Supreme Court rejects attempt to withdraw plea in death penalty case

The Nevada Supreme Court has rejected Frederick Paine's argument he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in the death of a Las Vegas cab driver because lawyers never told him how often three-judge sentencing panels order death sentences.

Paine was convicted of murder and attempted murder against two Las Vegas cab drivers. His first death sentence was thrown out because the high court agreed one member of the sentencing tribunal may have been inattentive during the penalty hearing.

Paine then attempted to withdraw his guilty plea altogether and asked for a trial. That motion was denied and a new three-judge panel ordered.

Again, Paine was sentenced to death and he appealed, saying his guilty plea was "unknowing and unintelligent because he did not fully understand the enhanced risk occasioned by placing himself before a three-judge panel for sentencing."

He said he was never told that three judge panels almost always order a death sentence in such cases and that he would have had a better chance of a life sentence before a jury. He blamed his trial lawyer for not properly informing him.

But the Supreme Court panel of Chief Justice Bob Rose and justices Miriam Shearing and Nancy Becker said before a trial lawyer's performance is ruled deficient, there must be "a reasonable probability that, but for the counsel's errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different."

In this case, they ruled Paine was not given the exact statistics on how often three-judge panels impose death sentences but that he was advised that those panels order death "almost all of the time."

The justices ruled Paine entered his plea with knowledge of the sentencing possibilities and his appeal has no merit.

The upheld Paine's death sentence in the case.

The court, in an order by justices Bill Maupin, Shearing and Becker, also rejected the appeal of Danny Wayne Harper, who is serving two consecutive sentences of life without possible parole for murder.

His contention was that the prosecutor breached the plea bargain during sentencing.

The high court ruled that the prosecutor made the recommendation agreed on in the sentencing deal - life with possible parole - but that the judge ordered the stiffer sentence by making it life without possible parole.


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