A man whose defense attorney failed to give him proper information prior to his entering a plea agreement has lost his appeal for relief, demonstrating how critical it is to hire an experienced defense lawyer – the first time.
The case, U.S. v. Davis before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in West Virginia, is relevant for the purposes of our Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer blog as the quality of a defendant’s defense is often the most critical factor in determining the outcome.
Here’s what we know of the case, based on court records:
The defendant, “Davis,” had previously pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act, also known as ACCA, he received a mandatory minimum of 15 years behind bars.
The Armed Career Criminal Act is a federal law that was passed in 1984, and is a penalty enhancement for felons who commit certain crimes with firearms three or more times. If the individual has twice been convicted of either a violent felony or a serious drug crime, the measure allows for a minimum 15-year sentence, rather than the 10-year maximum that is allowed under the federal Gun Control Act.
The maximum penalty under ACCA is life in prison.
However in this case, Davis, the defendant contends – and the court does not dispute – that he was told both in his plea agreement and at his plea hearing that he would face a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars. He agreed to the terms of that deal.
However, he was then sentenced to 15 years under ACCA, and subsequently appealed that decision, as well as the contention that he qualified for the sentence enhancement under the ACCA guidelines.
In response, prosecutors pointed to a waiver he signed in his plea agreement indicating he may not receive the minimum sentence.
While the appeals court held that Davis was improperly advised of the statutory maximum sentence, that was not the fault of the government. However, the court did find that the misinformation he was given amounted to his inability to knowingly and intelligently waive his right to appeal, the court declined to enforce the waiver.
Considering his claim of alleged sentencing errors, it found that the lower court did not err in applying the ACCA enhancement.
While the lower court did in fact err in telling him what his maximum sentence would be, it had advised him that potential enhancements might be applied, based on his criminal history, which would not be determined until a pre-sentence report had been prepared. This is a report that would contain all relevant enhancements – such as past convictions – which is reviewed after a plea deal and prior to sentencing.
That report indicated that Davis had prior convictions for three violent felony offenses, including a 1993 burglary conviction in West Virginia, a 1993 aggravated burglary conviction in Ohio and a 2000 conviction for attempted breaking and entering and conspiracy to commit breaking and entering in West Virginia.
Based on that, he was facing 15 years to life.
He and his lawyer had initially objected to this enhancement prior to the actual sentencing, maintaining that the convictions were not separate offenses but were in fact part of the same action, and therefore could not be counted separately. He also argued that the most recent conviction did not count as a violent felony under ACCA.
The district court overruled these objections, designated him an armed career criminal and sentenced Davis to 15 years.
Davis later filed an appeal based on ineffective counsel. The court may not have granted his request to hear his appeal, but for the fact that the individual who represented him had recently died and therefore could not answer to those claims.
However, ultimately the sentencing enhancements were affirmed by the appellate court.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
U.S. v. Davis, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Justia