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Love v. State

Location: Mississippi
Court Type: Mississippi Supreme Court
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: May 21, 2024

What's at Stake

This case in the Mississippi Supreme Court is a post-conviction appeal of a pro se defendant, Mr. Soweto Love, who argued that his guilty plea was not entered knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. The ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative, alongside the ACLU of Mississippi, filed an amicus brief arguing that the law is on Mr. Love’s side, but urging the Court to exercise its discretion to inform Mr. Love that a win could resuscitate his charge and expose him to longer sentences.

Because defendants relinquish constitutional rights when they plead guilty, their pleas are considered involuntary, and thus invalid, unless they are informed of the consequences of the plea, including any applicable mandatory minimum sentence.

In January 2018, Mr. Love was indicted on six charges related to an alleged attempt to obtain Oxycodone from a pharmacy. Half a year later, the State moved to charge Mr. Love as a habitual offender relying on prior convictions. If Mr. Love was sentenced as habitual offender, his sentence would be automatically ramped up to be the maximum penalty allowed for the convictions; in other words, the maximum sentence became the mandatory minimum. However, no one had informed Mr. Love of this mandatory minimum sentence. The trial counsel and the judge both advised that if Mr. Love pled guilty, his sentence would be between one and five years for each count, while his actual minimum sentence is five years each.

Mr. Love, proceeding pro se, filed a petition before the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the court granted review. The ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative and the ACLU of Mississippi filed an amicus brief, arguing that Mr. Love’s plea was clearly not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered as he had never been informed of the actual mandatory minimum sentence that he was pleading to. However, the brief urges the court not to summarily reverse and vacate the plea, but to inform pro se defendants like Mr. Love that undoing the plea may subject them to the dismissed charges and even higher sentences, should the case go back to trial.

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