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Thompson v. Grace

June 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie United States District Judge



I. Introduction

Petitioner Brian Thompson, an inmate formerly confined at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting that his plea counsel was ineffective. Thompson alleges he was improperly induced to enter a straight plea of guilty to several criminal charges based on erroneous sentencing information provided to him by his attorney. Thompson argues that, but for his counsel's ineffectiveness, he would have elected to proceed to trial. Having carefully considered Thompson's claim, I will deny the habeas petition.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

The facts underlying Thompson's claim were summarized by the Pennsylvania Superior Court as follows:

On March 4, 2002, [Thompson] entered a straight plea of guilty to the charges of burglary, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, and forgery. The trial court scheduled [Thompson's] sentencing for April 8, 2002, and requested a pre-sentence report.

When [Thompson] appeared for sentencing on April 8, 2002, he discovered that the pre-sentence report indicated that the burglary charge carried an offense gravity score of nine. [Thompson] argued, however, that the proper offense gravity score for the burglary charge was seven because the premises were unoccupied. The trial court continued [Thompson's] sentencing hearing to April 11, 2002, at which time the trial court ruled that the burglary charge carried an offense gravity score of nine because someone entered the building during [Thompson's] commission of the crime. [Thompson] then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, and the trial court denied his request. The trial court appointed new counsel, and, on April 22, 2002, [Thompson] filed a "Request for Reconsideration of Sentence and/or to Withdraw Guilty Plea." On May 2, 2002, the trial court conducted a hearing on [Thompson's] post-sentence motion. On August 6, 2002, the trial court denied [Thompson's] motion for reconsideration and his request to withdraw his guilty plea. (Dkt. Entry 12-3, Commonwealth v. Thompson, No. 1366 MDA 2002, 835 A.2d 837 (Pa. Super. Sept. 26, 2003)(unpublished memorandum at 1-2).).

Prior to entering his guilty plea in open court, Thompson completed a written guilty plea colloquy form. (Dkt. Entry 8-7, at 35-44, Guilty Plea Colloquy dated 03/03/2002.) Petitioner initialed each page of the form, indicating he read and understood each page. (Id.) Thompson admitted that he "did all the things a person must have done in order to be held to be guilty of the crime or crimes to which" he entered his guilty pleas. (Id. at 38.) Petitioner acknowledged that, by pleading guilty, "the Court may impose a sentence in accordance with the Sentencing Guidelines established by the legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that place a suggested length of sentence for the type of crime." (Id. at p. 40.) Thompson recognized "that the maximum sentence or sentences of confinement and/or fine or fines applicable to the crime or crimes to which he [was entering his] plea(s)" could result in the "total possible aggregate sentence" of 66 years. (Id.) Petitioner acknowledged that as to the burglary charge alone the maximum possible term of confinement was 20 years. (Id.) Petitioner disclaimed the existence of any agreement with the Assistant District Attorney, or his counsel, concerning the length of sentence he would receive as to any charge in return for his pleading guilty. (Id. at 41.) Thompson affirmed that he entered the plea on his own free will. (Id. at 42.)

On March 4, 2002, prior to Petitioner entering his guilty plea to all charges, Judge Blackwell of the York County Court of Common Pleas questioned Thompson as to his understanding of his intended plea. (Dkt. Entry 8-2, Tr. of Plea Colloquy.) Specifically, Judge Blackwell advised Petitioner as to the potential maximum sentence he could receive for each individual offense to which Thompson was entering a guilty plea. (Id. at 2 - 3.) Petitioner affirmed that he understood the burglary charge alone carried the potential of a 20 year prison term. Judge Blackwell advised, and Thompson acknowledged, that the aggregate sentence he potentially faced as a result of his plea to all charges was "between 35 and 40 years". (Id. at 3.)

The Court then proceeded to outline the factual foundation of each crime, and asked Petitioner to verify that he committed each offense as charged. (Dkt. Entry 8-3 at 2-3, 13-14.) As to the burglary charge, Thompson admitted entering the home of Greg Sowers without his permission and taking money from the premises. (Id. at 3.) The Court then accepted Thompson's plea of guilty to all charges. (Id. at 14.)

On April 8, 2002, after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation, Thompson appeared before Judge Blackwell for sentencing. (Dkt. Entry 8-3 at 20, Sentencing Tr. 04/08/02.) At the commencement of the proceeding, Thompson's attorney, Heather Reynosa, contested the offense gravity score assigned to the burglary charge. (Id. at 4.) She stated that "[w]hen my client plead to these offenses and agreed to be sentenced, we believed the offense gravity score was a 7. And it has come back and it appears as a 9." (Id.) The enhancement was based on a finding that someone was present during the commission of the burglary. (Id. at 5.) The Court then entertained a lengthy argument as to whether Mr. Sower's twelve year old neighbor, who observed Thompson enter the apartment via a window, and then entered the apartment herself by the same means to confront Thompson, qualified as a person present during the commission of the burglary. (Id. at 5-8.) The state trial court deferred sentencing to consider the parties' various arguments. (Id. at 8.)

The sentencing hearing was reconvened on April 11, 2002. (Dkt. Entry 12-2, Sentencing Transcript 04/11/02.) Judge Blackwell rejected Petitioner's position on the offense gravity score. (Id. at 5.) Petitioner then, against the advice of counsel, requested leave to withdraw his guilty plea. The Commonwealth objected. (Id. at 5-6.) While acknowledging that Thompson entered his plea "with no agreement," Attorney Reynosa asserted that she had been led to believe that Thompson's offense gravity score would be seven because the Commonwealth had previously offered a prison term of two to four years, a term of imprisonment consistent with that offense gravity score. She also explained that she had assured Thompson regarding that sentencing range and "told him that he could receive more than two to four, but we never discussed the offense gravity score of nine." (Id. at 6; emphasis added.)

The trial judge denied Thompson's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, noting that Thompson entered a "straight plea," and that even though there may have been negotiations "on the side, a straight plea is exactly that." (Id.) The trial court imposed a sentence of 60 to 180 months incarceration for case 4462 CA 2001 (burglary, theft and receiving stolen property). (Dkt. Entry 8-1at 2, Response to the Petition for ...

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