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Helmedach v. Comm'r of Corr. - 168 Conn. App. 439, 148 A.3d 1105 (2016)

Rule:

As a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused. When defense counsel allowed the offer to expire without advising the defendant or allowing him to consider it, defense counsel did not render the effective assistance the Constitution requires. Though the standard for counsel's performance is not determined solely by reference to codified standards of professional practice, these standards can be important guides. Defense counsel should promptly communicate and explain to the defendant all plea offers made by the prosecuting attorney.

Facts:

After Defendant was found guilty of murder, robbery in the first degree, and conspiracy to commit robbery in the third degree, the trial court sentenced her to a term of incarceration of 35 years. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. Defendant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel  because he failed to timely and meaningfully communicate a plea offer of 10 years. Trial counsel explained that although he believed that 10 years was a very favorable offer, he was concerned about relaying it to defendant immediately prior to her testimony because she was young and flustered, and he believed that this unexpected news would negatively impact her testimony. The trial court granted the petition for habeas corpus. Respondent Commissioner of Corrections appealed to the Appellate Court of Connecticut, claiming that the habeas court improperly concluded that defendant's trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel, as his performance was objectively reasonable under the circumstances.

Issue:

Was the trial counsel ineffective under Amendment VI of the U.S. Constitution for failing to timely inform a defendant of the State’s plea offer, which resulted to a violation of the right of the petitioner to plead guilty and to make a fully informed decision as to whether to testify on her own behalf?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the decision-making on the part of trial counsel infringed upon defendant’s basic trial right to plead guilty and to make a fully informed decision as to whether to testify on her own behalf. In addition, the Court ruled that counsel’s decision was not a matter of reasonable strategic decision as he failed to observe the standard recommended by the American Bar Association, which is to promptly communicate and explain to the defendant all plea offers made by the prosecuting attorney. The commonly approved definitions of the word “promptly” referenced to either immediacy or a lack of delay. When trial counsel decided to wait to tell the defendant about the offer until after she had taken the stand in her own defense and gone through her entire trial testimony, which ultimately took 2 ½ days to complete, this did not constitute a "prompt communication." The Court affirmed the judgment of the habeas court and returned the matter to the criminal trial court for further proceedings.

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