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Fields v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 6, 2018

DONALD FIELDS
v.
COMMISSIONEROF CORRECTION

          Argued November 13, 2017

          Stephen A. Lebedevitch, assigned counsel, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Eva B. Lenczewski, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Lavine, Sheldon and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          HARPER, J.

         The petitioner, Donald Fields, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court denying his amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which he collaterally challenged his thirty year sentence for felony murder on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel. In his petition, the petitioner claimed that his trial counsel, John Paul Carroll, rendered ineffective assistance by failing to advise him before trial of the state's offer that he resolve the charges against him by pleading guilty to felony murder in exchange for a recommended sentence of twenty-five years to serve. The habeas court rejected that claim on the ground that, although Carroll had indeed rendered constitutionally deficient performance by failing to advise the petitioner of the state's twenty-five year plea offer, the petitioner had not been prejudiced by that deficient performance. Specifically, the court concluded that he had not proved, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, that he would have accepted the offer had Carroll conveyed it to him.

         On appeal, the petitioner claims that the habeas court erred in concluding that he had not been prejudiced by Carroll's constitutionally deficient performance because there was no evidence in the record tending to show that he would not have accepted the offer, and, thus, the court's finding to that effect was entirely speculative.

         Although we are troubled by the facts of this case concerning Carroll's deficient performance, we must keep in mind that, in assessing the habeas court's finding as to prejudice, ‘‘[i]t is simply not the role of this court on appeal to second-guess credibility determinations made by the habeas court.''[1] Noze v. Commissioner of Correction, 177 Conn.App. 874, 887, A.3d (2017). Accordingly, on the basis of the court's credibility based rejection of the petitioner's claim that he would have accepted the state's plea offer had it been conveyed to him, we affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

         The court's memorandum of decision sets forth the following relevant facts and procedural history. ‘‘The petitioner was convicted after a jury trial of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, attempt to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-49 (a) (2) and 53a-134 (a) (1), and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 and 53a-134 (a) (2). The trial court sentenced the petitioner to thirty years in prison, followed by twenty years of special parole. The petitioner was represented before and during trial by . . . Carroll.

         ‘‘The petitioner appealed his convictions to the Supreme Court, which affirmed them. State v. Fields, 265 Conn. 184, 827 A.2d 690 (2003). . . . The petitioner was sixteen at the time of [the] crime and seventeen at the time of his trial.

         ‘‘The petitioner's sole claim was tried to the [habeas] court over two days. The court heard the testimony of three witnesses: State's Attorney John Davenport, the petitioner, and [Carroll].[2] The court also received as exhibits the transcripts from the petitioner's criminal trial and sentencing, the presentence investigation report . . . delivered to the court prior to sentencing, the mittimus reflecting the petitioner's sentence, and the Supreme Court's decision from the petitioner's appeal.'' (Footnote added.)

         At the habeas trial, the petitioner testified that he and Carroll never discussed a plea deal from the state, but that the offer of twenty-five years to serve was ‘‘something that [the petitioner] would have accepted.'' Throughout his cross-examination, the petitioner iterated that he never asked Carroll about pleading guilty, but that he did not know he could ask about making an offer. Moreover, in response to a question about whether the petitioner would have accepted responsibility in exchange for the plea offer of twenty-five years, the petitioner testified: ‘‘If I was offered a-a small amount of time . . . [o]r not a small amount of time, but somethin[g] and that was what I had to do . . . to get the time and accept responsibility, yeah, I would have. If I was offered the offer, I [would have done] that.''

         On September 6, 2016, following trial, the court denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court concluded that, although the petitioner had proved that Carroll's performance was deficient, he had not proved that such deficient performance had caused him prejudice. In reaching that conclusion, the court first rejected the petitioner's testimony that he would have accepted the plea offer of twenty-five years to serve for felony murder.[3] The court then specifically found that the petitioner would have rejected that plea offer had Carroll conveyed it to him.[4] The court thereafter granted the petitioner's timely petition for certification to appeal. This appeal followed.

         ‘‘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. . . . It ...


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