Courts in Connecticut just can’t seem to agree on what to do with a Vietnamese immigrant who was convicted of assaulting his daughter more than a decade ago. First he was sentenced to 13 years behind bars. Then, after proving his lawyer failed to inform him of a potential plea deal, he was resentenced to nine years.
Now the state Supreme Court has negated the second sentence, and the man will return to court for a third time.
The father, known as H.P.T. in court records to protect the identity of his daughter, was convicted following a jury trial in 2004 and later sentenced by Superior Court Judge Christine Keller to 23 years in prison, suspended after 13 years, and 10 years of probation.
But H.P.T., who has trouble understanding English, later filed an ineffective assistance of counsel claim against his lawyer. H.P.T. claims the lawyer, with the help of a translator, should have explained that the prosecution had offered a plea deal that would have resulted in, at most, only nine years in prison. The habeas court agreed with the ineffective assistance claim and ordered the trial court to resentence the man to the offered plea deal — a 20-year prison term, suspended after nine years, and 20 years of probation.
Prosecutors challenged the decision to the state Appellate Court, which upheld the habeas court’s ruling.
But in the latest chapter in this long-running dispute, the Supreme Court has ruled against both the habeas and Appellate Court and said the trial judge should determine H.P.T.’s sentence. Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled that it wasn’t up to the habeas court to decide that the man’s plea deal should be the prevailing sentence, even though that could still be the end result. “The trial court is the proper court to make such decisions,” Justice Carmen Espinosa wrote in an eight-page unanimous ruling.
Senior Assistant Public Defender Adele Patterson, who argued to the justices that the habeas court has the power to remedy a proven constitutional violation, declined comment other than to say: “I am still working on understanding what the court’s ruling means.”
In his briefs, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Proto had argued that a case should go back to the sentencing judge “to consider all relevant information and impose an appropriate sentence.” He told the justices that when the habeas court resentenced H.P.T. to the terms of the plea deal, it was “squandering the resources the state has invested in the prosecution of the petitioner.”
“This ruling restores a defendant who received ineffective assistance during plea negotiations to the point at which the violation occurred,” Proto told the Law Tribune. “From there, the court can consider any pre-sentence investigation, victims can have an opportunity to provide input as provided by our law, and the trial court can determine the appropriate remedy.”
In her ruling, Espinosa pointed out that H.P.T. could still end up with the same nine-year prison sentence.
“Depending on the circumstances, the appropriate disposition may be merely resentencing of the petitioner,” wrote Espinosa, who cited language from a previous case while adding: “In other instances, the trial court may need to consider ‘whether to vacate the convictions and resentence pursuant to the plea agreement, to vacate only some of the convictions and resentence accordingly, or to leave the convictions and sentence from the trial undisturbed.’”
H.P.T., 53, whose native language is Vietnamese, was accused of attacking his 15-year-old daughter with an umbrella and an iron in their family home on June 25, 2002. Additional charges were later added when investigators discovered that besides the physical abuse, the father had also been sexually abusing the girl.
H.P.T. was charged with crimes including second- and third-degree assault, second-degree sexual assault, and risk of injury to a minor. He claimed that his trial lawyer, Thompson Page, failed to provide him with a translator to assist in explaining the plea offer. In fact, H.P.T. claims that he did not even know that an offer had been made until well after his conviction and sentencing. He claims that had his attorney adequately communicated with him, he would have accepted the offer and not proceeded to trial.
The habeas court later found that Page’s representation with respect to the plea bargain process amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel that prejudiced H.P.T. The habeas court then directed the judge who initially sentenced H.P.T. to resentence him to a prison term that matched the initial plea offer.
The state appealed, but the Appellate Court sided with the habeas court. The appellate judges found no error in the habeas court’s conclusion that H.P.T. was provided ineffective counsel and also agreed with the decision to implement the plea offer as the sentence.•