Judicial District of Tolland


      Habeas; Ineffective Assistance of Counsel; Whether Counsel's Failure to Advise Petitioner to Accept Plea Offer was Constitutionally Deficient Performance; Whether Petitioner Proved Prejudice; Whether Remedy was Proper.  The petitioner was exposed to thirty-five years incarceration as a result of multiple charges, including three for assault, and faced an additional six years and four months incarceration due to the revocation of a conditional discharge from an earlier conviction.  In exchange for a guilty plea, the state offered the petitioner ten years incarceration, suspended after six years, with five years probation.  The petitioner's attorney told the petitioner that he viewed the offer as "high."  The petitioner elected to enter an open guilty plea under the Alford doctrine to violation of a conditional discharge and to the three assault charges.  After receiving the petitioner's presentence investigation report, the trial court sentenced the petitioner to a total effective sentence of eleven years incarceration.  In this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner alleges that his attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to advise him to accept a favorable plea offer.  The habeas court granted the petition and directed the trial court to vacate the petitioner's plea and to afford him the opportunity to accept the state's offer.  On appeal, the Appellate Court determined that the habeas court's finding that the attorney's performance was constitutionally deficient was proper, given (1) the petitioner's extensive criminal record, (2) the strength of the state's case, and (3) the fact that the petitioner's exposure on the violation of a conditional discharge, alone, exceeded the state's offer by four months, and the petitioner faced an additional twelve years of incarceration for the assault charges.  The Appellate Court also determined that the habeas court properly found, under the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), that the petitioner suffered prejudice as a result of the attorney's deficient performance.  In connection with this determination, it ruled that the prejudice standard articulated in Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52 (1985), for challenges to guilty pleas based on ineffective assistance of counsel did not apply because the petitioner had not pleaded guilty at the point of the ineffective assistance.  The Appellate Court also concluded that a petitioner's sixth amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel is implicated by a decision to reject a plea offer and that the remedy of specific performance of a plea agreement, as ordered here by the habeas court, is constitutionally permissible and does not violate the separation of powers doctrine.  The commissioner challenges the Appellate Court's decision in this appeal to the Supreme Court.