April 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Entitled to At Least a Hearing on Ineffective Assistance Claims

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hunt on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Postconviction Relief—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Transferred Intent—Complicity.

Defendant was charged with first degree “after deliberation” murder, first degree “extreme indifference” murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, and three crimes of violence (sentencing enhancement) counts. Under a plea agreement, defendant pleaded guilty to an added count of second degree murder and to one of the original crime of violence counts in exchange for (1) the dismissal of the remaining charges and (2) a stipulated sentence of between 30 and 40 years’ imprisonment.

Defendant later wrote two letters to the district court asking to withdraw his guilty plea. He asserted that he was not guilty of murder because he had not intended for the shooter to kill the victim and his attorney had erroneously advised him that he could, if tried, be found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment under a complicity theory. Plea counsel then filed a motion to withdraw from the case based on an alleged conflict of interest and asked the court to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea. Following a hearing, the court found no conflict of interest and directed counsel to file a Crim. P. 32(d) motion to withdraw guilty plea on behalf of defendant. Counsel filed the motion three days later. The court did not address the motion and sentenced defendant to 40 years’ imprisonment.

Defendant subsequently filed two pro se Crim. P. 35(c) motions for postconviction relief based on ineffective assistance of plea counsel, again alleging that he had been incorrectly advised that he could be found guilty of murder as a complicitor simply because he was present when a person he had not intended to be killed was killed. The court appointed new counsel who expounded on defendant’s claims, and the court, without a hearing, denied the motions for postconviction relief.

On appeal, defendant argued that he was entitled to a hearing on his ineffective assistance of counsel assertions, and the Court of Appeals agreed. An ineffective assistance of counsel claim requires a defendant to establish that counsel’s performance fell below the level of reasonably competent assistance demanded of attorneys in criminal cases and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. A hearing is required unless the record establishes that the allegations, if proven true, would fail to establish either of these conditions. Here, defendant argued that he was not aware that the shooter intended to kill someone other than a person whom defendant wanted to kill. If true, these facts would not support a conviction for first or second degree murder under a complicitor theory, and failure to advise defendant of this could have constituted deficient performance on the part of plea counsel. Because there was no hearing to determine what plea counsel advised defendant and what the professional norms were, or whether defendant would have pleaded guilty anyway, the case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing on this issue. Remand is also necessary for an evidentiary hearing on defendant’s claim that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him about appealing the ruling denying his Crim. P. 35(c) motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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