United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
GERALD S. LEPRE, JR., Petitioner,
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Respondents.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
C. Mitchell, United States Magistrate Judge
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.
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withdrawn.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
timely petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in this Court.
(ECF No. 1).
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).
Ineffectiveness of Counsel
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[.]” (Id. at
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)).
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,
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