In a recent victory for Marcia Shein’s client, Andrew Magnuson, on June 1, 2015, the justices of the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed habeas corpus relief for him after the State of Georgia appealed the initial decision, according to the written decision of Chief Justice Thompson in the case of Smith v. Magnuson.
In 2001, Magnuson was indicted for two counts of enticing a child for indecent purposes, as well as for attempted kidnapping and child pornography. In a group plea, Magnuson entered a guilty plea on all charges and was sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison, along with combined probated sentences of another 25 years. But that wasn’t the whole story.
Magnuson’s defense counsel at that time had failed to account for the fact that Magnuson had a lifetime history of mental health problems which likely affected his understanding of the charges against him and the consequences of his plea—and even after presenting this information to the court after the fact, Magnuson’s defense counsel also said the defendant had been considered competent to stand trial. Thus, the court accepted Magnuson’s guilty plea without further investigation into his mental health history, and sentenced him accordingly.
In 2008, with the help of Marcia Shein, Magnuson filed a petition for habeas corpus on the grounds that his mental state had prevented him from entering a valid guilty plea, also citing the inadequacies of his prior defense counsel in properly addressing this issue. At the hearing, two mental health experts (including one who had treated Magnuson before and after his arrest) went into more depth as to Magnuson’s mental health history. Of particular note in their testimony:
- Magnuson’s condition prevented him from having a clear understanding of the consequences of his plea at the time he entered it (according to the expert who had treated him, he believed he would be in jail for weeks, not years).
- Magnuson also suffered from an impulse control disorder that compels him to make impulsive false statements that cannot be corroborated. The experts claimed this condition would likely compel him to plead guilty in a group plea setting just to get out of a difficult situation.
Upon review of the court records and Magnuson’s previously ignored mental health history, the habeas court concurred that the defendant had not been in a condition to understand and truthfully answer the questions of the court at the time the charges were brought against him, and therefore his guilty plea was invalid because it was not voluntarily or intelligently entered. His habeas corpus petition was granted, and he was released.
The State of Georgia appealed the decision, citing court records that Magnuson had been properly advised of the consequences of waiving his rights with a guilty plea, and had acknowledged that he understood. Upon review, however, the Georgia Supreme Court refuted this argument on the grounds that it did not account for the fact that Magnuson’s mental health was affecting his answers as reflected in the court records. Since the State had produced no evidence to show that the habeas court’s findings were clearly erroneous, the Supreme Court justices unanimously affirmed the decision.
If you need legal advice or assistance in filing for habeas corpus or other post-conviction relief, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center at 404-633-3797.