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Criminal – Habeas Corpus – DUI Charges – W.Va. Recidivist Law

Although the state trial court told defendant the most he could get for two DUI-related charges was six years, the court’s life-imprisonment sentence under West Virginia’s recidivist proceedings, after defendant pleaded guilty to the DUI charges, did not warrant habeas relief, the 4th Circuit says.

David Appleby petitioned for habeas relief, arguing that his guilty plea was not voluntary because he did not have a full understanding of the consequences of his guilty plea, in particular, he was not told at his plea hearing that he faced the possibility of a life sentence under the West Virginia recidivist statute.

We agree with West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals’ determination that recidivist proceedings are of a “separate nature” for several reasons. First, even if a defendant has committed the requisite predicate crimes, it is not a certainty that the recidivist information will be filed; that decision is left to the discretion of the prosecuting attorney after the court’s acceptance of defendant’s guilty plea.

Second, if the prosecuting attorney decides to file the recidivist information, it must be timely and a separate proceeding must be held and several additional elements must be proven. The nature of the recidivist proceedings pursuant to the West Virginia recidivist statutes verifies that these proceedings are not a “direct” consequence of the plea because they are not “definite, immediate and largely automatic.”

We conclude the WVSCA’s holding that recidivist proceedings were not a direct consequence of defendant’s guilty plea, and thus his plea was knowing and voluntary, was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court.

Judgment rejecting defendant’s habeas petition is affirmed.


Traxler, J.: Defendant pleaded guilty to two drunk-driving related charges after being informed by the judge that the most he could get would be six years. At sentencing, the judge gave him life imprisonment. Clearly established federal law requires defendants to be informed of the direct consequences of their decision to plead guilty, and the sentence for the crime to which defendant is pleading guilty is a direct consequence of that guilty plea. I therefore believe the decision of West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals was contrary to clearly established federal law as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court and that the district court’s denial of the habeas petition should be reversed.

I respectfully dissent.

Appleby v. Warden, N. Regional Jail & Correctional Facility (Agee, J.) No. 07-7613, Feb. 19, 2010; USDC at Martinsburg, W.Va. (Bailey) Martin P. Sheehan for appellant; Robert D. Goldberg, AG Office, for appellee. VLW 010-2-051, 21 pp.

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