Drug dealer not “pressurised to plead guilty” by lawyers

Drugs: Conviction was safe

The Court of Appeal has rejected a claim from a convicted drug dealer that he was “pressurised” to plead guilty by “negligent advice” from his lawyers.

His Honour Judge Edmunds, recorder of Kensington and Chelsea, said any advocate representing David John Mitchell would be obliged to advise, “even in robust terms, on the strength of the prosecution case” and the credit available for an early guilty plea.

Mr Mitchell pleaded guilty to being in possession with intent to supply crack cocaine and diamorphine in August 2017 at Birmingham Crown Court. He also pleaded guilty to dangerous driving.

He was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison, and disqualified from driving for 37 months.

Giving the Court of Appeal ruling, HHJ Edmunds said Mr Mitchell, who “remains in custody” on other matters, had renewed his application for an extension of time, by 1,163 days, to apply for leave to appeal the convictions.

Mr Mitchell was spotted by police driving “at speed” in Erdington, Birmingham, which led to a pursuit by police and the dangerous driving charges.

When the pursuit ended, he jumped out of the car and was later found to have £836 cash on him. The co-defendant, who ran off from the other side, had £630 in cash and threw away a plastic bag containing 242 wraps of crack cocaine and 62 wraps of heroin.

Mr Mitchell was charged on the basis that he was engaged in a joint enterprise. A phone, recovered from the co-defendant, was “said by the police to be a phone for a drugs line called ‘the Dave line’, which in turn the prosecution linked to the applicant”.

In his application for an extension of time, Mr Mitchell argued that he was “pressurised to plead guilty due to negligent advice of solicitors and counsel”. He agreed to waive privilege and the court had received responses from the lawyers.

So that the court did not “risk losing sight of the wood for the trees”, the judge said it was “right to identify from the first that this was a strong prosecution case”.

He went on: “Any advocate representing the applicant would be obliged to advise, even in robust terms, on the strength of the prosecution case, the evidence apparently available, and as to the credit available for an early plea of guilty, whilst at the same time making it clear that if a defendant is not guilty they should not plead guilty.”

Despite Mr Mitchell’s reported “difficulties in reading and writing”, he had “the opportunity to discuss the case orally with both solicitor and counsel prior to entering his pleas and to give his instructions orally”.

He later instructed new solicitors who acted for him in the period of almost five months before he was sentenced.

HHJ Edmunds said the reduction in sentence for early guilty pleas, part of the process for “good policy reasons”, presented defendants with what could be a difficult choice.

“However, the applicant’s legal representatives were bound to advise him about it for the applicant to make his decision. The response of counsel to the allegations is that proper advice about credit for plea was given, including that the applicant should not plead guilty unless he was guilty.”

The judge added: “There are simply no arguable grounds that these pleas were other than voluntary and informed, or that the applicant was deprived of a defence which would probably have succeeded, or that the convictions are in any other way unsafe.”

He dismissed the application for an extension of time.

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