Immigrant Says He Didn't Understand Plea Deal Offer
H.P.T. has since brought a habeas action alleging that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to properly communicate and advise him with respect to a plea offer that was made by prosecutors. The deal would have been 20 years in prison, suspended after nine years, and 20 years of probation.
Specifically, H.P.T., whose native language is Vietnamese, claimed that his trial lawyer, Thompson Page, failed to provide him with a translator to assist in explaining the offer. In fact, H.P.T. claims that he did not even know that an offer had been made until well after his conviction and sentencing. He also claims that had his attorney adequately communicated with him, he would have accepted the offer and not proceeded to trial.
The habeas court agreed and found that counsel's representation of the petitioner with respect to the plea bargain process amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel that prejudiced H.P.T. The habeas court, as a result, directed the judge who initially sentenced H.P.T. to resentence him to a prison term that matched the initial plea offer.
The state appealed the habeas court's ruling, but the state Appellate Court sided with the habeas court. The appellate judges found no error in the habeas court's conclusion that H.P.T. had prevailed on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim and also agreed with the decision to implement the plea offer as the sentence.
With respect to that sentence, the Appellate Court noted that a habeas court has considerable discretion to frame a remedy, so long as the remedy is commensurate with the scope of the constitutional violations which have been established.
State prosecutors disagree and have appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
According to documents filed by Assistant State's Attorney Michael Proto, H.P.T.'s lawyer, Page, had represented the Vietnamese man in other real estate matters and had known him for about seven years. Page believed he knew when H.P.T. understood what was being said to him and when he didn't understand. The lawyer believed his client understood when the judge asked him if he was sure he agreed to forego the plea offer and take his chances at trial. H.P.T. also had insisted he was innocent of the sexual assault charges, Page claimed.
Proto argues that the Appellate Court should not have affirmed the habeas court's decision to implement the plea offer as the sentence. "The habeas court's remedy grants a windfall to the petitioner while squandering the resources the state has invested in the prosecution of the petitioner," Proto wrote in his brief to the justices.
Proto also cites two cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution requires a case of this nature to go back to the sentencing judge "to consider all relevant information and impose an appropriate sentence."
Senior Assistant Public Defender Adele V. Patterson, meanwhile, said the circumstances of the Connecticut case are not comparable to the Supreme Court decisions cited by Proto. She argues that the Appellate Court was correct in upholding the habeas court's decision to implement the plea offer as the defendant's sentence.