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New Trial Denied Despite Being Misinformed of Max Sentence for Rape

August 28, 2018

In Walker v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s life sentence for rape and denial of a new trial despite the fact that he was misinformed prior to trial that the maximum sentence he was facing was 20 years in prison.

The defendant was charged with rape and false imprisonment. Before trial, the State made a plea offer of 20 years to serve in prison. At that time, both the prosecutor and defense counsel erroneously believed 20 years was the maximum sentence for rape. The defendant turned down the deal and elected to go to trial.

After being convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the defendant moved for a new trial on the grounds that his attorney misinformed him of the maximum possible sentence and, therefore, he was not adequately advised about the pretrial plea offer.

In cases where it is claimed that ineffective assistance of counsel led to the rejection of a plea deal, a defendant must show that but for counsel’s error there is a reasonable probability that (1) the plea offer would have been accepted, (2) the court would have accepted its terms, and (3) that the sentence would have been less severe than the sentence ultimately imposed. Lafler v. Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 168 (2012).

The trial court found that, despite some discrepancy in testimony, the defendant had been advised both prior to and during trial that the actual maximum sentence for rape was life imprisonment. Further, the trial court found that the defendant had turned down the deal because he believed the State’s evidence against him would not lead to a conviction. The trial court was not convinced that knowing the maximum possible sentence would have altered his consideration of the plea offer.

The defendant argued that had he known of the true maximum possible sentence for rape, he would have accepted the 20-year offer. The Court of Appeals held that even if the defendant could prove he would have accepted the plea offer, he failed to show that the prosecution would not have revoked it upon learning of the true maximum possible sentence. The Court rejected the defendant’s request to remand the case for another evidentiary hearing to establish what the State would have done upon learning of the true maximum sentence for rape.

As a result, the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence and affirmed the denial of his motion for new trial.

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