Khavkin v. Clarke

The court will not dismiss the pending petition for habeas corpus. The petitioner contends that his trial counsel had a conflict of interest and that, as a result, counsel coerced him to plead guilty.

Sufficient evidence exists to show at this stage that trial counsel performed deficiently by operating under a potential conflict of interest. Counsel had previously represented a key witness in the case and failed to inform his client or put it on the record before the trial court. The evidence doesn’t establish an actual conflict, but the record is sufficient to necessitate a hearing because it’s difficult to understand why counsel wouldn’t disclose what clearly should have been disclosed.

The petitioner claims ineffective assistance in the forms of allegedly coercing a guilty plea and providing erroneous advice about the consequences of such a plea. The petitioner’s allegations that he didn’t understand the consequences of his plea are not credible because the trial court specifically advised him correctly as to the consequences, curing any allegedly deficient advice from counsel. However, the petitioner’s claims that he was coerced is not so frail. He says he made clear to counsel that he was not guilty and wanted to go to trial, but that counsel said they wouldn’t defend him because there was no chance to win the case and he would get a life sentence if he went to trial. The petitioner was made to understand that he had no alternative to entering into a plea agreement; this advice may have been borne of counsel’s conflict of interest.

The petitioner also may have received ineffective assistance of counsel during his state habeas proceedings. State habeas counsel clearly raised the claim that trial counsel had a conflict of interest and also induced the petitioner “to plead guilty to the crime of murder, notwithstanding that counsel had a conflict of interest.” However, state habeas counsel failed to plead all of the elements of a conflict of interest claim. Thus, the petitioner has made a sufficient preliminary showing on this point to necessitate an evidentiary hearing. Material facts remain in dispute regarding adequacy of counsel and whether the petitioner can demonstration prejudice.

Motion to deny habeas petition denied.

Khavkin v. Clarke, No. 3:16cv576, Apr. 12, 2019. EDVA at Richmond (Payne).

Categories: U.S. District Court - Eastern District of Virginia

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