851 F.2d 1085 (8th Cir. 1988), 86-2598, Stokes v. Armontrout

Docket Nº:86-2598.
Citation:851 F.2d 1085
Party Name:Winford L. STOKES, Jr., Appellant, v. William M. ARMONTROUT, William L. Webster, Appellees.
Case Date:July 13, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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851 F.2d 1085 (8th Cir. 1988)

Winford L. STOKES, Jr., Appellant,


William M. ARMONTROUT, William L. Webster, Appellees.

No. 86-2598.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 13, 1988

Submitted Nov. 11, 1987.

Rehearing Denied Sept. 9, 1988.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Richard J. Eisen, St. Louis, Mo., for appellant.

Stephen D. Hawke, Jefferson City, Mo., for appellee.

Before McMILLIAN, ARNOLD, and BOWMAN, Circuit Judges.

BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

Winford Stokes appeals the denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. We affirm.

Stokes was convicted of capital murder in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County in October 1979. He was sentenced to death. The conviction was affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court. State v. Stokes, 638 S.W.2d 715 (Mo.1982) (en banc). Petitioner then moved to vacate the judgment under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 27.26. 1 The St. Louis Circuit Court held an evidentiary hearing and denied petitioner's motion. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's denial of post-conviction relief. Stokes v. State, 688 S.W.2d 19 (Mo.Ct.App.1985). In June 1985 Stokes filed the instant federal habeas corpus petition. It was referred to a federal magistrate, 2 who wrote a 32-page report recommending that the petition be denied. Stokes v. Armontrout, No. 85-1496 C (6), Report & Recommendation, (Sept. 22, 1986). In November 1986 the District Court 3 adopted the magistrate's recommendation.

Petitioner asserts ten grounds for relief: (1) the State improperly withdrew from a plea agreement; (2) the State's endorsement of twenty-five new witnesses on the day of trial and his attorney's failure to interview these witnesses deprived petitioner of his constitutional right to effective cross-examination; (3) he was denied due process when the State was allowed to give notice of its evidence in aggravation on the day of trial, and by the State notifying him only one month before trial of its intent to seek the death penalty; (4) he was denied due process and effective assistance of counsel when the court refused to grant a continuance after the State's late endorsements, and his attorney failed to interview five witnesses who did testify; (5) his attorney was ineffective because he failed to raise the issue of the court's error in not instructing the jury on the lesser-included offense of first degree murder in petitioner's motion for new trial; (6) his attorney was ineffective because he did not prepare for or present any evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial; (7) his right to a speedy trial was violated, inter alia, by the sixteen-month delay between indictment

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and trial; (8) his attorney was ineffective because he submitted a deficient motion for new trial; (9) his attorney was ineffective because he wrote a deficient brief on direct appeal; and (10) he was denied due process because the jury was "death-qualified."

After painstakingly examining the District Court record and the entire state court record, we find that only three issues--grounds one, five, and six--require discussion on our part.


Stokes's first claim is for specific enforcement of a plea agreement he rejected in St. Louis County Circuit Court. In September 1979 Stokes had seven felony charges, including capital murder, pending against him in St. Louis City, in addition to the unrelated capital murder charge in St. Louis County on which we focus today. As Stokes's City trial drew near, he and his trial counsel reached an agreement with the St. Louis City and County prosecutors whereby Stokes would plead guilty to second degree murder in both City and County courts, and the State in both cases would recommend fifty year sentences, to be served concurrently. On September 10, 1979, Stokes pled guilty in the City court to second degree murder, two counts of first degree robbery, armed criminal action, two counts of escaping custody, and stealing a motor vehicle. In keeping with the plea agreement, the City prosecutor recommended fifty years, and the City judge gave sentences for all the crimes totaling fifty years. Unfortunately, a local newspaper incorrectly reported that Stokes had received a seventy year sentence.

