Guilty plea vacated on mental health grounds

A lawyer told the Supreme Court that a colleague had not done his job when he advised a mentally ill man to plead guilty to an alleged street attack on a 70-year-old man on New Year’s Day.

Charles Richardson said that Bruce Swan, who appeared for the defence, had not received information on a specific charge against Alvin Leverock, 40, until two weeks after he admitted the offence.

He added: “No defence attorney should ever advise a client to plead guilty to an offence of this specified nature without having first seen a count — especially a gentleman who clearly has mental health challenges.”

Mr Richardson said: “There has to be some standards; this could have cost him 12 to 15 years if he would have pleaded.

“Any competent counsel — any lawyer who deserves to be here — should know you don’t advise a plea until you’ve read the record.”

Mr Richardson was speaking last Thursday at an application to vacate Mr Leverock’s guilty plea to causing grievous bodily harm to 70-year-old Herndon Smith with intent to disable him.

Mr Leverock, of no fixed abode, was accused of an attack on Mr Smith on New Year’s Day on Reid Street in Hamilton.

He pleaded guilty to the offence in the Supreme Court on February 3.

Mr Swan was his defence counsel at the time.

Mr Richardson said last Thursday that the charge included “an ulterior intent that has very specific parameters” and was not a “garden variety charge” of causing grievous bodily harm.

He added that the Crown wanted to jail Mr Leverock, who has been in custody since January 6, for 12 to 15 years.

Mr Richardson also questioned if his client was capable of acting with intent to disable someone because of his mental health problems.

He said that the question had been overlooked by the previous defence counsel.

Mr Richardson explained: “It requires a certain amount of foresight, as His Worship would well be aware, and I could hardly believe that he understood any of that on his own.”

“It’s pretty clear that his lawyer at the time did not have possession of any of the evidence that he would need to give proper advice.”

Mr Richardson said that he may submit an application to have the charge withdrawn.

Mr Swan said yesterday that he was unaware that Mr Leverock had mental health problems until after he entered a guilty plea.

He added that he acted based on the information that Mr Leverock had given him, but had he known that his then-client had mental health problems, “I would have advised him to plead not guilty”.

Mr Swan added: “He was adamant from the time that he appeared first in Plea Court until we went to arraignments that he was wanting to plead guilty.

“I was not aware at that time that he had mental health issues — I did not become aware until much later on.”

He said: “Once I became aware of his mental health situation, I began to seek clarity as to his recent diagnosis and obtain clearer, better instruction through assistance from the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute.”

Nicole Smith, for the Crown, told the court that she knew Mr Swan had not received the evidence record but believed that he had “considerable discourse” with Mr Leverock earlier.

She also admitted that Mr Leverock faced an “odd charge” but added that she explained to Mr Richardson outside of the courtroom why the charge was laid.

Acting Puisne Judge Juan Wolffe vacated the plea and adjourned the case until September 16 to find out if an application to withdraw the charge was made.

He added: “Clearly this is an offence that attracts a great deal of legal complexity.

“I can confess, I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with a matter like this myself and there’s a huge difference between a simple GBH charge and this.

“Given the defendant’s reported mental health issues, he should be given the opportunity to fully receive advice from experienced counsel.”

He remanded Mr Leverock in custody.

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