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Rea v. Mirandy

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 10, 2017

Jason Rea, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
Patrick A. Mirandy, Warden, St. Marys Correctional Center, Respondent Below, Respondent

         Berkeley County 15-C-41

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Jason Rea, by counsel Ben J. Crawley-Woods, appeals the Circuit Court of Berkeley County's May 12, 2016, order denying his petition for post-conviction habeas corpus relief. Respondent Patrick A. Mirandy, Warden, by counsel Cheryl K. Saville, filed a response. Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in denying habeas relief when (1) his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective, and (2) the circuit court violated Rule 11 of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure by failing to inform him of his maximum potential prison sentence, rendering his pleas involuntary.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Revised Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         In November of 2006, petitioner stabbed Brian Stratton thirty-seven times and also stabbed Mr. Stratton's grandmother when she attempted to intervene.[1] As a result of the incident, petitioner was indicted on two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding, and two counts of burglary by breaking and entering.

         In September of 2007, the circuit court held a pre-trial hearing. At that hearing, petitioner's counsel stated that

[a]fter some discussions with [the State] this morning, and a lengthy discussion with [petitioner] yesterday evening out at the jail, [petitioner] has indicated to me - excuse me, judge - that he is prepared to enter a change of plea this morning. This is without any agreement from the State. It is a non-agreement change of plea.

         Thereafter, the circuit court engaged in a plea colloquy with petitioner. During the plea colloquy, the circuit court asked petitioner, "do you know what the maximum sentence could be that you could have imposed against you on these charges would be [sic]?" Petitioner answered, "[y]es, sir." The circuit court and petitioner then discussed in detail the potential prison term for each count as follows: three to fifteen years for each count of attempted first-degree murder; two to ten years for each count of malicious assault; and one to fifteen years for each count of burglary. At the hearing, petitioner also indicated that no one pressured him to enter his pleas and that he was satisfied with his trial counsel's advice and representation. The circuit court also asked petitioner if he and his trial counsel had sufficiently "sat down . . . and taken the time to discuss [the] case[, ]" and petitioner answered in the affirmative. At the conclusion of the hearing, petitioner pleaded guilty to four counts (one count of attempted first-degree murder; two counts of malicious wounding; and one count of burglary) and "no contest" to the remaining two counts (one count of burglar and one count of attempted first-degree murder).

         In February of 2008, petitioner was sentenced to prison for three to fifteen years for each count of attempted first-degree murder; two to ten years on each count of malicious assault; and one to fifteen years on each count of burglary, all to be served consecutively. Petitioner's cumulative prison sentence was twelve to eighty years.

         Later in 2008, petitioner filed an ethics complaint against his trial counsel. In handwritten documents filed with his complaint, petitioner claimed that his trial counsel told him before the plea hearing in September of 2007 that if the case went "to trial . . . [petitioner] would be found guilty and would receive the full 12-80 years." Further, petitioner stated in those documents that his trial counsel "constantly hammered into [petitioner's] head that [he] had no defense and was gonna be found guilty of everything and given the full 12-80 if [he] went to trial."

         In 2011, petitioner was resentenced for purposes of appeal. Petitioner appealed the resentencing order on the ground that the circuit court erred in sentencing him to the maximum potential prison term. By memorandum decision, this Court affirmed petitioner's sentence. See State v. Rea, No. 11-1324, 2013 WL 149623 (W.Va. Jan. 14, 2013) (memorandum decision).

         In January of 2015, petitioner filed the underlying petition for post-conviction habeas corpus relief. Among his grounds, petitioner argued (1) that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel due to many alleged insufficiencies in his trial counsel's representation (including lack of proper advice); and (2) that the circuit court failed to inform petitioner of the maximum potential consecutive prison term for his crimes, in violation of the requirement in Rule 11 of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure. In May of 2015, the State filed a response asking the circuit court to dismiss the petition.

         In March of 2016, the circuit court held an evidentiary hearing.[2] At the hearing, four witnesses testified: petitioner, his mother, his father, and his sister. All four witnesses testified that petitioner's trial counsel failed to inform them of the potential maximum prison term of twelve to eighty years. According to these witnesses, petitioner's trial counsel led them to believe that the sentence would be two years in a youthful offender program or, potentially, three to fifteen years in prison. The witnesses also claimed that petitioner's trial counsel failed to sufficiently investigate the case or raise any defenses, including a potential mental health defense. The circuit court also admitted into evidence the documents petitioner filed with his ethics complaint against his trial counsel wherein he admitted that he was informed of the potential maximum prison sentence of twelve to eighty years.

         By order entered on May 12, 2016, the circuit court denied petitioner's habeas petition. The circuit court found that petitioner's trial counsel adequately informed petitioner of his potential maximum sentence, as evidenced by petitioner's admissions in his ethics complaint. Further, the circuit court found that petitioner clearly indicated during the plea colloquy that he understood his decision to enter his pleas of guilty; that he was not coerced into entering those pleas; and that he knew the potential maximum sentence for his crimes, which he repeated for the circuit court at that time.[3] The circuit court noted that petitioner's trial counsel had no obligation to inform family members of the nuances of petitioner's legal situation. Petitioner also stated at the plea ...


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