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White v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 22, 2018

ERIC WHITE
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued March 19, 2018

         Procedural History

         Amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland, and tried to the court, Oliver, J.; judgment denying the petition; thereafter, the court granted the petition for certification to appeal, and the petitioner appealed to this court. Affirmed.

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

          Linda F. Currie-Zeffiro, assistant state's attorney, with whom were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, and Emily Trudeau, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Sheldon and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          HARPER, J.

         The petitioner, Eric White, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court denying his amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On appeal, the petitioner claims that the court improperly rejected his claims that (1) his right to due process was violated because his guilty plea was not made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily and (2) his right to effective assistance of counsel was violated because his attorney failed to adequately research and investigate the issue of the petitioner's mental state at the time of his guilty plea and to bring information about the petitioner's compromised mental state to the attention of the criminal trial court. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On August 11, 2004, the petitioner, represented by Attorney Joseph Bruckmann, pleaded guilty under the Alford[1] doctrine to one count of felony murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-54c and 53a-54a (a). The trial court indicated that it intended to sentence the petitioner to fifty years of imprisonment, which it did on November 5, 2004. The petitioner did not appeal from his conviction following his plea and sentencing or file any postjudgment motions.

         The petitioner petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus on January 8, 2014. After counsel was appointed, the petitioner filed an amended petition on May 23, 2016, asserting that Bruckmann had provided ineffective assistance of counsel and that the petitioner's due process rights had been violated because his guilty plea was not made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. The thrust of his claims was that medication the petitioner was taking on the day of his guilty plea ‘‘substantially impacted his ability to understand the plea agreement and the plea proceedings, '' that he would not have entered a guilty plea had he not been so medicated, and that Bruckmann was ineffective for failing to research and investigate the issue regarding his mental condition or to bring such information to the court's attention. (Internal quotation marks omitted.)

         At the habeas trial on September 19, 2016, Bruckmann, the petitioner, and the petitioner's psychiatric expert, James Phillips, testified. The petitioner also entered into evidence the transcripts of his guilty plea and sentencing, and medical records detailing his medication usage around the time of his guilty plea. The respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, offered no evidence.

         On September 27, 2016, the habeas court issued its memorandum of decision denying the amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court credited the testimony of Bruckmann and Phillips in determining that the petitioner had failed to establish ineffective assistance of counsel or a due process violation.[2] In evaluating the transcripts in evidence, the court observed that Bruckmann and the trial court made the petitioner aware ‘‘of all necessary information to make an informed decision . . . whether to enter a plea or take his case to trial.'' In considering the petitioner's own testimony, although the habeas court did not find that testimony completely lacking in credibility, it found that such testimony was ‘‘wholly insufficient to prove any of the necessary elements to establish either a due process violation or a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Contrasted with the other, more credible evidence adduced at trial, the petitioner's proffered evidence in support of his claims borders on the frivolous.''

         The petitioner petitioned the habeas court for certification to appeal, which the court granted. This appeal followed.

         We begin with generally applicable legal principles. ‘‘The underlying historical facts found by the habeas court may not be disturbed unless the findings were clearly erroneous. . . . Historical facts constitute a recital of external events and the credibility of their narrators. . . . Questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact receive plenary review.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Crawford v.Commissioner of Correction, 294 Conn. 165, 174, 982 A.2d 620 (2009). ‘‘The application of the habeas court's factual findings to the ...


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