The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kaplan, District Judge.
Petitioner was convicted in New York Supreme Court, New York County, on
his plea of guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to an
indeterminate term of fifteen years to life imprisonment. He now seeks a
writ of habeas corpus, contending that he was deprived of his rights to
due process of law when the plea court denied his motion to withdraw his
guilty plea without appointing new counsel or holding an evidentiary
hearing and of his right to the effective assistance of counsel.
"THE COURT: Now, has anyone including your lawyer,
assistant district attorney, anybody at all threatened
or forced you anyway to get you to plead guilty?
"THE COURT: I have indicated to your attorney after
speaking to him and the assistant district attorney
that on the date of sentence I would sentence you to
fifteen years to life. That would be the sentence in
this case. Other than that promise as to sentence, has
any other promises been made to get you to plead
The Court then proceeded to question defendant about the crime in
response to which defendant admitted that he shot Earl Murray with a gun
on the date in question.*fn2 The case was set for sentencing on June
The Motion to Withdraw the Plea Less than one week before sentencing,
the defendant filed a pro se motion to withdraw his plea.*fn3 The motion
papers appear to be forms prepared by a jailhouse lawyer or other lay
person, the blanks in which were filled in by or on behalf of petitioner.
The papers include four purported affidavits. The first is a one page,
unsigned document which recited that the "plea was the product of
unfortunate and undue pressure placed upon me . . . as a result of
counsel's insistence that I . . . plead guilty on the promise that I
would Get less Time and in a period of [illegible] and frustration I
submitted to counsel's total negative outlook." The second, despite its
label, is a notice of motion, contains no factual allegations, and is
unsigned. The third is a one page, unsigned document that bears the
typewritten name of the petitioner at the bottom and states that
petitioner pleaded guilty because an unnamed police officer told him that
he would be released on his own recognizance if he entered such a plea.
The fourth, and the only signed "affidavit" (although it was not sworn
before a notary), asserts that petitioner pleaded guilty for unspecified
"reasons which are outside the record of the Court proceedings" and did
not understand the consequences of his actions.*fn4
When the case came on for sentencing before Justice Sudolnik, defense
counsel declined to comment on petitioner's allegation that counsel had
pressured him into pleading guilty but asked to be relieved in the event
the court allowed withdrawal of the plea.*fn5 The court then questioned
petitioner, pointing out that he had stated on the occasion of the plea
that no one had forced him to plead guilty. Defendant responded that his
counsel "wanted me to cop out" from the outset because he had "no chance
to win at trial."*fn6 The court then noted that defendant had inculpated
himself fully when he entered the guilty plea, that he then had stated
that no one had forced him to plead guilty, and denied the motion.
Sentencing occurred immediately.
State Court Appellate Proceedings
The Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed the conviction.*fn9
It held that "[t]he record establishe[d] that defendant made a voluntary
plea and fail[ed] to substantiate his claims of coercion and innocence."
It went on to reject his ineffective assistance claim, stating that
"[t]he conduct by his attorney that defendant claimed to have been
coercive amounted to nothing more than ...