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United States v. Derobertis

*fn* decided: September 23, 1983.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 81 C 2285 -- Marvin E. Aspen, Judge.

Pell and Eschbach, Circuit Judges, and Van Pelt, Senior District Judge.*fn**

Author: Eschbach

ESCHBACH, Circuit Judge.

The petitioner brought this habeas corpus action to have a plea agreement specifically enforced. The district court granted summary judgment to the petitioner and the respondent appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253. Finding that the key factual issue is in dispute, we reverse the district court's judgment and remand the case for an evidentiary hearing.


In the Circuit Court of Cook County the petitioner was charged with two counts of armed robbery. On June 10, 1977, he appeared before that court and pled guilty to both charges. The state court judge sentenced the petitioner to concurrent prison terms of 8 years to 8 years and 1 day. Under Illinois law, this sentence was automatically increased by a mandatory 5-year parole term, which was subsequently reduced by statute to 3 years, see Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 38, § 1005-8-1(d).

After the petitioner learned of the mandatory parole term, he filed a post-conviction petition in the state trial court. The petitioner alleged that the state trial judge promised, in exchange for the guilty plea, to impose a sentence of 8 years to 8 years and 1 day. According to the petitioner, the parole period was not a part of the bargain and thus due process was violated by attaching a parole period to the prison sentence. The state trial court dismissed the post-conviction petition, the Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed the dismissal, and the Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the matter.

The petitioner then brought this habeas corpus action seeking to have the parole term expunged from his sentence. Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed and the district court noted that "resolution of this case depends, in large part, on whether there was any plea bargain agreement concerning petitioner's sentence to which the trial court was bound." 541 F. Supp. [547] at 549 (1982). After reviewing the submitted affidavits and transcript of proceedings in the state court, the district court held that "an agreement did exist and the trial court's failure to advise the defendant that part of his bargain included a mandatory parole term violated the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment." Id.


In United States ex rel. Baker v. Finkbeiner, 551 F.2d 180 (7th Cir. 1977), we held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is violated when a person pleads guilty in exchange for a promised sentence and the sentence actually imposed includes an additional parole term. See id. at 183. The respondent argues that Baker does not apply in the instant case because the plea agreement in Baker was between the prosecutor and the criminal defendant, whereas the alleged agreement in this case was between the trial court and the petitioner. The respondent has stated a difference between the cases but, in our view, it is an irrelevant difference. The trial court in Baker ratified the parties' plea agreement and therefore, in effect, the judge promised Mr. Baker a certain sentence. See id. Because this promised sentence did not include a parole term, the imposition of such a term was inconsistent with the judge's promise and thus violative of due process. See id.; accord United States ex rel. Williams v. Morris, 633 F.2d 71, 76 (7th Cir. 1980), vacated as moot, 455 U.S. 624, 102 S. Ct. 1322, 71 L. Ed. 2d 508 (1982). Similarly in this case, the petitioner alleges that the trial court promised a certain sentence (8 years in prison), but unconstitutionally imposed a greater sentence (8 years plus a parole period).

Unable to distinguish Baker adequately, the respondent also asks us to reconsider Baker in light of United States v. Timmreck, 441 U.S. 780, 60 L. Ed. 2d 634, 99 S. Ct. 2085 (1979). Since Timmreck was decided, however, we have reaffirmed our holding in Baker. See United States ex rel. Williams v. Morris, supra. Indeed it is difficult to understand why the respondent believes that Timmreck casts doubt on the validity of Baker. The Court in Timmreck only held that collateral relief is unavailable to a federal prisoner for technical violations of Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 concerning plea procedures. See 441 U.S. at 785. Timmreck, unlike Baker, did not involve a criminal defendant who pled guilty in exchange for a specific sentence. The Court in Timmreck, therefore, had no occasion to consider the issue in Baker and the present case -- i.e., whether due process is violated when a criminal defendant receives a sentence greater than that promised by the trial judge.

Because our decision in Baker is good law and because the petitioner's allegations bring this case within Baker's purview, the critical issue in this case is whether the state trial judge did, in fact, promise the petitioner a fixed sentence of 8 years in return for the guilty plea. The respondent contends that the Appellate Court of Illinois found that the trial judge did not so promise and that this finding is entitled to be presumed correct under Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 66 L. Ed. 2d 722, 101 S. Ct. 764 (1981). We have reviewed the appellate court's opinion and cannot find such a finding; rather, that court only held that "there is no clear indication in the record that an agreement on the sentence had been reached." People v. Johnson, No. 80-290, slip op. at 4. The Appellate Court of Illinois made no specific finding-of-fact in this regard because the court held that even if the petitioner's allegations were true, post-conviction relief was inappropriate. See id. at 5. Because there is no state-court finding deserving deference, the federal district court is free to make its own finding. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).

The district court was not free, however, to enter summary judgment if the papers presented a genuine issue of fact. See Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 80-81, 52 L. Ed. 2d 136, 97 S. Ct. 1621 (1977); United States ex rel. Cyburt v. Rowe, 638 F.2d 1100, 1102 (7th Cir. 1981). We believe, on the basis of the transcript of proceedings in the state court, that the respondent did place into question the petitioner's assertion that a plea agreement had been reached; therefore this issue of fact should have been resolved only after an evidentiary hearing.

When the petitioner pled guilty, the state court told the petitioner that "you are in effect submitting yourself to the mercy of this Court, you understand?" The petitioner replied: "That is correct, your Honor." In submitting himself to the mercy of the court, it appears that the petitioner had not been promised, and did not expect, a specified sentence. This interpretation of the exchange is confirmed by the trial court's statement that "I could sentence you on the one charge for 4 to whatever. And I could sentence you ...

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