case raises a question regarding the retroactive application
of Alexander v. State, 297 Ga. 59 (772 S.E.2d 655)
(2015), in which we held that an attorney's failure to
counsel his client about parole eligibility may give rise to
a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Teresa Lynn
Kohnle pleaded guilty to felony murder in December 2010,
before we decided Alexander but after the United
States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Padilla v.
Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (130 S.Ct. 1473, 176 L.Ed.2d 284)
(2010), on which we relied in deciding Alexander.
Sentenced to life in prison, Kohnle filed a petition for a
writ of habeas corpus, alleging that her plea counsel was
ineffective in several ways, including that he failed to
inform her of the parole eligibility implications of a life
sentence. The habeas court granted Kohnle's petition,
relying on Alexander to conclude that Kohnle's
counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. The Warden
appeals, arguing that the habeas court erred in applying
Alexander retroactively. We agree with the Warden
that the habeas court erred by applying Alexander to
find that plea counsel performed deficiently by failing to
advise Kohnle that she would not be eligible for parole for
30 years if she pleaded guilty, and thus we vacate the habeas
court's order. But we remand for the habeas court to
consider Kohnle's claim that counsel was deficient for
affirmatively misinforming her about parole eligibility
matters, something we had held could support a claim of
ineffective assistance long before Kohnle entered her plea.
See Smith v. Williams, 277 Ga. 778, 778-779 (1) (596
S.E.2d 112) (2004).
was indicted in August 2008 for malice murder, felony murder,
and two counts of first degree arson in connection with the
June 2007 death of her husband in a house fire. At the
December 2010 plea hearing, Kohnle suggested to the trial
court that she participated in setting the fire at her
husband's direction as part of a financial plot and that
she never intended for him to be harmed. The trial court
stated that he would accept the guilty plea. Moving into
sentencing, Kohnle told the court, "I just beg that you
have mercy on me for this, because I know I didn't mean
any harm." The trial court asked Kohnle whether she
understood that he had "no control over the parole
board." Kohnle replied:
THE DEFENDANT: I do. Is there a minimal amount of time that I
have to -
THE COURT: Yes, ma'am.
THE DEFENDANT: - serve before I'm even -
THE COURT: Yes, ma'am.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Your Honor, [a parole officer] has shared
with me the ranges and I've discussed those with her.
THE COURT: Okay.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I have told her many times and she's
actually acknowledged in writing that we cannot give her a
THE COURT: Well, I don't get in to giving specific
numbers. I mean, there are statutes and things in the Georgia
Constitution that apply to your sentence, but that's not
- I'm not - you know, I can't tell you when
you'll get out. ...