Friday, March 11, 2016

Petitioner Gets No Relief from Life Sentence Despite Trial Counsel's Failure to Warn Him of Consequences of Rejecting Plea Offer

Milton v. Miller, 2016 WL 502867 (2/9/2016) (OK): In Mr. Milton's first appeal to the 10th Circuit, the court concluded that the Oklahoma appellate court’s ineffective assistance analysis was contrary to clearly established federal law and thereby ruled that Milton had overcome the bar in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). 744 F.3d 660, 669-70 (10th Cir. 2014). The court then sent his habeas petition back to the district court for an evidentiary hearing. Unfortunately, after the evidentiary hearing, the panel did not see things Milton’s way. Basically Milton argued that his appellate attorney on direct appeal was ineffective for not raising an ineffective assistance of trial counsel issue. Milton had been charged with drug trafficking and a drive-by shooting. He said that the prosecutor had made several offers to his trial lawyers before the preliminary hearing but they did not relay them to him. The testimony at the evidentiary instead showed that Milton had been told of the offers. However, one of his trial lawyers did not tell him that if Milton succeeded in getting the drive by shooting charge dismissed at the preliminary hearing the prosecutor said he would seek the mandatory life without parole sentence for the drug trafficking case. Milton argued that without knowing about the prosecutor’s warning he believed he could reject the offers, defeat the drive-by shooting charge at the prelim and thereby reduce the number of charges he was facing. There was a reasonable probability that Milton would not have gambled and instead accepted the plea bargain for both charges if his lawyer had given him this information. Had he taken the offer Milton would have served close to 18 years rather than the life sentence imposed. The panel was not persuaded. It said that Milton didn’t explain why he would reasonably believe the prosecutor would reduce the drug trafficking charge to one not carrying a mandatory life without parole sentence because Milton somehow got a dismissal in the drive-by shooting case. The panel concluded, “to any reasonable jurist, Milton’s poor ‘gamble’ was the cause of his current predicament, not the lack of any additional ‘warning’ from his attorney.” Besides, Milton knew that if he went through with the preliminary hearing, the offers resolving both cases with a concurrent sentence would expire. That being said, one can see that some ‘reasonable jurists’ might understand that Milton thought he would only have to negotiate an agreement on one charge if he got the other dismissed. If he wasn’t told the prosecutor intended to pursue mandatory life, how would he know that wasn’t a possibility? An awful result for a petition that seemed to hold some promise.