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State v. Guaman

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 16, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
MANUEL A. GUAMAN

          Argued January 10, 2017.

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury, Fasano, J.

          Ismian Feraizi, with whom, on the brief, was Martin J. Minnella, for the appellant (defendant).

          Nancy L. Chupak, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Amy L. Sedensky, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Alvord, Sheldon and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          BEAR, J.

         The defendant, Manuel A. Guaman, appeals from the judgment of conviction of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (3), rendered following the trial court's denial of his motion to withdraw his Alford plea.[1] On appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred when it denied his motion to withdraw his plea because his counsel at the time of his plea provided ineffective assistance when: (1) he failed to advise him of the immigration consequences of his guilty plea; and (2) he failed to advise him fully of his available options related to his plea because he was laboring under an undisclosed conflict of interest. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following uncontested facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On September 2, 2013, the defendant, a citizen of Ecuador, assaulted the victim with a broken beer bottle, causing severe lacerations to his right arm and face. The injuries required surgery and resulted in scarring to the victim's face. On September 3, 2013, the defendant was charged with assault in the first degree in violation of § 53a-59 and breach of peace in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-181.

         While being represented by Attorney David Feliu, the defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges and elected a jury trial. After becoming dissatisfied with Feliu's representation, the defendant sought new counsel, and, thereafter, retained Attorney Ira Mayo. Mayo represented the defendant from May through September 2014. On October 1, 2014, Mayo began a four month suspension from the practice of law. Mayo first learned of this suspension on July 2, 2014.

         On September 19, 2014, while still represented by Mayo, the defendant pleaded guilty, pursuant to the Alford doctrine, to assault in the first degree in violation of § 53a-59 (a) (3), under a substitute information. Following a canvass of the defendant, the court, Fasano, J., determined that the defendant's plea was knowingly and voluntarily made with the assistance of competent counsel. During the canvass, the plaintiff affirmed to the court that he understood the immigration consequences of his plea, including that deportation was a ‘‘virtual certainty'' after the court accepted his guilty plea and he was convicted of assault in the first degree. The defendant also affirmed that he had discussed the immigration consequences of his plea with his attorney. The court thereafter accepted the defendant's plea.

         On March 27, 2015, the defendant, who by this date had again obtained new counsel, moved to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds that Mayo had performed deficiently and thus provided him with ineffective assistance because he: (1) failed to advise him of the immigration consequences of his plea; and (2) failed to advise him about all of his options regarding how to dispose of his case because of an actual conflict of interest. Given Mayo's forthcoming suspension, the defendant claimed that a conflict of interest arose in representing him at his plea hearing. The state objected to the motion, and the defendant and the state presented testimony and other evidence in support of their positions over the course of four days in June, 2015.

         The defendant and David Avila, a friend who helped the defendant retain Mayo and translated for the defendant[2] at their first meeting, testified at the hearing on the motion to withdraw the guilty plea. Both men testified that Mayo had never discussed with the defendant the immigration consequences of pleading guilty. The defendant testified that the first time that Mayo told him of the plea offer was on September 19, 2014, that the conversation occurred just before the plea hearing was to take place, and that Mayo told him that he had to plead guilty. He also testified that there were never any discussions of his trial options, and that Mayo explained only the state's evidence against him. Additionally, he testified that Mayo never informed him of the four-month suspension from the practice of law to which Mayo had agreed and, instead, that Mayo told him that he was going on vacation for four months and that another attorney would handle the sentencing hearing scheduled for December, 2014.

         In contradiction of the defendant's and Avila's testimony, Mayo testified at length regarding the advice he had given to the defendant over the course of his representation, stating that he had repeatedly advised the defendant that a conviction on the charged offenses would lead to deportation, that he, Mayo, would be suspended from the practice of law for four months, that he had reviewed with the defendant all of his options regarding whether to plead guilty or go to trial, and that he had given the defendant the names of at least two attorneys who would be willing to represent him if he chose to go to trial.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the court expressly credited Mayo's testimony over that of the defendant and Avila. Additionally, the court found that Mayo had advised the defendant of the immigration consequences of his plea, that the court had fully canvassed the defendant on his plea, and, that because of the potential length of the sentence that the defendant was exposed to if he were convicted, he chose to plead guilty notwithstanding the likelihood of deportation. The court also found that Mayo advised the defendant of his upcoming suspension, that Mayo gave him the names of other attorneys whom the defendant could contact to represent him, that the defendant was not forced to, or believed that he had to, plead guilty, and that any impact of the pending suspension was speculative. The court found, on the basis of the defendant's plea canvass, that the defendant was satisfied with Mayo's representation at the time he pleaded guilty, and the court viewed the plea offer as ...


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