Goins v. State – PCR; plea counsel was ineffective but SCSCT finds no prejudice

In Goins v. State, an appeal from a PCR hearing decided May16, 2012, the S.C. Supreme court held that, although Goins’ plea lawyer was ineffective for failing to advise him that the drugs he was charged with possessing were obtained through an illegal search, there was no prejudice because “there is evidence to support the PCR court’s finding that Goins failed to prove he would have gone to trial absent the erroneous legal advice.”

To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel  in the context of a guilty plea, the petitioner must prove 1) that counsel was ineffective; and 2) that it resulted in prejudice – meaning that the “defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.”

Goins testified at the PCR hearing that his attorney told him that they could not win the suppression hearing.  His plea lawyer testified that he told Goins that “the law favored the landlord” – that the proprietor of the motel could unlock the door and let someone in.  Which is not true – when you rent a motel room, the motel clerk or owner cannot simply consent to a search of your room – the Fourth Amendment applies and they needed a warrant or exigent circumstances.

Goins testified that he would not have pled guilty if his attorney had told him that the search was unconstitutional.  His attorney testified that Goins pled guilty after the state agreed to dismiss a companion distribution charge.  His attorney went on to testify that, although Goins insisted it was not him on the video in the distribution case, the attorney thought that it looked liked Goins on the video.

So, Goins did not plead to the distribution charge, which he claimed he was not guilty of.  He did plead to the drug possession charge, which the Supreme Court finds was based on an unconstitutional search (which may or may not be accurate – there is a question as to whether the police had a warrant for Goins’ arrest already, but there was no evidence of this at the PCR hearing).  So, the only charge he was convicted of was the one that his attorney gave him bad advice about.

The PCR court found, doubtless in a well crafted opinion drafted by the assistant attorney general and signed by the PCR judge, that the plea lawyer’s testimony was credible and that Goin’s testimony was not.  Also, that the search was not unconstitutional because the police were serving a warrant on Goins, although there was no evidence in the PCR hearing that a warrant was being served.

The standard on review is whether there is any evidence to support the PCR judge’s findings.  In this case, Goins’ plea lawyer’s testimony that the dismissal of the distribution charge influenced Goin’s decision to plead guilty was sufficient.

Seems like a tortured path to not undo a slippery drug dealer’s conviction.  After all, even his lawyer thought he was guilty.  Seems like the result turns on who knew Goins’ mind better, Goins or Goins’ attorney.  If his attorney says Goins would have pled anyway, that is sufficient evidence to support the denial of PCR.

What do I take from all of this?  First is, understanding the standard of review on appeal, the importance of persuading the PCR court.  If the PCR court grants relief, the state can appeal the result and often does, but when the standard of review is “any evidence to support the findings of the PCR judge,” the grant of relief is more likely to be upheld on appeal.

Second, is how often a defendant gets screwed not once, but twice, when the attorney screws up the case on the front end, and then becomes an eager witness for the state when the defendant files a PCR.  The type of lawyer who testifies against their former client, shading their testimony to preserve their ego and their good name and helps to keep their former client in prison, cannot be persuaded that they aren’t doing right.

You have to testify truthfully at a PCR hearing.  You don’t have to defend yourself and your reputation at the expense of your former client.  You don’t have to reveal client confidences apart from the direct questions that are asked of you on the stand.  You don’t need to take the stand and tell the PCR judge you believe your client was guilty.

You aren’t in any real danger of being sued for malpractice – it is next to impossible to prevail on a malpractice claim in the context of a criminal case.  And if it is so bad that a malpractice claim is possible, meaning the defendant could prove actual innocence, you’d better be making it right.

Third, this case is relevant to Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach police, who routinely walk into hotel rooms on the strand with the hotel clerk’s permission, and make arrests for underage possession of alcohol and simple possession of marijuana – and most of these cases end in convictions or PTI because the defendants either don’t have an attorney or because their attorney doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the search was illegal.




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