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Drakus v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

June 1, 2017

STEPHEN ELLIOT DRAKUS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

          NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

         An appeal from the Circuit Court for Nassau County. Robert M. Foster, Judge.

          Stephen Elliot Drakus, pro se, Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          PER CURIAM.

         Appellant challenges the circuit court's summary denial of his postconviction motion filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedural 3.850. Appellant raised 7 grounds in his motion. We find that the court erred in summarily denying ground 1 because it was not conclusively refuted by the record; however, we also find that claim was legally insufficient. Thus, we reverse and remand for the circuit court to allow appellant the opportunity to amend ground 1. We affirm the denial of the remaining claims.

         "We review the summary denial of claims for postconviction relief to determine whether the claims are legally sufficient and whether they are conclusively refuted by the record." Griggs v. State, 995 So.2d 994, 995 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008).

         In ground 1 of his motion, appellant alleged that counsel was ineffective for advising him to reject a 15-year plea offer because counsel was certain that a newly assigned prosecutor would offer a better deal. However, the new prosecutor did not. Appellant asserted that but for counsel's advice, he would have accepted the 15-year plea offer and the trial court would not have rejected the plea offer.

         The postconviction court found this claim was conclusively refuted by 3 statements made by appellant and his counsel during a pre-trial hearing. In the first two statements, appellant said that he was fully prepared to proceed to trial, and there was nothing else he wanted his lawyer to do to ensure they were both ready for trial. In the third statement, defense counsel stated that she had communicated all plea offers to appellant, explaining that "[t]here have not been any [offers] for some time. Back when the [prior prosecutor] had the case [] the State [] made a 15 year plea offer, which . . . [appellant] did not wish to accept at that time." The court found these statements demonstrated that the "decision to reject the offer was solely [appellant's]" and that appellant "made no objection to the matter being set for trial."

         None of these statements conclusively refute, or even address, appellant's claim that he rejected the 15-year plea offer due to counsel's advice that a better offer would be forthcoming. The first two statements merely established that appellant and his counsel were prepared for trial. In the third statement, counsel confirmed that appellant rejected the 15-year plea offer, but did not state why.

         It is also unclear why the postconviction court believed appellant's claim of ineffective assistance was refuted by appellant's failure to object to going to trial. It is not apparent on what grounds the court believed that appellant could have objected. Perhaps the postconviction court believed that if appellant still wanted to accept the 15-year plea deal, he should have stated so at that time. However, there is no indication in the record that the offer was still on the table. Defense counsel implied the opposite by stating that there "have not been any [offers] for some time." Thus, the record does not conclusively refute appellant's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, and the postconviction court erred in summarily denying this claim.

         However, although not addressed by the postconviction court, appellant's claim was facially insufficient.

[C]oncerning ineffective assistance of counsel claims in which the defendant rejected a plea offer based on misadvice. . . . in order to show prejudice, the defendant must demonstrate a reasonable probability, defined as a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome, that (1) he or she would have accepted the offer had counsel advised the defendant correctly, (2) the prosecutor would not have withdrawn the offer, (3) the court would have accepted the offer, and (4) the conviction or sentence, or ...

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