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Cruz Castillo Martinez v. State of Idaho

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF IDAHO


May 29, 2008

CRUZ CASTILLO MARTINEZ, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF IDAHO, RESPONDENT.

Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. James C. Morfitt, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walters, Judge Pro Tem

2008 Unpublished Opinion No. 481

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION AND SHALL NOT BE CITED AS AUTHORITY

Order denying application for post-conviction relief, affirmed.

Cruz Castillo Martinez appeals from the district court's order denying relief following an evidentiary hearing on Martinez's application for post-conviction relief. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Martinez pled guilty and was sentenced to a unified term of seven years for possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine. He thereafter filed an application for post-conviction relief, alleging that his guilty plea was unconstitutional because he did not understand the nature of the charge against him with respect to the requirement that he "knowingly" possessed the substance and that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to inform him of the "knowing" element of the charge. The district court summarily dismissed the application without an evidentiary hearing. On appeal, this Court reversed, holding that the pleadings filed by Martinez had raised genuine issues of material fact both as to whether he was aware of the intent element of the charge of possession of a controlled substance prior to pleading guilty, and as to whether he was provided with ineffective assistance of counsel. Martinez v. State, 143 Idaho 789, 152 P.3d 1237 (Ct. App. 2007).

On remand, the district court held an evidentiary hearing on the claims. The court heard testimony from Martinez and from his trial counsel, John Sutton, and took judicial notice of the transcripts of the entry of plea and sentencing hearings and a portion of the presentence investigation report. The district court denied relief, holding that Martinez had failed to meet his burden of persuasion on both issues. In reaching this conclusion, the district court found that trial counsel's testimony that he had informed Martinez of the "knowing" element was more credible than the testimony to the contrary given by Martinez. Martinez timely appealed.

II. DISCUSSION

Like a plaintiff in a civil action, the applicant must prove by a preponderance of evidence the allegations upon which the request for post-conviction relief is based. I.C. § 19-4907; Russell v. State, 118 Idaho 65, 67, 794 P.2d 654, 656 (Ct. App. 1990). When appellate review of a district court's denial of post-conviction relief follows an evidentiary hearing, rather than a summary dismissal, the evidence must be viewed most favorably to the trial court's findings. McKeeth v. State, 140 Idaho 847, 849, 103 P.3d 460, 462 (2004); State v. Mathews, 133 Idaho 300, 304, 986 P.2d 323, 327 (1999). In such a case, an appellate court will not disturb the lower court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. I.R.C.P. 52(a). The credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given to their testimony, and the inferences to be drawn from the evidence are all matters solely within the province of the district court. Larkin v. State, 115 Idaho 72, 73, 764 P.2d 439, 440 (Ct. App. 1988). While we exercise free review of the district court's application of the relevant law to the facts, Nellsch v. State, 122 Idaho 426, 434, 835 P.2d 661, 669 (Ct. App. 1992), a long-standing maxim of appellate procedure prevents this Court from substituting its opinion of a witness's credibility for that of the trier of fact since the trier of fact is in the unique position to personally observe the witnesses who testify. Salazar v. Tilley, 110 Idaho 584, 587, 716 P.2d 1356, 1359 (Ct. App. 1986); Erhardt v. Leonard, 104 Idaho 197, 201, 657 P.2d 494, 498 (Ct. App. 1983). For that reason the trier of fact's finding concerning whether or not the burden of proof is met is entitled to great weight on appeal.

Erhardt, at 201, 657 P.2d at 498; In Re Bogert, 96 Idaho 522, 526, 531 P.2d 1167, 1171 (1975). See also, Larkin, 115 Idaho at 73, 764 P.2d at 440.

On this appeal, Martinez argues that the district court's determination that Sutton was the more credible witness is clearly erroneous because Martinez testified that he was never advised by Sutton of the "knowing" element of the crime. This same argument was made to the district court, but the district court discounted Martinez's version because his testimony was not consistent with statements made by Martinez several years earlier during the proceeding when Martinez entered his guilty plea. The district court also noted an examination of Martinez by the prosecutor during the plea hearing where Martinez had acknowledged that his previous attorney, a public defender, had explained to Martinez that the state had the burden of proving that Martinez "knowingly" possessed methamphetamine.

Essentially, Martinez is asking this Court to weigh the evidence anew and to substitute its decision for that of the district court with regard to the credibility of the witnesses who testified. This we cannot do. Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) explicitly cautions us that:

Findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. In the application of this principle regard shall be given to the special opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of those witnesses who appear before it.

Having reviewed the record, we uphold the district court's determination that Martinez failed in his burden to show that he was not advised of the "knowing" element of the crime before he pled guilty and that he was not deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. There is substantial competent evidence to support the district court's findings of fact, and those findings are therefore not clearly erroneous.

III. CONCLUSION

The district court did not err in denying relief on Martinez's application for post-conviction relief. The order of the district court is affirmed. No costs or attorney fees are awarded on appeal.

Chief Judge GUTIERREZ and Judge LANSING, CONCUR.

20080529

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