Firm Wins Important Coram Nobis

Brown & Nieto won an important coram nobis proceeding this month that could take a decade off a client’s sentence in federal court.

Leonard Shelley was facing a mandatory 15-year federal sentence as an “Armed Career Criminal.” This was in large part based on his prior convictions in state court – essentially a three-strikes sentencing enhancement that applies to certain federal offenders. He hired Brown & Nieto to attack one of the prior state convictions so that the federal enhancement would not apply. Without the enhancement his federal sentence is likely to be in the ballpark of five years.

The Firm argued in Baltimore County Circuit Court that one of Shelley’s old convictions, from 2009, should be vacated because it was constitutionally invalid. Specifically, Shelley had thought he was pleading guilty to one offense, but actually he was pleading guilty to another offense. Although this may seem to be a fine point, it is constitutionally significant. When somebody pleads guilty to a crime, their plea must be knowing and voluntary. If it is not, the plea should be thrown out.

In this particular case, the Court agreed with us. The Judge, in a 13-page opinion, concluded that Shelley had not been advised of the elements of the crime to which he was pleading guilty, and she vacated the conviction.

The win was impressive for at least two reasons. First, coram nobis petitions have been extremely difficult to win in the past couple years. New case law from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has severely limited the applicability of this type of remedy. Second, the win was impressive because the case was argued by the Firm’s first-year associate, Lylian Romero – making Shelley v. State her first win as an attorney. Congratulations to Mr. Shelley and Ms. Romero!

Here is the Court’s Order: