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7th Circuit affirms denial of evidentiary hearing, post-conviction review

January 25, 2017

The appointed public defender for a man convicted and sentenced for distributing cocaine tried to advise his client to accept a plea agreement, so that client cannot appeal on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

In Rollie M. Mitchell v. United States of America, 14-3759, Rollie Mitchell sold 144 grams of cocaine base to a police informant named Tony Hurd in 2006. During the subsequent state court proceedings related to Mitchell’s drug chargers, Hurd was shot to death in Ohio.

After the murder, Mitchell was indicted on federal drug charges and was also believed to be involved in the deadly shooting. Bruce Brattain, a public defender, was appointed to represent Mitchell and began discussing a potential plea agreement with the assistant United States attorney in which the government would recommend a 20-year sentence in exchange for Mitchell’s full cooperation with the murder investigation.

Although the government never put the government’s offer in writing, Brattain communicated its terms to Mitchell both verbally and in writing. Mitchell repeatedly rejected the potential agreement, but Brattain sent him multiple letters advising him that it was “almost absolutely certain” that he would be convicted of the drug charge and that there was a witness who would corroborate the government’s theory that he was involved in Hurd’s murder, which would likely lead to a life sentence.

After again rejecting the potential plea agreement, Mitchell was conviction of distributing 50 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of U.S. statute. At the sentencing hearing in April 2010, the government presented evidence of Mitchell’s involvement in the shooting, which led Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana sentencing him to life in prison.

Mitchell appealed his sentence, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed it. He then sought a motion for post-conviction relief, contending that Brattain provided ineffective assistance of counsel by not producing the plea offer in writing and by not advising him on the substance and effects of the offer. The district court rejected that argument and Mitchell’s request for an evidentiary hearing, prompting the instant appeal.

A panel of the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court Wednesday, with Judge William Bauer writing for the unanimous panel that Brattain effectively communicated all the details of the plea offer to Mitchell. Additionally, Bauer wrote that the various letters Brattain wrote to his client clearly show that he advised Mitchell that it was in his best interests to consider the offer because a guilty verdict could have resulted in a lengthy sentence, including the possibility of a life sentence.

Mitchell further argued that Brattain did not inform him of the offer until the day his trial began, but Bauer noted that the letters explaining the details of the plea offer date back as far as Oct. 29, 2009, 10 days before the trial began. Additionally, the 7th Circuit panel found that even if Brattain had been ineffective, Mitchell would have been unable to prove that he would have accepted the offer.
 

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