Peterson v. Commissioner of Correction
Counsel's obligations during plea negotiations extend beyond advising or even urging a defendant whether to take a plea offer, with a countervailing obligation not to coerce a client into accepting a plea offer. Stewart Peterson was arrested and charged with weapons and narcotics violations. While out on bond, he was arrested and, in a second docket, charged with possession of narcotics, sale of illegal drugs, possession of drug paraphernalia and a traffic violation. Represented by attorney Joseph Dimyan, Peterson rejected a plea offer covering both cases with a total effective sentence of seven years, suspended after three, with probation. Thereafter, he was arrested and charged in a third docket with counts of possession of narcotics, possession of drug paraphernalia, sale of illegal drugs, possession of a controlled substance and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license. Following a jury trial on the first docket, Peterson was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon and illegal possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle. He received a total effective sentence of 10 years to serve. He pleaded guilty on his remaining criminal files and received a seven year sentence for the second docket and a 10 year sentence for the third docket, both to run concurrently with the sentence in the first docket. He filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The habeas court rejected the claims. Peterson appealed. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. Peterson claimed, inter alia, that in assessing his claims regarding Dimyan's failure to advise him adequately regarding the plea offer, the court utilized an improper standard. The court characterized Peterson's claim as Dimyan's failure to persuade him to accept the offer and determined that, in fact, Dimyan did attempt to persuade Peterson to accept the offer. In focusing on this characterization, Peterson ignored the court's significant and dispositive findings that Dimyan adequately explained the plea offer and Peterson's chances at trial. The habeas court credited Dimyan's testimony that he expressed his concern that Peterson could not realistically prevail at trial on all charges against him and that he did everything short of "strong-arming" Peterson to accept the offer. The Appellate Court declined to reassess credibility and found Dimyan's advice regarding the offer constitutionally adequate.