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Brown v. Medeiros

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 26, 2018

SEAN MEDEIROS, Respondent.


          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge

         Terrence Brown, a prisoner at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, Massachusetts, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He claims his trial counsel was ineffective for providing incorrect legal advice, causing Brown to reject a favorable plea offer. Because Brown's claim is procedurally defaulted (and, in any event, meritless), the petition is DISMISSED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 25, 2006, a Suffolk County jury convicted Brown of two counts of first-degree murder and related charges in connection with the shooting deaths of two victims during a botched armed robbery. Commonwealth v. Rivera, 981 N.E.2d 171, 176 (Mass. 2013), cert. denied, 570 U.S. 907 (2013);[1] Doc. No. 1 at 1-2;[2] Doc. No. 1-1 at 1; S.A. at 1-2, 12-13.[3] The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) has extensively recounted “the facts the jury could have found” at Brown's trial. Rivera, 981 N.E.2d at 176-79. The following summary of those facts are relevant for present purposes:

On August 10, 2001, [Brown] and . . . Rivera went to the [victims'] apartment . . . in the South End section of Boston. They both arrived at the door wearing dust masks and carrying firearms. . . . After they forced their way into the apartment, [Brown] bound the occupant[s'] ankles and wrists with duct tape. The defendants then searched the apartment for drugs and money, but did not find what they were looking for. . . . Rivera shot [one victim] six times in the head, and shot [the other victim] once in the head. He also attempted to shoot [a third occupant], but had run out of ammunition. [Brown] and Rivera then left the apartment. [The surviving occupant] freed himself from the duct tape, . . . and telephoned 911.
. . . [Brown's] thumbprint had been found on a piece of duct tape that had been used to bind one of the victims. . . . When initially confronted with the fingerprint evidence by investigating officers, [Brown] admitted to having been present when the men forced their way into the apartment, and to having bound the victims with duct tape; he denied having been in the apartment when [Rivera] shot the victims.[4]

Doc. No. 1-1 at 2-3 (citations and a footnote omitted).

         A pretrial motion to suppress Brown's statements to police was unsuccessful. Id. at 3-4. Sometime before trial, the Commonwealth offered to allow Brown to plead guilty to second-degree murder, and to recommend a sentence including parole eligibility after fifteen years, in exchange for Brown testifying against Rivera. Id. at 4. Brown's trial counsel-a seasoned criminal defense attorney-“repeatedly urged [Brown] to accept the plea arrangement.” Id.; Doc. No. 1-2 at 3-4. He even enlisted the help of another lawyer, someone with connections to Brown and his family, “to attempt to persuade [Brown] to accept what trial counsel viewed as a ‘reasonable' plea arrangement ‘under the circumstances.'” Doc. No. 1-1 at 4.

         Despite trial counsel's consistent and emphatic recommendation, Brown “asked . . . whether there was a way to ‘beat' the [murder] charges altogether, because he had not shot anyone.” Id. Trial counsel told Brown

that the only possible defense, given [Brown's] statement [to police], was to claim that he had withdrawn from the joint enterprise prior to the shooting. Counsel cautioned, however, that he viewed the chance of acquittal on this theory as very slim, warning [Brown] that juries do not like withdrawal defenses, such a defense was “weak, ” and the evidence against him was strong.

Id. at 4-5. Against trial counsel's advice, Brown rejected the plea and “insisted on a trial.” Id. at 5. “At trial, counsel vigorously pursued a defense of withdrawal, ” beginning in his opening statement and continuing through his closing argument; at his request, the trial judge included a withdrawal instruction in his closing charge to the jury. Id.

         As trial counsel had predicted, the defense was unsuccessful, and Brown was convicted of first-degree murder “on a theory of joint-venture felony-murder.” Id. He received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Doc. No. 1 at 1; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 2(a).

         Brown filed a timely direct appeal, challenging the admission of a redacted version of his statement to police and the trial court's instruction regarding withdrawal from a joint venture. S.A. at 13, 47-48. The SJC affirmed Brown's conviction and sentence on January 9, 2013. Rivera, 981 N.E.2d at 171, 176; S.A. at 15, 21. In rejecting Brown's challenge to the withdrawal instruction, the SJC reasoned that “the evidence in this case was insufficient to warrant an instruction on withdrawal, ” as “there was no evidence to suggest that Brown communicated to Rivera any intent to withdraw, ” nor “evidence of an ‘appreciable interval' between [Brown's] alleged withdrawal and the murders.” Rivera, 981 N.E.2d at 187-88.

         The SJC denied rehearing, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. S.A. at 21. Meanwhile, Brown filed a pro se motion for a new trial in the Superior Court, challenging trial counsel's effectiveness in connection with Brown's rejection of the pretrial plea offer. S.A. at 15, 191, 194. Brown attributed the following statements to trial counsel: “the murder charges could be beat with a withdrawal defense, ” and “I advise you not to accept the Commonwealth's plea offer.” S.A. at 195. But for this advice, Brown wrote, he would have pled guilty. S.A. at 207. The motion court appointed counsel to represent Brown and scheduled an evidentiary hearing. S.A. at 16.

         At the hearing, trial counsel and Brown each testified about their conversations regarding the plea offer and Brown's decision to reject it. S.A. at 311-70. Ultimately, the motion court rejected Brown's claim. See generally Doc. No. 1-2. The motion court “credit[ed] in its entirety the testimony of” trial counsel, which it described as “clear and unequivocal” with respect to “the strength of the Commonwealth's case, the negotiations with the prosecutor regarding a possible plea agreement, and his advice and counsel to the defendant.” Id. at 3 & n.4. The motion court also emphasized that Brown had “acknowledged that his affidavit falsely asserted that [trial counsel] advised him not to accept the Commonwealth's plea offer”-in other words, the critical allegation which formed the basis for the motion court's decision to hold an evidentiary hearing in the first instance had been a lie. Id. at 1, 5.

         Brown sought review of the motion judge's decision, S.A. at 16, 18, but a single justice of the SJC concluded that Brown's claims were “neither new nor substantial” and denied his petition for review, see generally Doc. No. 1-1.

         In his timely federal habeas petition, Brown presents to this Court his claim that “[t]rial counsel provided ineffective assistance when he incorrectly advised Mr. Brown that he had a legally viable withdrawal defense, resulting in Mr. Brown's rejecting a plea offer.” Doc. No. 1 at 5. The same attorney appointed to represent ...

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