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United States v. Finkbeiner

decided: March 17, 1977.


Swygert, Tone and Wood, Circuit Judges.

Author: Swygert

SWYGERT, Circuit Judge.

In this case petitioner seeks a writ of habeas corpus because he was not told that he would have to serve a mandatory parole term at the time he agreed to plead guilty to state criminal charges. We hold that in the circumstances of petitioner's case the failure of the prosecutor and the trial court to advise him of the mandatory parole term created a defect of constitutional dimensions in his guilty plea. We therefore reverse the judgment of the district court denying the writ of habeas corpus.


On January 24, 1974 petitioner Theodore Baker pled guilty in the Circuit Court of Will County, Illinois to charges that he had committed armed violence in violation of Ill.Rev.Stat. Ch. 38, §§ 33A-2, 12-2(a)(1), and had violated the Illinois Hypodermic Syringes and Needles Act, Ill.Rev.Stat. Ch. 38, § 22-53. The guilty plea was entered pursuant to an agreement reached by Baker's court-appointed attorney and the prosecutor.

At the time Baker entered the plea, armed violence carried a penalty of one to three years' imprisonment followed by two years of mandatory parole. Ill.Rev.Stat. Ch. 38, §§ 33A-2, 33A-3, 1005-8-1(b)(5), 1005-8-1(e)(3). Violations of the Hypodermic Syringes and Needles Act carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison. Ill.Rev.Stat. Ch. 38, §§ 22-53, 1005-8-3. Under the terms of the agreement, Baker was to be sentenced to prison terms of one to two years on the armed violence charge and one year for violation of the Hypodermic Syringes and Needles Act. The two sentences were to run concurrently. However, he was not told by his attorney or the prosecutor before he accepted these terms that under Illinois law he would have to serve two years on parole after his prison term had expired.

During the proceedings in court in which the guilty plea was entered the trial judge attempted to advise Baker of the consequences of his action. The judge pointed out the minimum and maximum prison terms which could be imposed under the statutes, as well as the possibility of monetary fines. He noted that the guilty plea was the consequence of an agreement between Baker's attorney and the prosecutor. He had Baker's attorney describe the terms of the agreement and asked Baker whether he had agreed to those terms. Finally, he stated that he had previously reviewed the agreement with Baker's attorney and the prosecutor, and had informed them that if Baker pled guilty he would receive a sentence consistent with its terms. Neither the judge, the prosecutor, nor Baker's attorney told Baker during the hearing that a two year parole term following his prison term was statutorily required to be part of the sentence.

Baker was then incarcerated until September 23, 1974, when he was released on parole. He had served eight months of his two year prison sentence, and was given two months' credit for time spent in custody prior to his guilty plea. On November 17, 1974 he was taken into custody for violating parole, and was declared a parole violator on March 3, 1975.*fn1 He was released on parole again on September 20, 1976, with the parole term to continue until March 20, 1977.*fn2

While he was in prison on the parole violation Baker filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The basis for his claim was that he had not been informed of the mandatory two year parole term at the time he entered his guilty plea. The district court denied the motion on July 30, 1976 and Baker now appeals that judgment.*fn3


Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), a state prisoner may seek a writ of habeas corpus "only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." Baker contends that his guilty plea was involuntary because he did not know of the mandatory parole term at the time he agreed to plead guilty. Since Baker does not assert that the state violated a law or treaty of the United States, he can prevail only if he can show that a constitutional error was committed. Accordingly, we must determine whether the circumstances surrounding Baker's plea of guilty violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243-44, 89 S. Ct. 1709, 23 L. Ed. 2d 274 (1969), the Supreme Court held that a guilty plea could not be accepted unless there was affirmative evidence that it was voluntarily entered by the defendant. The Court also stated that a trial court must use the "utmost solicitude . . . in canvassing the matter with the accused to make sure he has a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequence." Because a criminal defendant waives a number of important constitutional rights when he pleads guilty, see Boykin, 395 U.S. at 243, 89 S. Ct. 1709, 1712, 23 L. Ed. 2d 274, courts must diligently labor to ensure that bargaining which accompanies a guilty plea satisfies the constraints of fundamental fairness. See Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 261-63, 92 S. Ct. 495, 30 L. Ed. 2d 427 (1971).

The state argues, citing this court's decision in Bachner v. United States, 517 F.2d 589, 597 (7th Cir.1975), that Baker cannot now attack the validity of his guilty plea unless he can affirmatively demonstrate that he would not have entered the plea if he had known of the mandatory parole term. It further contends that the weight which a criminal defendant would attach to the addition of a two year parole term is so insignificant that it is highly unlikely that Baker would have refused to plead guilty if he had been informed of it.

We are not compelled to accept the state's proposed standard of review. The holding of Bachner on the point in issue (517 F.2d at 596-97) should be read in light of the fact that, in the words of Judge Brown in United States v. Blair, 470 F.2d 331, 340 n.20 (5th Cir.1972): "The consequences which actually resulted from the plea were not more dire than the defendant had been led to believe they could be." The court in Bachner held that Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 94 S. Ct. 2298, 41 L. Ed. 2d 109 (1974), as applied to a collateral review under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 of a federal sentence based on a guilty plea, required, first, an examination of the circumstances surrounding the plea and the sentence to determine whether the error was of sufficient magnitude to amount to a fundamental defect ...

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