Trying to Withdraw Guilty Plea After Probation Violation in Massachusetts

In Commonwealth v. Wallace, the defendant appealed from a sentence that was imposed when his probation for an unarmed burglary was revoked. He’d pled guilty, but the court denied his motion to withdraw the plea.

The case arose when the defendant entered a home one night and stole various effects while the homeowner and her granddaughter were sleeping. The defendant pled guilty to larceny from a building and unarmed burglary. He entered into a plea deal even though he had a significant criminal record, and the Commonwealth claimed that he was a habitual offender. Habitual offenders have a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. The defendant was sentenced to three years of probation for burglary and time served on the larceny conviction. His probation issue was transferred.

In 2012, the defendant was charged for a daytime breaking and entering. The Commonwealth alleged he stole property from someone’s house, and the police chased him in his car through residential streets before he jumped out of his car and ran away on foot. Because of the new offense, failure to pay restitution, and a DNA sample, the defendant was found to have violated his probation related to the burglary conviction. He was sentenced to 7-10 years in prison.

After these charges, the defendant attacked the plea without the help of counsel and was able to vacate the court’s denial of his motion for a new trial and other motions. Once the defendant had obtained representation from counsel, a judge denied his motions. The defendant appealed his probation revocation and the denials of the other motions. He claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, arguing that his attorney shouldn’t have advised him to plead guilty, given the lack of proof of identity and his attorney’s failure to investigate his mental health issues. The motion was denied without an evidentiary hearing.

The appellate court explained that a judge may only allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea if it appears justice wasn’t done. A motion to withdraw a plea based on ineffective legal assistance requires a defendant to show:  (1) the trial attorney’s performance fell significantly below that of an ordinary attorney, and (2) this deprived the defendant of a substantial ground for a defense. If the ineffective assistance of counsel is related to a guilty plea, the defendant needs to show that (1) but for the attorney’s errors, he wouldn’t have pleaded guilty and would’ve gone to trial, and (2) it would have been rational to reject the plea bargain under the circumstances.

In this case, the defendant wasn’t able to prove that his attorney’s performance fell below that of an ordinary lawyer. The defendant argued that the motion judge should have held an evidentiary hearing. However, the appellate court reasoned this was within the motion judge’s discretion and found that the defendant had made an inadequate showing to make this necessary. The record showed the defendant was at the plea change hearing and must have known of the status of the government’s evidence. He also confirmed he understood, so his later affidavit did not negate that confirmation.

With regard to the argument that there was a lack of proof of identity, the court explained that victims had positively identified the defendant as the perpetrator. The Commonwealth had investigated and discovered that two women were with the defendant before the burglary and witnessed him come back to the car with stolen goods after he committed the burglary. One of the women was found in possession of goods stolen from the home.

The defendant then claimed that his heroin history should have alerted his attorney to consider the possibility of mental illness. He argued that his mental illness affected his ability to knowingly and voluntarily plead guilty and could have mitigated his criminal responsibility. However, at his plea hearing, he had actually stated that he’d never been treated for mental illness and took no medication. The court explained that drug abuse doesn’t on its own have implications for a defendant’s ability to stand trial or criminal responsibility.

Finally, the court also considered the defendant’s claim that the plea judge had violated Mass.R.Crim.P. 12(c)(5)(A) by failing to determine that the government couldn’t prove the defendant’s identity beyond a reasonable doubt. The court explained that the judge here asked the defendant about the truth of what the prosecutor had recited, and the defendant confirmed it. For these and other reasons, the court affirmed the order revoking probation.

If you are charged in Massachusetts with a property crime or probation violation, 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

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