• Connecticut Appellate Court
  • AC 33963
  • Jul 30 2013 (Date Decided)
  • Beach, J.

The two part standard articulated in the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court case of Strickland v. Washington applies in cases in which a defendant claims ineffective assistance of counsel leading to the acceptance of a plea offer and the defendant must show that his counsel's performance was deficient and, as a result, he suffered prejudice; but the prejudice inquiry differs from the analysis of claims following conviction after trial. Wilton Carraway entered a nolo contendere plea to assault in the first degree. His amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus claimed his attorney rendered ineffective assistance by failing to ascertain the severity of the victim's injuries and engage an expert on whether the injures might have been caused by something other than a dangerous instrument, like Carraway's fists. Carraway alleged that the deficiencies rendered involuntary and unintelligent his decision to enter the plea. The habeas court denied the petition, finding that the petitioner had not demonstrated prejudice as defined in the 1985 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Copas v. Commissioner of Correction. Carraway appealed. The respondent commissioner of correction conceded to arguing, in a case pending before the Supreme Court, that the standard applied here was incorrect. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment and remanded, concluding that the habeas court applied an incorrect legal standard. The Copas court's explanation of the prejudice inquiry in the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case of Hill v. Lockhart was found problematic. Essentially, the Hill court did not reduce the prejudice analysis to a comparison between the sentence imposed pursuant to a plea bargain with the likely outcome of a trial. The bottom line issue is whether, but for counsel's allegedly deficient performance, the petitioner would have insisted on a trial. Analysis of the strength of the state's case and viability of unadvanced defense strategies informs the analysis, but is not by itself determinative. Here, the petitioner testified that had he known the victim had not been comatose and had a lesser hospitalization period than believed or that an expert could have supported his version of striking the victim with his fists, he would have insisted on trial. The habeas court evaluated the claims by considering whether the difference in the severity of injuries or engagement of an expert likely would have led to a lesser sentence at trial.