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Rojas v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 21, 2017

LUIS ROJAS
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued November 18, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland, Newson, J.

          Michael W. Brown, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Melissa L. Streeto, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Angela Macchiarulo, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Beach and Pellegrino, Js.

          OPINION

          PELLEGRINO, J.

         Following a grant of certification to appeal, the petitioner, Luis Rojas, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court denying his amended petition for writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner claims that the habeas court erred by not concluding that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to negotiate a plea bargain on his behalf, and by not concluding that the petitioner was prejudiced by his trial counsel's failure to properly investigate his case. We affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

         In 2008, the petitioner was convicted, following a jury trial, of robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (4), burglary in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-103, and kidnapping in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-92 (a) (2) (B). Thereafter, the trial court vacated the petitioner's kidnapping conviction and sentenced him on the remaining charges to a total effective term of twenty-five years in the custody of the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, execution suspended after twenty years, and five years of probation. The petitioner appealed and this court affirmed his conviction. State v. Rojas, 124 Conn.App. 745, 6 A.3d 155, cert. denied, 299 Conn. 921, 10 A.3d 1054 (2010).

         The following underlying facts and procedural history are relevant to the petitioner's claim. On July 31, 2007, the trial court appointed the public defender's office to represent the petitioner. Id., 747. Subsequently, on August 2, 2007, Special Public Defender Richard E. Cohen entered his appearance with the court as counsel for the petitioner. Id. On November 16, 2007, Cohen filed a motion to withdraw appearance, citing mistrust by the petitioner caused by disagreements over trial strategy, a lack of meaningful communication with the petitioner, and his belief that the attorney-client relationship was broken irretrievably. Id. After a hearing, the court denied Cohen's motion. Id., 749.

         The petitioner appealed from his conviction, claiming that the trial court failed to make an adequate inquiry into the allegations that there was no meaningful communication with his trial counsel and that their attorney-client relationship had broken down irretrievably. Id., 751. This court concluded, ‘‘the [trial] court was aware of the nature and scope of the [petitioner's] complaints . . . . Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion by not enlarging its inquiry any further.'' Id., 752.

         After this court affirmed his conviction, the petitioner filed a two count amended petition for writ of habeas corpus. In count one, the petitioner claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, alleging that his counsel failed to pursue plea negotiations with the state on his behalf and to properly investigate his case, and he made several other allegations that are not at issue in this appeal. In count two, the petitioner claimed prosecutorial impropriety. The petitioner proceeded to trial on count one only.

         After a one day trial held on May 25, 2012, the habeas court denied the petition in an oral decision from the bench. The court found that Cohen had failed to conduct any independent investigation of the petitioner's case, and failed to contact any witnesses other than one witness who testified for the prosecution. Additionally, the court found that ‘‘[the petitioner] was simply a difficult person who was unhappy with his representation, '' and that ‘‘he did everything he could to make things difficult.'' The court found that Cohen's performance was deficient for failing to conduct a proper investigation of the petitioner's case, but that his performance was not deficient for failing to pursue plea negotiations with the state on behalf of the petitioner. The court ultimately concluded, however, that despite any deficient performance, there was nothing that Cohen did or failed to do that was prejudicial to the petitioner. On June 25, 2012, the habeas court granted the petitioner's petition for certification to appeal. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         We begin by setting forth our general standard of review. ‘‘A criminal defendant is constitutionally entitled to adequate and effective assistance of counsel at all critical stages of criminal proceedings. . . . This right arises under the sixth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution and article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution. . . . As enunciated in Strickland v. Washington, [466 U.S. 668');">466 U.S. 668, 686-87, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80L.Ed.2d 674 (1984)], [our Supreme Court] has stated: It is axiomatic that the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel. . . . A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel consists of two components: a performance prong and a prejudice prong. . . . The claim will succeed only if both prongs are satisfied.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Spearman v. Commissioner of Correction, 164 Conn.App. 530, 538, 138 A.3d 378, cert. denied, 321 Conn. 923, 138 A.3d 284 (2016).

         ‘‘[According to] Strickland, [an ineffective assistance of counsel] claim must be supported by evidence establishing that (1) counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense because there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different had it not been for the deficient performance.'' (Emphasis in original; internal quotation marks ...


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