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Pleading Guilty to Unarmed Burglary and Larceny in Massachusetts

streetIn Commonwealth v. Wallace, the defendant appealed from a sentence imposed for an unarmed burglary conviction. He’d pled guilty to larceny from a building and unarmed burglary. The event giving rise to the charges involved his going into a home in the dead of night and stealing many items while two people were asleep.

The defendant entered into a plea agreement. In the agreement, the prosecution agreed not to pursue an allegation in the indictment that the defendant had habitually offended. The defendant was previously charged in connection with breaking and entering during the daytime. He’d stolen property and led the police through a neighborhood before he jumped out of his car and fled.

Because of the new offense and the defendant’s failure to pay the DNA sample fee and restitution, the court found that he’d violated his probation. He then asked to withdraw the guilty plea. The defendant was sentenced to 7-10 years in state prison. After the charges, the defendant started attacking his guilty plea. A motion judge denied his motion and his request that the court reconsider.

The defendant argued that he’d received ineffective assistance of counsel because he’d been advised to plead guilty, even though the prosecution didn’t have proof of his identity and hadn’t investigated his mental health problems. The appellate court explained that judges hearing motions to withdraw guilty pleas are only supposed to grant the withdrawal if it seems to be the case that justice wasn’t done. If a motion judge didn’t preside over the trial, the appellate court takes a close look at the trial record.

In this case, the motion to withdraw the guilty plea was mostly governed by rulings in other ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The court explained that the defendant had to show there was a reasonable probability that if his attorney hadn’t made a mistake, he would have taken his case to trial. The defendant also had to show that deciding to reject a plea bargain would have been a rational decision based on the total circumstances. The proof of prejudice to him had to be concrete and couldn’t be speculative.

Among other things, the appellate court considered the issue of how much proof there was of his identity when he made the plea deal. The victims of the burglary hadn’t identified the defendant as the person who broke in that night. However, an investigation had shown that two others had been with the defendant before the burglary, were waiting in a rental car, and saw him come back to the car with stolen goods. One of the two had been found possessing items that had been stolen from the home that had been burgled. She took the Fifth. The other witness had been committed in a psychiatric program before the trial.

The defendant argued that his attorney shouldn’t have advised him to plead guilty when two identification witnesses for the prosecution weren’t available. The appellate court explained that if the defendant had rejected the plea, the trial prosecutor could have answered for trial and gone forward based on circumstantial evidence about the defendant’s identity.

The appellate court reasoned that it was too speculative to say that the prosecution losing a witness necessarily meant an acquittal for the defendant. The defendant had also argued that since he had a history of using heroin, his attorney should have explored the possibility that he was mentally ill and therefore couldn’t voluntarily and knowingly plead guilty. The appellate court found nothing to show that the defendant’s attorney should have known about the possibility of mental illness. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you are charged with a theft crime in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014