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Ineffective counsel claim sufficient to overcome waiver in plea agreement

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Despite a man’s plea agreement in which he waived his right to challenge his conviction under 28 U.S.C. 2255, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled he can seek to have his conviction overturned because the 2255 waiver does not bar his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective.

Thomas Hurlow was arrested on multiple drug and firearm charges after detectives with the Vigo County Drug Task Force searched his home. The defendant claimed he told his appointed trial counsel the circumstances surrounding the search that led to his arrest, arguing that his rights had been violated.

According to Hurlow, the attorney failed to listen and instead convinced him to plead guilty to avoid a sentence of 30 years to life. The plea contained a provision that Hurlow agree not to contest his conviction or sentence in a collateral attack under 28 U.S.C. 2255.

After the District Court accepted his plea and sentenced him to 248 months imprisonment, Hurlow filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing, in part, that his plea agreement was involuntary because it resulted from the ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

The District Court denied his 2255 motion on the grounds that the waiver in the plea agreement barred Hurlow’s motion.

In Thomas H. Hurlow v. United States of America, 12-1374, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Hurlow’s petition and remanded for further proceedings.

The 7th Circuit explained to overcome the wavier provision in his plea agreement Hurlow cannot just assert that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the constitutional claim. He must allege that he entered into the plea agreement based on the advice of counsel that fell below constitutional standards.

In view of this standard, the 7th Circuit concluded Hurlow’s allegations in his 2255 petition were sufficient to trump the waiver in his plea. He first argued that his trial counsel failed to recognize the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Then he claimed that had he known he could contest the unconstitutional and unreasonable search, he would not have entered to the plea agreement.  

“It is not surprising that Hurlow said he was satisfied with counsel; when he told his counsel about the facts surrounding the search, his lawyer ignored him,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote for the court. “Thus, his statement to the district court was made against the backdrop of his ignorance regarding the possibility of a successful motion to suppress.”
 

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