With the court calling one attorney’s failure to do his job a “manifest injustice,” Judge Bart Stanley allowed a convicted felon to withdraw his guilty plea.
The move will save the defendant three years in prison as he entered a new plea agreement.
The defendant, Joshua Neal, 26, entered his new guilty pleas before Judge Stanley to charges of initiating the process to manufacture meth and rioting. He was issued an eight-year sentence for the two charges, his sentence to run in addition to time he owes in DeKalb County on charges there.
The eight years is three less than the 11 years he was given in January when he entered his original plea to charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and initiating the process to manufacture meth.
The issues which led to his new plea agreement began in January when Neal entered his plea agreement before Stanley. He asked to rescind the agreement shortly thereafter. In his motion for reconsideration, Neal said his attorney, Mitch Ferguson, had failed to adequately defend him. Judge Stanley agreed.
“The court was disturbed by defense counsel Mitch Ferguson’s lack of preparation and failure to put any proof on at sentencing,” Stanley said, noting Ferguson was censured by the board of professional responsibility for several violations. “Based upon those censures and the court’s own observations, the defendant should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to correct a manifest injustice.”
Ferguson, whose law office is in Murfreesboro, was censured in 2011 for violating rules including those governing communication, diligence, fees, conflict of interest and misconduct. He was also directed to make $3,280 restitution to three former clients.
A censure is a warning to an attorney who is suspected of violating state rules, but does not restrict him from practicing.
Neal’s charges were brought after he held an armed standoff with officers while allegedly holding his girlfriend inside an apartment in early 2010. Neal inflicted knife wounds on himself during the ordeal but released his girlfriend uninjured. He would later tell lawmen he was on meth and not thinking clearly.
After Neal surrendered, a meth lab was found inside the apartment. The plea to rioting, which will run concurrently with his drug time, came as a result of his participation in a disturbance at Warren County Jail this fall.