SailorsAllen Law

Life Sentences are Collateral Consequences?

On May 8, 2017 the MN COA took on Florida and their “justice” system.  The case is called State v. Brown, A16-1691 and it is published so if you are currently on probation you should pay attention.   If you are not on probation you can skip this and watch cat videos instead.

In 2012, Willie Brown plead guilty to aggravated battery, robbery with a deadly weapon and resisting a police officer with force in Florida in 2012.  He signed a plea petition saying he understood the maximum sentence for his crime was 46 years.  He signed a plea petition that basically said if he looked at someone cross eyed he understood that he can serve the entire life sentence.  He went to prison for five years presumably in a swamp and spent one year on supervised probation.   He transferred his probation to Minnesota in 2015.   Eight months into his time in Minnesota he was walking with two other men that St. Paul officers suspected of gang activity.   He ran and threw his Pokemon backpack away.  The police recovered a nine-millimeter handgun from the backpack.  He was arrested and charged with ineligible person in possession of a firearm.  Brown plead guilty and got a 60 month sentence stayed for 10 years. At sentencing Brown tried to withdraw his plea because arguing that his plea was unintelligent because he was not advised about a potential life sentence in Florida.   Which is weird because Florida is a place where many adults go to serve their life sentences. Brown’s Minnesota attorney inaccurately advised him that the “worst possible scenario” would be to serve the remainder of his Florida probity sentence until April 9, 2016 when his probation expired.

Brown’s attorney did not just guess at the consequence she swore, not with curse words, but with an affidavit, that Brown’s probation officer in Minnesota repeatedly told her that Brown would be “off paper” or done with probation in Florida on April 9, 2016.  The attorney also spoke to his Florida probation officer and who confirmed the date.  The state argued that Brown should not get to withdraw his plea because a “life sentence” was a mere collateral consequence and that Brown should have known that any violation would trigger that.  The district court allowed Brown to withdraw his plea because there was no discussion about a life sentence and the worst possible outcome would be he would serve a sentence until April 9, 2016.  The district court determined that a life sentence is not a collateral consequence but a direct consequence as it flows directly from his conviction for firearm possession.

So the question becomes is plea to offense that triggers a potential life sentence in a different state a direct or collateral consequence?

The MN COA flipped it and said the district court was wrong, because this was a collateral consequence.  A district court must allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea “at any time” to correct a manifest justice. Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1.  A manifest injustice exists if a guilty plea is invalid. State v. Raleigh,  778 N.W. 2d 90, 94 (Minn. 2010).  A guilty plea is invalid if it is not accurate, voluntary, or intelligent. Id.   The intelligence requirement [of a valid guilty plea] ensures that a defendant understands the charges against him, the rights he is waiving, and consequences of his plea. Id. at 96. But a defendant does not need to know every consequence of his plea for the plea to be intelligent. Taylor v. State, 887 N.W.2d 821, 823 (Minn. 2016).  The intelligence requirement refers to the direct consequences of a plea and conviction. Raleigh, 778 N.W 2d at 96. “[A] defendant’s lack of awareness of a collateral consequence of a guilty plea does not render the guilty plea unintelligent and entitle a defendant to withdraw it.” Taylor, 887 N.W.2d at 823.  Direct consequences are “definite, immediate[,] and automatic” and “punitive and a part of the defendant’s sentence.” Kaiser v. State, 641 N.W.2d 900, 907 (Minn. 2002).  The COA looked at the Crump case.  In Crump, the district court denied Crump’s request to withdraw his plea for a DWI because he got a later DWI. State. Crump, 826 N.W.2d 838 (Minn. App. 2013).  The court said “a warning that the sentences for future convictions after a plea may be needless…Everyone knows that second and subsequent offenders tend to be punished more heavily than first offenders. Id.  Everyone but Crump.   The court said they saw the eventual criminal charge as a contingency that may not occur” and reasoned that “the possibility of an enhanced sentences in another case is no automatic consequence.” Id.  

The same thing exists here.  Brown’s life sentence was not definite, immediate and certain.  Brown loses.   Brown next argued that his attorney misadvised him on the potential probation consequences.  Remember Brown’s attorney told him the “worst possible scenario” would be serving the remainder of his probation until April 9, 2016.  He would be out by tax day.  Brown argues that “a plea is not intelligent if the defendant is misadvised regarding the consequences of a guilty plea, whether direct or collateral.” Barragan v. State, 583 N.W.2d 571, 572 (Minn. 1998).  But in that case the prosecutor told Barragan “not to worry about deportation,” and Barragan relied on that statement. Id.  Brown cited a few other cases but the COA didn’t care.  However, in Lafler v. Cooper,  132 S.Ct. 1376 (2012) The SCOTUS said that a lawyer who told their client that you should go to trial because if you shoot someone below the waist they would never convict you of attempted murder.   The jury did convict and the SCOTUS said that advice was so bad that is was constitutionally deficient.   That seems to be the case, through no fault of Brown’s attorney, who tried and got the wrong answer.

So here is the deal.  Don’t go to Florida.  If you go to Florida don’t commit any crimes.  Cutting in line in Harry Potter land counts.   You don’t want a life sentence where your cell mate is a gator named Peg.   A life sentence is not a collateral consequence like losing your driver’s license.  This case should go up but not in Florida where their Supreme Court justices are guys named Dale in visors and tank tops with risqué messaging.