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Brown v. Cournoyer

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 3, 2016

CHRISTOPHER BROWN, Petitioner,
v.
ANN COURNOYER, Commissioner of Corrections, Respondent.

RULING DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Christopher Brown has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges a state court murder conviction and sentence to which he stipulated in a plea agreement. The plea agreement specified a sentence of 30 years of imprisonment for his plea of guilty to murder, and it further provided for additional but concurrent terms of imprisonment for other charges he faced including an assault charge for which he had recently been found guilty after trial. Both the murder and the assault charge allegedly involved the same firearm, and they involved incidents that occurred only days apart from one another in 2004.

         After a state court judge sentenced petitioner in accordance with the plea agreement to a total effective sentence of 30 years for all the pending charges, petitioner pursued an appeal of the assault conviction, and he eventually won that appeal. But, according to petitioner, he was surprised to learn that-even having won the appeal of his assault conviction-he had no hopes of reducing his total term of imprisonment, because he could not withdraw his guilty plea to the murder charge.

         Now in this habeas corpus petition, petitioner contends that his guilty plea to the murder charge was invalid. First, he argues that his counsel misadvised him that he would be able to withdraw his murder plea if he won an appeal of his assault charge. Relatedly, he argues that his murder plea was not knowing and voluntary because of his mistaken belief (regardless of any misadvice by counsel) that he would be able to withdraw his murder plea in the event that he succeeded on his appeal of the assault charge.

         Petitioner’s claims have already been considered and rejected in the Connecticut state courts. Following an evidentiary hearing, a Connecticut state court judge concluded that petitioner was not misadvised by his counsel and that he would have pleaded guilty to the murder charge even if he had known that he could not withdraw his guilty plea if an appeal of the assault charge were successful. Because it is clear that the Connecticut state courts did not either unreasonably apply federal law or make unreasonable factual determinations in rejecting petitioner’s claims, I will deny the petition.

         Background

         In October 2005, petitioner stood trial in Connecticut state court on charges arising from two separate cases, which had been consolidated for trial. First, he was charged with first-degree assault and carrying a pistol without a permit arising from the non-fatal shooting of his brother. Second, he was charged with the gunshot murder of Jason Cragget. The two incidents occurred just ten days apart, and the state court consolidated the cases for a single trial on the basis of the state’s contention that both incidents involved the same gun.

         After a lengthy trial, a jury convicted petitioner in November 2005 of assault and unlawful gun possession (the two charges arising from the shooting of his brother) but was unable to reach a verdict on the murder charge. Two weeks later, petitioner attempted to escape custody and was apprehended and charged with escape.

         In December 2005, as part of a ―global settlement'' of all charges and convictions, petitioner entered an Alford plea to the murder charge and pleaded guilty to the escape charge. At his plea hearing, the court canvassed petitioner in an attempt to ensure the plea was being made knowingly and voluntarily. The court asked petitioner numerous questions to confirm his understanding, including the following exchanges:

THE COURT: Now, by pleading guilty, sir, you are giving up certain rights. Your right to continue to plead not guilty.
MR. BROWN: Right.
THE COURT: To have a trial before a judge or a jury, to have an attorney assist you at that trial, present any defenses, confront your accusers, cross examine witnesses, and you’re also giving up your right against self-incrimination. Do you understand that, sir?
MR. BROWN: Yes.
THE COURT: You’ve already had a trial on the murder charge. There’s not going to be a retrial, based upon your plea of guilty, do you understand that?
MR. BROWN: Yes.

Doc. #11-8 at 3 (emphasis added). The canvass continued:

THE COURT: Have you understood all my questions, Mr. Brown?
MR. BROWN: Yes.
THE COURT: And you want me to accept your pleas ...

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