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Criminal Practice – No Due Process Right to Plea Acceptance

Deborah Elkins//November 30, 2016

Criminal Practice – No Due Process Right to Plea Acceptance

Deborah Elkins//November 30, 2016

Rodriguez v. Bush, Warden (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-169-16, 12 pp.) (Floyd, J.) No. 14-7297, Nov. 23, 2016; USDC at Rock Hill, S.C. (Wooten, J.) 4th Cir.

Holding: A defendant who claims his lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel when he did not object to the trial judge’s failure to provide a reason for rejecting a plea agreement, is not entitled to habeas relief because he has not shown that his defense was prejudiced by his lawyer’s alleged error; the 4th Circuit affirms denial of defendant’s motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

In 2009, a South Carolina jury convicted defendant on multiple counts of drug trafficking, and the trial court sentenced him to 45 years in prison. Earlier, on the day of trial, the state offered defendant and his codefendants plea agreements with a recommended sentence of 20 years each, which defendants accepted. The trial judge accepted the codefendants’ pleas, but rejected defendant’s plea, purportedly saying only that he was ready to try the case. The defense lawyer testified that he tried to persuade the judge to accept the plea but did not object on the record to the refusal.

Defendant argues on appeal that his counsel should have objected and alleged a violation of federal due process. We hold, however, that an objection claiming a violation of federal due process rights would, in this case, have been wholly meritless. The Supreme Court has clearly stated that there is no federal right that a plea be accepted by a judge. As a result, defendant was not prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to object.

This court has also acknowledged in Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md., 956 F.2d 1290 (4th Cir. 1992), that there is no constitutional right that a plea bargain be accepted. An objection to a judge’s plea rejection based on Santobello v. N.Y., 404 U.S. 257 (1971), does not have merit.

We hold that the state postconviction court’s determination that defendant was not prejudiced is reasonable, and the district court did not err in denying defendant’s request for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

Judgment affirmed.

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