11th Circ. Orders Reopening Of Ala. Convict's Plea Offers

By Chart Riggall | July 31, 2023, 4:01 PM EDT ·

An Eleventh Circuit panel on Friday sided with an Alabama man serving a life sentence for murder, finding there was reason to believe he had never been informed of a plea offer that could have resulted in a 30-year prison sentence instead.

In a published opinion, the three judges overturned a district court's finding that even had such a deal been on the table, Alabama's Brandon Washington would have been unlikely to take it because he had already rejected a previous offer for life with parole.

Because those accused of crimes are expected to maintain their innocence until they accept a plea, the panel found prior courts were wrong to extrapolate that Washington would have been unwilling to take the deal.

"A defendant has a right to maintain his innocence without entirely jeopardizing his ability to later claim that he would have accepted a subsequent, uncommunicated plea offer," U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wilson wrote.

The panel ordered Washington's case remanded to the district court to determine whether Washington had been informed of the second, 30-year plea deal. Washington's attorney, Emory Anthony, and then-Deputy District Attorney Mike Anderton said they told Washington of the offer and he explicitly rejected it.

But the panel said its opinion was swayed by an affidavit from his grandmother, Amanda Washington, who insisted the existence of the plea deal was news to her and her grandson.

The Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals' finding that the affidavit did not eliminate the possibility that Washington had been told of the deal, the panel said, "misses the mark," given neither side had disputed the affidavit's truth.

"The ACCA's determination that Washington received the plea offer was unreasonable," Judge Wilson added.

Washington, according to the order, was initially indicted in 2006 for the robbery and murder of a RadioShack employee while Washington was a freshman in college. During the initial trial, D.A. Anderton said in open court that he had offered Washington a plea deal for life with parole, which was turned down.

Washington was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death, though his sentence was later changed to life without parole after a series of appeals.

In 2013, after his life sentence was handed down, Washington appealed on the basis that his counsel was ineffective. The state responded that his counsel "could not have been ineffective because D.A. Anderton was so impressed by their performance at trial that he offered a second mid-trial plea deal of thirty years."

At that point, Washington said he had never been told of the offer, amending his appeal to include that claim as well.

Counsel for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Washington is represented by Allison Case, Kevin L. Butler, Alexandria Darby, Kristen M. Nelson, and Deanna Lee Oswald of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Alabama.

The state of Alabama is represented by Marc Alan Starrett and Steven Marshall of the Alabama Attorney General's office.

The case is Brandon Washington v. the Attorney General of the State of Alabama et al., case number 21-13756, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

--Editing by Vaqas Asghar.

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