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2012-UP-284 - Bordeaux v. State

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Antonio D. Bordeaux, Respondent,

v.

State of South Carolina, Petitioner.


Appeal From Beaufort County
Michael G. Nettles, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2012-UP-284
Heard March 29, 2012 - Filed May 9, 2012


REVERSED AND REMANDED


Attorney General Alan Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Assistant Attorney General Matthew J. Friedman, and Assistant Attorney General J. Rutledge Johnson, all of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Appellate Defender Kathrine H. Hudgins, of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In this post-conviction relief (PCR) action, the State appeals the PCR court's granting of a new trial to Respondent Antonio Bordeaux on two first-degree burglary charges. The State argues Bordeaux pled guilty to these charges, and, therefore, it challenges the PCR court's conclusion that Bordeaux's sentences were illegal because they exceeded the maximum penalty for second-degree burglary. We reverse and remand.

"'[A]ny evidence' of probative value is sufficient to uphold the PCR judge's findings." Cherry v. State, 300 S.C. 115, 119, 386 S.E.2d 624, 626 (1989) (citation omitted). However, reversal is appropriate when the PCR court's decision is controlled by an error of law. Suber v. State, 371 S.C. 554, 558-59, 640 S.E.2d 884, 886 (2007).

In the present case, Bordeaux was indicted for two counts of first-degree burglary. He was also indicted for two counts of armed robbery and one count of murder. The plea transcript indicates that the State had agreed to a dismissal of the murder charge and a cap of twenty-five years of imprisonment in exchange for Bordeaux's plea of guilty to two counts of first-degree burglary and two counts of armed robbery. The sentencing sheets indicate that the plea court sentenced Bordeaux to twenty-four years for each count of armed robbery and twenty-five years for each count of first-degree burglary, with all sentences to run concurrently.

However, each sentencing sheet for the respective burglary offenses contained internally inconsistent information as to whether Bordeaux had pled guilty to first-degree burglary or second-degree burglary. Bordeaux alleged in his PCR application that his sentence for twenty-five years was illegal because he pled guilty to second-degree burglary and the twenty-five-year sentence exceeds the maximum sentence for second-degree burglary. Bordeaux also claimed that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the sentence.

At the PCR hearing, plea counsel testified that he did not object to the sentences imposed because they were "within the negotiation." He explained: "We had negotiated for a cap of twenty-five years . . . ." Further, the PCR court specifically found that plea counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to Bordeaux's sentence because Bordeaux pled guilty to first-degree burglary. However, the PCR court also concluded that the twenty-five-year sentence was illegal because it exceeded the maximum sentence for second-degree burglary. In reaching this conclusion, the PCR court ruled that the sentencing sheets took precedence over the plea transcript because "a sentencing sheet is essentially a contract between the applicant, the applicant's trial counsel, and the court."

We are unable to reconcile the PCR court's finding that Bordeaux pled guilty to first-degree burglary with its subsequent conclusion that the twenty-five-year sentence was illegal because it exceeded the maximum sentence for second-degree burglary. The PCR court based its conclusion that plea counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to Bordeaux's sentence on the finding that Bordeaux pled guilty to first-degree burglary. If Bordeaux pled guilty to first-degree burglary, then his sentence was not illegal. On the other hand, if Bordeaux pled guilty to second-degree burglary, as the PCR court implied when it concluded the sentence was illegal, then plea counsel would have been ineffective for failing to object to an illegal sentence. Therefore, it is necessary to remand this case to the PCR court for clarification as to the offenses to which Bordeaux pled guilty.

Further, in the absence of any challenge to the integrity of the plea transcript, the PCR court committed an error of law in ruling that the sentencing sheets took precedence over the plea transcript because "a sentencing sheet is essentially a contract between the applicant, the applicant's trial counsel, and the court." See Anderson v. State, 342 S.C. 54, 57, 535 S.E.2d 649, 650 (2000) ("When determining issues relating to guilty pleas, the Court will consider the entire record, including the transcript of the guilty plea, and the evidence presented at the PCR hearing." (emphasis added)). Given the sanctity with which statements given under oath are regarded,[1] we decline to lend credence to any position that would favor ambiguous sentencing sheets over an unambiguous plea transcript whose integrity has not been called into question. Therefore, on remand, the PCR court must give appropriate weight to the plea transcript in determining the offenses to which Bordeaux pled guilty.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

PIEPER, KONDUROS, and GEATHERS, JJ., concur.


[1] See Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 74 (1977) (holding that solemn declarations in open court "carry a strong presumption of verity"); see also State v. Thrift, 312 S.C. 282, 295, 440 S.E.2d 341, 348 (1994) ("[A]ll plea agreements must be on the record and must recite the scope, offenses, and individuals involved in the agreement."); cf.Edmonds v. Lewis, 546 F.2d 566, 567-68 (4th Cir. 1976) ("[T]he accuracy and truth of a prisoner's denial of any threats inducing his plea of guilty, given during an examination on the record at his sentencing . . . will be considered conclusively established by that proceeding . . . unless he offers (by the allegations of his petition) a valid reason why he should be permitted to depart from the apparent truth of his earlier statement." (citations and quotation marks omitted)).