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Jamison v. Klem

September 30, 2008


Appeal from the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Civ. Action No. 05-00831) District Court: Hon. Christopher C. Conner.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: McKEE, Circuit Judge.


Argued July 24, 2008

BEFORE: McKEE, FUENTES, and WEIS Circuit Judges.


Philmingo Jamison was sentenced to five to ten years imprisonment after pleading guilty to two separate criminal cases involving drug offenses. After unsuccessfully challenging his conviction in state courts, Jamison filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in which he challenged the voluntariness of his guilty plea. The Magistrate Judge to whom the petition was referred issued a thorough Report and Recommendation recommending that habeas relief be granted. That Judge concluded that Jamison's plea was not knowing, voluntary and intelligent because Jamison was not advised of the mandatory term of imprisonment that his guilty plea subjected him to under Pennsylvania's indeterminate sentencing scheme. The District Court rejected the recommendation, and denied the petition because no Supreme Court precedent specifically requires that defendants be informed of the terms of an applicable mandatory minimum sentence before pleading guilty. The District Court thus concluded that the state courts' rejection of Jamison's claim was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent.

For the reasons that follow, we will reverse.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In September 2000, Jamison was charged in two separate cases; one charged him with possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to deliver, and the other charged him with possession of marijuana, driving without a license, and reckless endangerment. Prior to trial, the prosecutor offered Jamison the opportunity to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of "4-8 years." Pursuant to the advice of counsel, Jamison rejected that plea offer.

However, Jamison eventually decided to enter an open guilty plea without executing any formal plea agreement. Thereafter, the Commonwealth completed a one-page form wherein the prosecutor wrote that the government would nevertheless still recommend: "4-8 years w/ mand."

On July 9th, 2001, the trial court conducted a change of plea hearing which began with the prosecutor stating:

[Jamison] has filled out a guilty plea colloquy. It is going to be a straight plea with a pre-sentence, other than the fact that we will run the recklessly endangering case concurrent with the drug case. He is facing a sentence by Judge Kennedy on a third-degree homicide, and we have no agreement as to whether these cases are concurrent or consecutive. Of course, we are going to ask for them to be consecutive, and we will be filing mandatory on the drug case.*fn1

No other statements were made at the hearing regarding the mandatory minimum sentence, or the length of the sentence Jamison would be required to serve under state law as a result of the applicable mandatory minimum sentence. Moreover, other than the aforementioned reference to "filing mandatory . . .", Jamison was never informed that his plea required the judge to impose a sentence of imprisonment. On the contrary, during the hearing, the court told Jamison that because there was no agreement with the Commonwealth, sentencing "is basically up to the court." The judge asked Jamison if he understood that sentencing was "basically up to the court," and Jamison affirmed that he did. The court then accepted Jamison's guilty plea. In doing so, the court implicitly found that Jamison was entering the plea knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.

Jamison also filled out and signed a written guilty plea colloquy. In that colloquy, Jamison acknowledged only that he was facing a maximum term of 20 years imprisonment pursuant to his plea.

Six days after Jamison entered the plea, the Commonwealth sent a letter to both Jamison and defense counsel. The letter stated in part:

Based on your guilty plea to an offense at 35 P.A. C.S.A. 780-113 (a)(30) wherein the controlled substance, Cocaine, totaled 79.1 grams, a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years, and $15,000 fine must be imposed, 5 yearsand $30,000 if second or subsequent offense.*fn2 On August 1, 2001, Jamison returned to the state trial court for a sentencing hearing. The prosecutor noted at the hearing that Jamison had a juvenile record for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and that he was therefore subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and a $30,000 fine. The court then informed Jamison that he had a right to make any statement that he "care[d] to make," but that he was not required to make any statement if he did not choose to speak.*fn3 Jamison responded that he "had nothing to say." The court then sentenced him to not less than five nor more than ten years for the cocaine conviction and imposed a fine of $30,000. The court also imposed a concurrent sentence of not less than two, nor more than four years for the marijuana charge. The sentences were consecutive to any sentence that was imposed on the conviction for third-degree homicide.

A. State Court Decisions

On June 5, 2002, Jamison filed a pro se petition under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act ("PCRA") in which he challenged inter alia, the validity of his guilty plea. Counsel was thereafter appointed, and a hearing was conducted. At that PCRA hearing, Jamison testified that prior to his guilty plea, he was not informed by anyone that his guilty plea subjected him to a mandatory minimum sentence, much less a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and $30,000 fine. Jamison further testified that when the prosecutor stated at the change of plea colloquy that she would be "filing a mandatory on the drug case," he did not know what she was referencing. Jamison maintained that he did not know he was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. "As far as she said, a mandatory, and that was it. I didn't know what mandatory would be filed. I didn't know I was subject to a mandatory minimum of five years and fine due to my second offense." Jamison testified that he would not have entered an open guilty plea if he had known that he would have to serve at least five years in prison as a result.

Jamison's PCRA testimony was confirmed by his trial counsel, Harold Fitzkee, Jr., who had been the York County District Attorney before returning to private practice. He testified that he never told Jamison that Jamison would have to serve at least five years in prison if he pled guilty. Fitzkee explained that he advised Jamison to enter an open guilty plea because, based on his knowledge of Jamison's prior record, he thought Jamison would be better off with the court determining the sentence than accepting the four to eight years that the prosecutor was offering. Fitzkee also testified that he first learned that Jamison was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years at the sentencing hearing, after Jamison's plea had already been accepted ...

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