.  But did you know that failing to communicate a plea offer might subject you to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel?  The United States Supreme Court recently addressed this issue in Missouri v. Frye, No. 10-444.  In Frye, the defendant entered a plea of guilty to the charge of driving with a revoked license.  After being sentenced, he filed a motion for postconviction relief based on his attorney’s failure to communicate a plea offer which had lapsed prior to his entering the plea.  Predictably, Frye testified at an evidentiary hearing that he would have entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor had he known about the offer.  In its Opinion, the Court focused on the factual “context of claimed ineffective assistance that led to the lapse of a prosecution offer of a plea bargain, a proposal that offered terms more lenient than the terms of the guilty plea entered later.”  Slip Op. at pg. 1.  The Court therefore framed the issue as “whether the constitutional right to counsel extends to the negotiation and consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected.”  Slip Op. at pg. 1.

In holding that the right to counsel extends to such plea offers, the Court reasoned that today’s criminal justice system has become dominated by the plea-bargaining process.  As noted by the Court, because today’s system is based on pleas, as opposed to trials, “the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant” for purposes of the Sixth Amendment’s right to effective assistance of counsel.  Slip op. at pg. 8.  Next, the Court held that “defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused.”  Slip op. at pg. 9.  Because counsel failed to communicate the formal offer to Frye, the Court held that counsel had performed deficiently under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 686 (1984).

Turning to the prejudice prong of Strickland, the Court then stated that defendants must show (1) a reasonable probability they would have accepted the earlier plea offer had they been afforded effective assistance of counsel; and, (2) a reasonable probability the plea would have been entered without the prosecution canceling it or the trial court refusing to accept it, if they had the authority to exercise that discretion under state law.   The Court further noted that to establish prejudice, a defendant would have to show a reasonable probability that the end result of the criminal process would have been more favorable by reason of a plea to a lesser charge or a sentence of less prison time.  Slip op., pg. 12.

As I was reading the rather dry majority opinion, something was not sitting right with me.  I wondered: how can the Court reconcile its decision (that counsel can be deemed ineffective for failing to communicate a plea offer) with the fact that a defendant has no right to be offered a plea in the first place, or a federal right to have the trial court accept a plea?  After all, the majority opinion acknowledged such fact at pages 5 and 12 of the slip opinion (citing Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U. S. 545, 561 (1977); and Santobello v. New York, 404 U. S. 257, 262 (1971)).

Then, reading the opening paragraph of Justice Scalia’s dissent, I had one of those “aha!” moments.  Scalia wrote,  “Counsel’s mistake did not deprive Frye of any substantive or procedural right; only of the opportunity to accept a plea bargain to which he had no entitlement in the first place.”  Scalia Dissent, Slip. Op. at pgs. 1-2.  Scalia further noted that the majority acknowledged that the plea that Frye ultimately accepted was not tainted by any attorney error.  Scalia Dissent, Slip Op. at pg. 2.

Against those two points, Scalia presents a logical argument: that the majority opinion certainly seems to be out of sync with previous jurisprudence in this area.  The remainder of Justice Scalia’s dissent contains a good discussion of the difficulties that the Court’s majority opinion has left the lower courts, and criminal defense lawyers, to deal with.  I highly suggest that anyone who practices in this area to take a few moments to read the opinion.

In my next post, I’ll discuss Lafler v. Cooper, No. 10-209, another opinion released on the same day as Frye, which addresses other questions relating to ineffective assistance with respect to plea offers, including remedies.


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