Ten days later, Stokes was transferred to St. Louis County. At the second plea proceeding on September 20, 1979, after a two or three minute discussion with counsel off the record, Stokes refused to plead guilty to second degree murder in the County court. Stokes told his attorney that he felt that the State was "lying on" him. Attorney and client had difficulty communicating; the judge was unaware that Stokes may have been confused. When the plea session broke down, the County prosecutor promptly withdrew the amended indictment for second degree murder, and reinstated the original indictment for capital murder. That afternoon, Stokes met with his attorney and showed him the erroneous newspaper article. Once the lawyer explained that the article was incorrect, the defendant was again ready to plead guilty in the County. The next morning, however, when Stokes's counsel told the County prosecutor about his client's confusion and his renewed willingness to plead guilty, the prosecutor said that the State would not re-extend its offer. Stokes was tried for the crime of capital murder, and was convicted.

In his habeas petition, Stokes claims that the State improperly withdrew its offer for a plea bargain on the capital murder charge in the County. He asserts that the City and County plea agreements comprised a single, two-part package deal between him and the State. Because he partially performed by pleading guilty to the capital murder charge (and other charges) in the City, he argues that he detrimentally relied on the State's promise to recommend a fifty year concurrent sentence on the unrelated capital murder charge in the County, and that the State was estopped from withdrawing its offer concerning the latter charge during his brief period of confusion. Stokes claims that the State withdrew its offer so that it could use the City guilty pleas as evidence of aggravating circumstances for the death penalty, and for impeachment purposes if Stokes had decided to testify.

Stokes did not raise this issue on direct appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. He first presented it as part of an ineffective assistance allegation in his Rule 27.26 motion. The Rule 27.26 court found that his trial counsel had fully explained the agreement to Stokes, and that the attorney had properly contacted the County in an effort to re-open the original deal after the failed plea proceeding. In reviewing the findings of the Rule 27.26 court, the Missouri Court of Appeals stated: "The record clearly establishes that [Stokes], not the state, reneged on the plea agreement. But for the action of [Stokes], he would have been sentenced

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in the county circuit court in accordance with the original plea agreement." Stokes, 688 S.W.2d at 22. The magistrate drew the same conclusion.

A criminal defendant has no constitutional right to bargain for a plea arrangement with the government. Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U.S. 545, 561, 97 S.Ct. 837, 846, 51 L.Ed.2d 30 (1977). If the parties do decide to negotiate, however, the defendant is entitled, under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, to "presuppose fairness in securing [the plea] agreement.... [W]hen a plea rests in any significant degree on a promise or agreement of the prosecutor, so that it can be said to be part of the inducement or consideration, such promise must be fulfilled." Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 261-62, 92 S.Ct. 495, 498-99, 30 L.Ed.2d 427 (1971).

The Supreme Court narrowed the broad "fairness" guarantee of Santobello in Mabry v. Johnson, 467 U.S. 504, 104 S.Ct. 2543, 81 L.Ed.2d 437 (1984), establishing that plea bargaining generally does not trigger constitutional considerations until the plea of guilty has been entered. 4

A plea bargain standing alone is without constitutional significance; in itself it is a mere executory agreement which, until embodied in the judgment of a court, does not deprive an accused of liberty or any other constitutionally protected interest. It is the ensuing guilty plea that implicates the Constitution. Only after respondent pleaded guilty was he convicted, and it is that conviction which gave rise to the deprivation of respondent's liberty at issue here. Id. at 507-08, 104 S.Ct. at 2546 (footnotes omitted).

Once a guilty plea has been entered, "[c]ontract principles often provide a useful means by which to analyze the enforceability of plea agreements and ensure the defendant what is reasonably due him in the circumstances." United States v. McGovern, 822 F.2d 739, 743 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 352, 98 L.Ed.2d 377 (1987). "A plea agreement, however, is not simply a contract.... It necessarily implicates the integrity of the criminal justice system. ..." id., and involves "myriad ... collateral considerations such as expectations of fundamental fairness by the Defendants, [and the] efficient administration of justice." United States v. Smith, 648 F.Supp. 495, 498 (S.D.Tex.1986). In Stokes's case, we hold that the State's clear and prompt withdrawal of its offer--after Stokes had repudiated the agreement--violated neither the law of contracts nor the Constitution.

First, we dismiss Stokes's suggestion that he did not actually reject the State's offer, but that he merely took it under further consideration. The facts are clear. During the failed plea proceeding in the County court, Stokes stated: "I'm not going to plead guilty." State v. Stokes, No. 409734, Transcript of Plea Proceeding in Circuit Court of St. Louis...

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