Cert. applied for.
Effective assistance of counsel. Chatham Superior Court. Before Judge Walmsley.
Meg E. Heap, District Attorney, Jennifer P. Guyer, Assistant District Attorney, for appellant.
Richard M. Darden, for appellee.
After a jury convicted Raynard Lexie of aggravated sodomy, armed robbery, kidnapping, burglary, and three counts of aggravated assault, he was sentenced to a mandatory life term, with 25 years to serve. However, the trial court subsequently granted Lexie's motion for new trial on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea process. The State now appeals that ruling, and we affirm for the reasons set forth below.
It is well settled that the analysis of whether a defendant has received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel presents a mixed question of law and fact. Hulett v. State, 296 Ga. 49, 60 (5) (766 S.E.2d 1) (2014). See also Barrett v. State, 292 Ga. 160, 167 (3) (733 S.E.2d 304) (2012). And
[w]hen reviewing a trial court's decision to grant a motion for new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel, we defer to the trial court's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous, but owe no such deference
to its conclusions of law which we apply independently to the facts.
State v. Sims, 296 Ga. 465, 468-469 (2) (___ S.E.2d ___), 769 S.E.2d 62, (2015).
Lexie was arrested on September 21, 2012, but he consistently maintained that he was innocent and that the victim had wrongfully identified him. On or about November 7, 2012, an assistant public defender (" Counsel" ) entered an appearance on his behalf, and that representation continued throughout the pre-trial proceedings and at trial. On March 14, 2013, at 9:37 a.m., the State e-mailed Counsel a plea offer for credit for time served and twelve years of first offender probation, in exchange for Lexie's plea to two counts of aggravated assault, with the State agreeing to nolle prosse the remaining charges. Without contacting Lexie about the offer, Counsel responded to that e-mail five minutes later, indicating that there would be no plea in the case. Although Counsel did not relay the specific offer to Lexie, he [331 Ga.App. 401] testified that Lexie and he previously had discussed the issue and Counsel had advised against accepting a plea offer. Lexie had indicated in that conversation that he was going to follow his counsel's advice.
On April 1, 2013, the trial court held a hearing to put the plea offer on the record. At the hearing, the State announced that it had offered Lexie a twelve-year sentence, with credit for time served and the balance to be served on probation in exchange for a plea on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Lexie told the trial court that he had not made a decision about whether to take the offer, and the court allowed Counsel and Lexie to confer off the record. During that conference, Lexie told Counsel he wanted to accept the offer, but Counsel talked him out of it because he believed that Lexie was innocent. Counsel told Lexie that they had a very good chance to win and to get the matter ...