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Lepre v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 28, 2019

GERALD S. LEPRE, JR., Petitioner,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Respondents.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Robert C. Mitchell, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Recommendation

         It is respectfully recommended that the petition of Gerald S. Lepre, Jr. for a writ of habeas corpus (ECF No.1) be dismissed and, because reasonable jurists could not conclude that a basis for appeal exists, that a certificate of appealability be denied.

         II. Report

         A. Background

         In September 2015, after running a red light, Lepre was charged with two counts of driving under the influence (“DUI”) and one count of failure to stop at a red light. (ECF No. 15-1 at 2, 189). Due to a scheduling conflict, Lepre was late for his trial and, therefore, he was arrested and remanded to the county jail. (Id. at 45-50). After being in custody for nineteen days, he pleaded guilty to one DUI count while the remaining charges were withdrawn. (Id. at 3). He was fined one thousand dollars and sentenced to time served, six months of probation, and drug and alcohol treatment. (Id. at 75).

         Lepre timely petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in this Court. (ECF No. 1).

         B. Discussion

         In his petition, Lepre advances two claims under the Sixth Amendment to the Unites States Constitution-i.e., ineffectiveness of counsel and denial of the right to a fair trial. (Id. at 5, 7).

         i. Ineffectiveness of Counsel

         In order to prevail on this claim, Lepre must demonstrate that (1) his trial counsel's performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” and (2) “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). He has not done so. Instead, Lepre explains in his petition that he was late for his trial because he had another court case scheduled on the same day at the same time. (ECF No. 1 at 5). Lepre posits that he was arrested because his counsel failed to resolve this scheduling conflict. (Id.) And he claims that, after being held in custody for nineteen days, “when his case was called to trial the prosecution failed to appear[.]” (Id.) According to Lepre, his plea was not voluntary because he pleaded guilty “in order to be released from incarceration[.]”[1] (Id. at 2, 5).

         Lepre premises his ineffectiveness claim on the actions, or inaction, of his counsel that occurred prior to the entry of his guilty plea. But it is well established that “a guilty plea represents a break in the chain of events which has preceded it in the criminal process.” Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267 (1973). And when a defendant pleads guilty, “he may not thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea.” Id. Accordingly, Lepre is barred from raising “case-related constitutional defects that ‘occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea'” Class v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 798, 804-05 (2018) (quoting Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 30 (1974)).

         The proper focus of the federal habeas inquiry-where, as here, a criminal defendant pleads guilty on advice of counsel-“is the nature of advice and the voluntariness of the plea . . . .” Tollett, 411 U.S. at 266. Lepre was charged with two counts of DUI and one count of running a red light. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to one DUI count while the remaining charges were withdrawn. Lepre now claims that he pleaded guilty only to be released from custody. But he has not demonstrated, nor can he, that his counsel's advice to take the plea was outside “the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56 (1985) (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 (1970)).

         Lepre's assertion that his guilty plea was not voluntary is equally unavailing because “[t]he longstanding test for determining the validity of a guilty plea is ‘whether the plea represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant.'” Id. (quoting North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31 (1970)). And the record reflects that Lepre affirmed in writing and orally-under oath-that (1) he was satisfied with counsel's representation, (2) he was informed of and ...


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