Georgia v. ButlerAnnotate this Case
The State appealed after DeCarlos Butler was granted habeas relief on grounds that he received ineffective assistance of plea counsel. In 2010, Butler was indicted on one count of aggravated assault arising out of an altercation with his roommates. Butler was represented by counsel from the public defender’s office, appeared before the trial court and entered a non-negotiated plea pursuant to the First Offender Act. He was sentenced to 8 years to serve 18 months. Several hearings ensued with reference to Butler’s motion to withdraw or amend the plea, at which he was represented at different times by privately retained counsel and by the public defender’s office. That motion was ultimately denied. By 2012, Butler and a third attorney appeared before the court on a sentence modification agreed to by the State concerning additional restitution. Butler received a downward modification of his sentence reflected on a “Final Disposition” form. Neither the form nor the transcript of the hearing mentioned Butler’s first offender status. In 2013, Butler had failed to pay probation fees, or comply with any probation conditions. As a result, the State filed a petition to revoke. The trial court agreed to maintain Butler’s first offender probation despite his violation of the conditions, but required additional compliance on his part. Butler failed to comply again. In 2014, he was arrested for family violence battery, and again arrested and charged with felony terroristic threats, misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement officer, and criminal trespass. Butler’s first offender sentence was revoked, and he was re-sentenced to 20 years to serve 8, with the balance of 12 years to be served on probation. After that revocation, Butler filed various pro se motions, seeking to modify his sentence and file an out-of-time appeal. But in January 2015, Butler retained a fourth attorney, who secured Butler an amended sentence of 20 years to serve 6, with the balance of 14 years probated. Before that ruling, Butler filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging 25 separate grounds, primarily concerning various factual defenses to the original charges. The habeas court issued its order granting relief, construing Butler’s motions broadly as raising “concerns about whether the criminal court correctly applied the [First Offender Act] in observation that he “argued that he was denied effective assistance of counsel and that he was subjected to double jeopardy and received punishment that was cruel and unusual” at the habeas hearing. The habeas court observed that it “entreated Petitioner to outline all his habeas claims” at the hearing, and concluded that “all of Petitioner’s habeas arguments but for those arguments based on the [First Offender Act] [were] abandoned.” The Georgia Supreme Court found the habeas court erred in granting Butler’s petition, because his allegations of ineffective assistance were procedurally barred by not having been raised at the first practicable moment.