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HINES v. MILLER

July 9, 2001

JESSE HINES, PETITIONER, VS. DAVID MILLER, SUPERINTENDENT, RESPONDENT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kaplan, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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.

Facts

The Guilty Plea

Petitioner was indicted in 1995 on charges, including second degree murder, in connection with the death of Earl Murray on January 23, 1994. On June 13, 1996, petitioner appeared before Justice Joan Sudolnik and entered a plea of guilty to the second degree murder charge in full satisfaction of the indictment. During the course of the proceedings, and prior to accepting the plea, Justice Sudolnik fully explained petitioner's rights to him. The following colloquy then took place:

"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 DEFENDANT: No.

"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 guilty?

"THE DEFENDANT: No."*fn1

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 24, 1996.

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

Petitioner appealed to the Appellate Division, arguing that the denial of the motion to withdraw the plea without appointing new counsel and without conducting an evidentiary hearing violated his rights to due process of law under both the United States and New York Constitutions as well as the New York Criminal Procedure Law.*fn7 Petitioner submitted a supplemental brief pro se in which he argued that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel, in violation of both federal and state constitutions, because, among other things, his attorney used a video tape of his confession to induce him to plead guilty.*fn8

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 ...


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