Supreme Court Orders Father To Be Sentenced A Third Time

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Judge Carmen Espinosa
Judge Carmen Espinosa

Courts in Connecticut just can't seem to agree on what to do with a Vietnamese immigrant who was convicted of assaulting his daughter more than a decade ago. First he was sentenced to 13 years behind bars. Then, after proving his lawyer failed to inform him of a potential plea deal, he was resentenced to nine years.

Now the state Supreme Court has negated the second sentence, and the man will return to court for a third time.

The father, known as H.P.T. in court records to protect the identity of his daughter, was convicted following a jury trial in 2004 and later sentenced by Superior Court Judge Christine Keller to 23 years in prison, suspended after 13 years, and 10 years of probation.

But H.P.T., who has trouble understanding English, later filed an ineffective assistance of counsel claim against his lawyer. H.P.T. claims the lawyer, with the help of a translator, should have explained that the prosecution had offered a plea deal that would have resulted in, at most, only nine years in prison. The habeas court agreed with the ineffective assistance claim and ordered the trial court to resentence the man to the offered plea deal — a 20-year prison term, suspended after nine years, and 20 years of probation.

Prosecutors challenged the decision to the state Appellate Court, which upheld the habeas court's ruling.

But in the latest chapter in this long-running dispute, the Supreme Court has ruled against both the habeas and Appellate Court and said the trial judge should determine H.P.T.'s sentence. Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled that it wasn't up to the habeas court to decide that the man's plea deal should be the prevailing sentence, even though that could still be the end result. "The trial court is the proper court to make such decisions," Justice Carmen Espinosa wrote in an eight-page unanimous ruling.

Senior Assistant Public Defender Adele Patterson, who argued to the justices that the habeas court has the power to remedy a proven constitutional violation, declined comment other than to say: "I am still working on understanding what the court's ruling means."

In his briefs, Assistant State's Attorney Michael Proto had argued that a case should go back to the sentencing judge "to consider all relevant information and impose an appropriate sentence." He told the justices that when the habeas court resentenced H.P.T. to the terms of the plea deal, it was "squandering the resources the state has invested in the prosecution of the petitioner."

"This ruling restores a defendant who received ineffective assistance during plea negotiations to the point at which the violation occurred," Proto told the Law Tribune. "From there, the court can consider any pre-sentence investigation, victims can have an opportunity to provide input as provided by our law, and the trial court can determine the appropriate remedy."

In her ruling, Espinosa pointed out that H.P.T. could still end up with the same nine-year prison sentence.

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