Guilty plea stands despite ineligibility for habitual charge

Although a man was wrongly charged as a habitual substance offender, the Indiana Court of Appeals determined the facts do not support his claim that his counsel was ineffective and he did not knowingly enter a guilty plea.

Willie D. Williams pleaded guilty to dealing in a schedule IV controlled substance, a Class C felony; resisting law enforcement, a Class D felony; driving while suspended, a Class A misdemeanor; and being a habitual substance offender. Huntington Superior Court sentenced him to an aggregate term of 16 years.

Williams subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief. He alleged he was never advised that he was actually ineligible for the habitual substance offender enhancement. Had he known, he would not have accepted the plea deal and instead insisted on going to trial.  

Therefore, he argued his guilty plea was not knowing, voluntary and intelligent.

The post-conviction court denied relief and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Willie D. Williams v. State of Indiana, 35A02-1412-PC-864.

Citing precedent, the COA noted that defendants who plead guilty give up a plethora of substantive claims and procedural rights. In addition, they cannot benefit from the plea and later complain.

The appellate court found without the guilty plea, Williams would have faced two more felony charges and a maximum sentence of 32 years. His counsel did object to the state’s motion to amend the habitual substance offender enhancement and advised Williams he would be convicted at trial.

“These objective facts do not support the conclusion that Williams’ decision to plead guilty was driven by defense counsel’s alleged erroneous advice about Williams’ eligibility for the habitual-substance-offender enhancement,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the court. “Accordingly, because Williams benefited from his plea agreement and the specific facts do not establish an objective reasonable probability that competent representation would have caused him not to enter a plea, we conclude that Williams is not entitled to relief on his claim that his guilty plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.”


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