WV Supreme Court disagrees with inmate who argues his attorney s - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

WV Supreme Court disagrees with inmate who argues his attorney should have known he'd be named in a federal indictment after rejecting 1995 murder plea deal

Posted: Updated:
The state Supreme Court has rejected an inmate’s argument that when he rejected a plea agreement on state charges nearly 20 years ago, he didn’t know a 52-count federal drug indictment involving him was going to be filed six weeks later.

Ernest Melvin Tucker, currently incarcerated at the Mt. Olive Correctional Complex, was convicted in November 1995 in Berkeley County Circuit Court of the first degree murder of a rival pawn shop owner. Tucker was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Six weeks later the federal government indicted him on drug trafficking charges, accusing him of conspiring with eight others to distribute crack cocaine in the Martinsburg area in 1994.

The federal charges also stated Tucker, convicted of burglary in Clayton County, Georgia, in 1991, had various weapons in his possession during several of the drug deals.

Tucker ultimately pleaded guilty to three out of the fifty-two charges of the federal indictment: possession with intent to distribute cocaine, use or possession of a firearm for drug trafficking and convicted felon in possession of a firearm

Tucker appealed his murder conviction but was refused. He subsequently petitioned for a new trial based on allegations of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, but was denied by the circuit court in 2011. The state supreme court affirmed that decision.

In 2012 Tucker petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging the lawyer representing him in his prior complaint had been ineffective. Tucker claimed that attorney should have argued his original trial counsel hadn't told him the effect a second degree murder conviction would have on sentencing for subsequent federal charges which weren't even pending at the time of his conviction, and if he’d known he would have accepted the state's offer of a plea deal.

The circuit court denied that petition as well.

On appeal, the government pointed out no one could have known how Tucker's murder conviction would impact federal charges that hadn't even been filed, so it would be “irrational” to say any federal sentenced affected his decision to go to trial on the first degree murder charge.

The high court agreed, saying, “Petitioner wanted the circuit court to speculate as to what his thought processes were with regard to counsel’s advice — erroneous or otherwise — concerning sentencing possibilities in an unrelated federal prosecution that was not initiated until six weeks after he rejected the State’s offer to plead guilty to second degree murder.”

But speculation, the justices noted in denying the petition, “does not carry the day in a habeas corpus proceeding.”