Dedrick McCauley was charged with first-degree (premeditated) murder, felony-murder, three counts of assault with intent to murder, and felony-firearm. Following a jury trial, he was convicted of second-degree murder, felony-murder, three counts of assault with intent to murder, and felony-firearm. He was sentenced, as a second felony offender, to concurrent terms of life for felony-murder, 37½ to 75 years for second-degree murder, and 18¾ to 37½ years for each of the assault convictions, all to follow the mandatory two-year term for felony-firearm.
McCauley appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals. He alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to advise McCauley that he could be convicted of first-degree (premeditated) murder under an aiding and abetting or an accomplice theory. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing, while retaining jurisdiction. At the hearing, evidence was presented that the prosecutor had extended a plea offer to McCauley, which would have allowed him to plead guilty to second-degree murder with an 18-year minimum sentence, and to felony-firearm, which carried a two-year consecutive sentence, in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges. McCauley testified that he did not want to accept the plea, because he did not believe that he could be convicted of murder when he did not fire the shot that killed the victim. McCauley’s defense attorney testified that he knew that the prosecutor intended to proceed under an aiding and abetting theory, and that under such a theory, McCauley could be convicted of murder even if he did not fire the fatal shot. The lawyer admitted that he did not explain the prosecutor’s theory to McCauley. Following the hearing, the trial judge concluded that defense counsel gave insufficient advice to McCauley during the plea-bargain process. The court concluded that, absent this lapse, it was reasonably likely that McCauley would have pled guilty and that the trial court would have accepted the plea.
In a published per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals agreed. The appellate court conditionally vacated McCauley’s convictions and sentences, and remanded the case to the trial court to allow the prosecution to reinstate its original plea offer and allow McCauley, with a lawyer’s assistance, to consider the offer and enter a plea in accordance with its terms. If the prosecutor decided to present a new plea offer on less favorable terms, the Court of Appeals held, the prosecution would have to overcome a presumption of vindictiveness. If the prosecution could not overcome the presumption and refused to reinstate the original plea, then McCauley’s convictions were to be vacated in full, the panel directed. The prosecution appeals.