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Fegan v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

December 7, 2018



          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: Christine Foster Assistant Public Advocate Frankfort, Kentucky.

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky Emily Bedelle Lucas Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky.




         Patrick Fegan appeals from the denial of his Kentucky Rules of Criminal Procedure (RCr) 11.42 motion alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Fegan raises four allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel on appeal. Finding no error, we affirm.

         On July 8, 2011, Deputy Jason White observed a vehicle driven by Fegan cross the yellow lines on the road three times. Deputy White attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but Fegan did not stop. Fegan's vehicle, while traveling at a high rate of speed, hit a ditch on the side of the road and flipped. After the car came to a stop, Fegan jumped out and ran to the side of the road where he was apprehended by Deputy White. Erica Manly was a passenger in the car and was severely injured. Manly was removed from the car and taken to the hospital; however, Fegan remained at the scene and was asked to allow the police to search the vehicle. Fegan alleges that he allowed officers to search the passenger compartment, but not the trunk. Fegan claims he told officers that the vehicle was not his and that they would need the owner's permission to search the trunk. The Commonwealth claims that Fegan allowed the police unrestricted access to search the entire car. The police searched the trunk and found numerous items related to the manufacturing of methamphetamine.

         Fegan and Manly were arrested and charged with several crimes related to the police pursuit and manufacturing of methamphetamine. On October 23, 2012, Fegan entered a guilty plea to charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, fleeing or evading police, and being a persistent felony offender in the second degree. He was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment.

         On August 1, 2013, Fegan filed the underlying RCr 11.42 motion to vacate his sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel. An evidentiary hearing was held on January 6, 2017, where both he and his trial counsel testified. On August 10, 2017, the court entered an order denying Fegan's motion. This appeal followed.

         Fegan claims on appeal that had his counsel been effective, he would not have pled guilty. He raises four issues alleging ineffective assistance of counsel.

A showing that counsel's assistance was ineffective in enabling a defendant to intelligently weigh his legal alternatives in deciding to plead guilty has two components: (1) that counsel made errors so serious that counsel's performance fell outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance; and (2) that the deficient performance so seriously affected the outcome of the plea process that, but for the errors of counsel, there is a reasonable probability that the defendant would not have pleaded guilty, but would have insisted on going to trial.
Evaluating the totality of the circumstances surrounding the guilty plea is an inherently factual inquiry which requires consideration of "the accused's demeanor, background and experience, and whether the record reveals that the plea was voluntarily made." While "[s]olemn declarations in open court carry a strong presumption of verity," "the validity of a guilty plea is not determined by reference to some magic incantation recited at the time it is taken [.]" The trial court's inquiry into allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel requires the court to determine whether counsel's performance was below professional standards and "caused the defendant to lose what he otherwise would probably have won" and "whether counsel was so thoroughly ineffective that defeat was snatched from the hands of probable victory." Because "[a] multitude of events occur in the course of a criminal proceeding which might influence a defendant to plead guilty or stand trial," the trial court must evaluate whether errors by trial counsel significantly influenced the defendant's decision to plead guilty in a manner which gives the trial court reason to doubt the voluntariness and validity of the plea.

Bronk v. Commonwealth, 58 S.W.3d 482, 486-87 (Ky. 2001) (citations omitted).

Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential. It is all too tempting for a defendant to second-guess counsel's assistance after conviction or adverse sentence, and it is all too easy for a court, examining counsel's defense after it has proved unsuccessful, to conclude that a particular act or omission of counsel was unreasonable. A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time. Because of the difficulties inherent in making the evaluation, a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged ...

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