Monday, April 22, 2013

Court’s Decision to Keep Appointed Counsel Trumps Pro Se Requests for New Counsel and Plea Withdrawal

United States v. Minor, No. 12-30247 (Apr. 17, 2013) (Jones, Dennis, Higginson) (per curiam)

Minor pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distributed 50 grams or more of cocaine base or crack cocaine. He was represented by counsel at the time of the plea. He then sent the Court two pro se letters expressing dissatisfaction with counsel and a desire to withdraw his plea. At the hearing on Minor’s requests, the district court denied the motion to appoint substitute counsel because counsel secured an extremely favorable plea deal and testimony revealed that Minor would not have been able to show that fairness and justice required allowing him to withdraw his plea. The Court also rejected the pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea because he had no right to file a motion on his own behalf since Minor was represented by counsel. Counsel did not later file a motion to withdraw plea.

The panel limited the issues raised on appeal to whether the district court fulfilled its duty under 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(c) to determine whether the interests of justice required substitution of counsel. The panel affirmed the district court’s decision to deny the request for substitution. The panel clarified that Minor will have to file a petition under § 2255 in order to pursue a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel due to counsel’s failure to re-urge the withdrawal of Minor’s plea.

Lastly, the panel found no error in Minor’s sentencing since the factual basis for his plea was powder cocaine and he was sentenced only using the powder cocaine ranges, not the ones for crack.



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