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Cotton v. Steele

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

June 18, 2018

TATIZES COTTON, Petitioner,
v.
TROY STEELE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the petition of Missouri state prisoner Tatizes Cotton for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In 2012, Petitioner pleaded guilty in Missouri state court to one count of first-degree robbery, one count of first-degree burglary, and two counts of armed criminal action. The court sentenced Petitioner to a total of 20 years imprisonment. In his sole ground for habeas relief, Petitioner claims that his plea counsel provided ineffective assistance by promising Petitioner he would receive a ten year sentence without being subjected to an 85% mandatory minimum term before parole eligibility. For the reasons set forth below, federal habeas relief will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was charged with the above-noted crimes, which involved a robbery and burglary committed with his brother and another individual; during the course of the crimes, the other individual shot and seriously wounded a victim. At the guilty plea hearing, Petitioner confirmed that he understood the charges against him. The prosecutor outlined a factual basis for the pleas and Petitioner affirmed that the facts as set forth by the prosecutor were true. Petitioner's counsel then reviewed the range of punishment for each crime, as follows:

         Count I [for robbery] is a Class A felony punishable by 10 years to 30 years or life imprisonment . . . . Counts II and IV [for armed criminal action] are unclassified felonies punishable by a minimum of three years . . . up to an infinite or uncountable number of years as a maximun. Count III [for burglary] is a Class B felony, punishable by 5 or 15 years . . . for a total incarceration period possible if the court would run the sentences consecutively to one life sentence plus an infinite number of years. ECF No. 8-3 at 18.

         The court ascertained that the shooter was sentenced to life imprisonment plus a consecutive sentence of 30 years, and that Petitioner's brother, who pleaded guilty to the same four crimes with which Petitioner was charged, and agreed to cooperate with the state, was sentenced to a total of 20 years' imprisonment. Petitioner confirmed that he was aware of these sentencing possibilities. He also confirmed that he understood no sentence had been agreed to in his own case, and that he had no “secret anticipation of some particular sentence.” Id. Petitioner represented that he discussed the police report with his attorney and whether or not to go to trial or plead guilty; that he spoke to his attorney about his legal rights and “what could happen if” he pleaded guilty; and that he understood the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty. Petitioner then pleaded guilty to the four charged offenses and the court accepted the pleas as voluntarily and intelligently made with a full understanding of the charges and consequences of the pleas.

         At the sentencing hearing, Petitioner's attorney asked for a total sentence of 15 years' imprisonment, “[k]eeping in mind that the sentence of the robbery in the first degree carried an 85% required minimum, as well as the armed criminal action charges three flat years before consideration of any parole in the Department of Corrections.” Id. at 20.[1] The state argued for a total sentence of 30 years' imprisonment. The court sentenced Petitioner to 20 years for the robbery, 20 years for the related armed criminal action, 15 years for the burglary, and 15 years for the other armed criminal action, with all sentences to run concurrently. The court next asked Petitioner whether his counsel did anything against Petitioner's wishes and whether Petitioner had anything to tell the court about his representation. Petitioner responded in the negative, and the court stated that it found no basis to find ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 23.

         State Post-Conviction Proceedings

         For state post-conviction relief, Petitioner raised the same claim he now presents for federal habeas relief, namely, that his plea counsel provided ineffective assistance by promising Petitioner he would receive a ten year sentence without being subjected to an 85% mandatory minimum term before parole eligibility. He asserted that this ineffective assistance of counsel rendered his guilty plea involuntary, because without this promise, he would have chosen to go to trial rather than plead guilty. The motion court rejected the claim, without holding an evidentiary hearing, and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the motion court's ruling.

         The appellate court summarized the plea and sentencing hearings and held that Petitioner's claim was unsupported by the record. The court reasoned as follows:

[T]he [trial] court was very explicit in its questioning as to whether Appellant had been made any sort of promises, including as to sentencing. The court also asked Appellant whether he had any secret anticipation as to the sentence he was going to receive. Appellant responded in the negative.
Furthermore, Appellant's counsel at sentencing made an oral request on the record to the court that Appellant be sentenced to fifteen years, asking the court to keep in mind Appellant would have to serve at least 85% of any sentence handed down by the court for the first-degree robbery conviction. At this point Appellant should have been alerted to the fact that his own counsel was stating for the record that Appellant had to serve 85% of his sentence, if he had been under the mistaken impression his counsel had promised him he would not have to serve 85% of his sentence. However, Appellant never voiced any dissatisfaction with his counsel for having promised something, ostensibly not delivered, in order to induce him to plead guilty, despite having ample opportunity and encouragement by the court to do so. On the contrary, he repeatedly expressed complete satisfaction with his counsel. Therefore, Appellant's claim that counsel promised him a sentence of ten years without the 85% requirement is unsupported by the facts in the record and, in fact, refuted by the facts in the record.

ECF No. 8-4 at 7.

         Federal ...


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