Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Failure to Advise Defendant of Mandatory Minimum Sentence Prior to Pleading Guilty Renders Plea Involuntary

In Jamison v. Klem, No. 07-1045 (3d Cir. September 30, 2008), the Court of Appeals held that failure to advise a defendant of an applicable mandatory minimum sentence prior to pleading guilty renders the plea not knowing, voluntary and intelligent. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s denial of Jamison’s habeas petition challenging the validity of his guilty plea on those grounds and directed the district to grant a conditional writ.

Jamison pleaded guilty to a drug charge in York County, Pennsylvania, which carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. The record established that Jamison was not advised of the mandatory minimum anytime prior to entering his plea. The first time Jamison learned he was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence was at his sentencing hearing where the mandatory minimum of 5 to 10 years of imprisonment was imposed. Rather than filing a direct appeal, Jamison collaterally attacked his guilty plea by filing a petition pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). The PCRA court found that since Jamison was advised of the maximum penalties due process was satisfied despite the fact that he was not advised of the mandatory minimum. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the denial of the PCRA petition on the grounds that Jamison was not claiming actual innocence. Jamison then filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254, again claiming that his guilty plea was not voluntary.

Counsel was appointed, and, after an evidentiary hearing, the Magistrate Judge recommended the petition be granted having found as fact that Jamison was never advised of the mandatory minimum and that the failure to so advise rendered the plea not knowing, voluntary and intelligent. The district court accepted the Magistrate Judge’s factual findings but held that the state courts’ rejection of Jamison’s claim was not "contrary to" or "an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent" as required for habeas relief under 2254. This holding was based on the fact that no Supreme Court case specifically requires that a defendant be advised on an applicable mandatory minimum. The district court also relied on an unpublished Eleventh Circuit case that held that as long as the defendant is aware of the maximum penalties, there is no need to advise of the mandatory minimum.

The Court of Appeals began its analysis with Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 239 (1969), which held that "courts may not accept guilty pleas without determining, on the record, that the guilty plea was the result of a knowing, and intelligent act done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences." Slip op. at p. 16. Accordingly, the Court identified the issue as whether the states courts’ decision that Jamison’s plea was valid, was contrary to clearly established law as set forth in Boykin and its progeny that a plea must be a knowing, voluntary and intelligent act undertaken with an understanding of its consequences. The Court held that an applicable mandatory minimum is a direct consequence of a guilty plea that must be know prior to entering a valid plea. Indeed the Court stated that "the mandatory minimum sentence may be far more relevant than the theoretical maximum because it is rarely imposed." Id. at 34. The Court held that although this specific issue regarding a mandatory minimum was never before the Supreme Court, the state courts’ decisions in Jamison case were an unreasonable application of Boykin. In making this determination, the Court noted that the standard of review established in the AEDPA is not so constrained as to require that a Supreme Court decision addressing an issue arising from the identical fact pattern constitute clearly established law. Accordingly, the Court reversed the denial of the petition and directed the district court to grant a conditional writ.

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