Can I File a PCR After a Guilty Plea?

Can I file a PCR after a guilty plea?

Yes, you can – defendants are constitutionally entitled to effective assistance of counsel at every critical stage of their proceedings. While most people think of post-conviction relief proceedings as a remedy for an unfair trial where the defendant did not receive effective assistance of counsel, bad advice or a failure to investigate prior to a guilty plea can also be grounds for PCR.

For example, in Robinson v. State, the SC Supreme Court recently granted PCR to a defendant who pled guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor based on bad advice from his plea attorney, who misunderstood the potential sentence that his client was facing and apparently did not realize that the US and SC Constitutions both have ex-post facto clauses…

What Does Ex-Post Facto Mean?

Ex-post facto laws are prohibited by both the federal and state constitutions. It includes laws that:

  • Criminalize conduct that was legal when it happened;
  • Increases the penalties for a crime after the crime has been committed; or
  • Changes the rules of evidence to make a conviction easier after the crime has been committed.

How Did Ex-Post Facto Apply to Robinson?

The alleged offenses that Robinson committed happened between 1998 and 2000. Prior to his 2013 indictment and subsequent guilty plea, SC’s criminal sexual conduct (CSC) statutes were amended to substantially increase the penalties.

Of course, the prosecutor offered to allow Robinson to plead guilty and be sentenced under the older, more lenient sentencing scheme while threatening to impose the newer, harsher penalties if Robinson decided to exercise his constitutional right to a jury trial.

Robinson’s criminal defense lawyer, either not recognizing or ignoring the fact that Robinson could not be sentenced under the new law for a crime that was committed when the old law was in effect, told his client that, if he did not plead guilty, he would be sentenced under the new CSC statute which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Although Robinson insisted that he was innocent, and he wanted a trial – plea counsel said at the PCR hearing, “Yeah . . . pretty much the entire time he said this had not happened and that he wanted a trial,” Robinson pled guilty on his lawyer’s advice so he could avoid exposure to the more severe sentence under the new CSC laws.

What Did Robinson Win in His PCR?

He did not get a time cut, and his case was not dismissed, but he was granted a new trial.

He may go to trial this time – the passage of time since his initial charges most likely did not hurt his case and probably made it better for him. Although he could plead guilty again, at least he will not be coerced into pleading guilty with the threat of a harsh sentence that does not apply to him…

PCR Applies to Convictions After Trial or After a Guilty Plea

Post-conviction relief can be filed after a trial or after a guilty plea, although most defendants will accept their sentence after they have agreed to plead guilty.

In some cases, the grounds for PCR are obvious after the first meeting with our client. In other cases, we will have to investigate the case – review the transcripts, get copies of the defense lawyer’s file, interview witnesses and jurors when appropriate, and use a private investigator when needed to discover new evidence or other grounds for post-conviction relief.

Criminal Defense and PCR Attorney in Charleston, SC

If you believe that you have grounds for post-conviction relief (PCR) in SC, or if you believe that it is worthwhile to have a criminal defense and PCR lawyer review your case for potential PCR grounds after a conviction, contact Charleston criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or by filling out our online contact form.