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Lugiai v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 8, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs Date: January 12, 2017

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2011-C-2551 J. Randall Wyatt, Jr., Judge

          In July 2012, the Petitioner, Michael Joseph Lugiai, Sr., entered a "best interests" guilty plea to four counts of aggravated assault. He timely filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that his plea was unknowing and involuntary. Following a hearing on the petition, the post-conviction court denied relief. After a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Kevin McClean Kelly, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michael Joseph Lugiai, Sr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Rachel E. Willis, Deputy Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson III, District Attorney General; and Chris Buford, Assistant District Attorney, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This appeal arises from the dismissal of a petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner was indicted for attempted first degree murder (Count 1), three counts of aggravated child abuse (Counts 2, 3, and 4), and aggravated assault (Count 5). He entered a best interest guilty plea to four counts of aggravated assault in Counts 1 through 4. Count 5 was dismissed. He was sentenced as a multiple offender to nine years' incarceration on each count to be served concurrently with release eligibility after service of thirty-five percent of the sentence.

         Plea Submission Hearing

         The Petitioner appeared in court on July 16, 2012, for a jury trial on the indicted offenses. Before the jury was brought into court, the Petitioner asked for an opportunity to speak with lead trial counsel and associate counsel.[1] After meeting with lead trial counsel and associate counsel, it was announced that the Petitioner had agreed to a plea offer, and the trial court allowed the Petitioner to enter a plea while the jury remained outside the courtroom.

         At the Petitioner's plea submission hearing, after lead trial counsel explained the terms of the plea agreement, the trial court explained the nature of a best interest guilty plea. The trial court then informed the Petitioner of the nature of the charges to which the plea was offered and the range of punishment for aggravated assault and for the indicted offenses. The Petitioner then asked if he could "say something" and the following dialogue occurred:

[THE PETITIONER]: Your Honor, uh, I - I, can I, can I say something, your Honor?
THE COURT: Sure. Yes.
[THE PETITIONER]: The way it was explained to me was that if I do this it is in my best interest and I, and I want to do this, but it was all contingent upon my wife and her charges, charges that she has, and I was, I was under the impression that I know [the assistant district attorney], I just want to, I just don't want her to be in trouble, you know, and . . .
THE COURT: And I don't know what that all is, but I mean, it is fine with me if she is not in any trouble if that is what is agreed to, but some of the things that you are talking about I think may have to do with some sort of, you know, discussion between you, your lawyer, and [the assistant district attorney], that I haven't [b]een a party to, so I don't know what that is.
(Whereupon, [the Petitioner] and [lead trial counsel] conferred.)
[LEAD TRIAL COUNSEL]: Your Honor, I've informed [the Petitioner] that I had been present when [the assistant district attorney] discussed with his wife's attorney the possible resolution to her case. I explained that was not conditional on him pleading, that it would be dealt with independently, but I attempted to give him my best impression of what would happen with her case. However, I told him clearly there was not an agreement with the State that her charges would be resolved in any particular way based on this plea, but . . .
THE COURT: Okay. Well, I guess what he is saying, [the Petitioner], is they haven't finally determined that, but it sounds like what [lead trial counsel] is saying is that he has the impression that if this plea goes through on you that the State might be inclined favorably towards your wife's case[.]
[LEAD TRIAL COUNSEL]: Yes, your Honor.
[THE PETITIONER]: Your Honor, I re - I just - I respect [the assistant district attorney] and I just wanted to say that I just wanted to put that out there and that is all I wanted to say, so, yes, I'm taking it. I want to take this -
[THE PETITIONER]: - plea, plea.
THE COURT: Okay. So, in other words, you, you kind of get the feeling that since you do respect [the assistant district attorney] that you ...

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