The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Before the Court in this habeas corpus matter is Respondents' Motion for Summary Dismissal (Dkt. 12). Petitioner has filed a response (Dkt. 14) and a "Rebuttal" (Dkt. 16) to Respondents' Reply (Dkt.15). The Court finds that decisional process would not be aided by oral argument, and it will resolve this matter on the record after consideration of the parties' written submissions. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d).
For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Respondents' Motion, and this case will be dismissed.
In 2005, Petitioner was indicted on one count of conspiracy to traffic heroin and one count of conspiracy to traffic cocaine. (State's Lodging A-1, pp. 6-11.) On the day of jury selection, Petitioner decided to plead guilty. (State's Lodging A-2, pp. 1-2.) The state trial court accepted Petitioner's plea and sentenced him to two concurrent 25-year prison sentences, with the first 18 years fixed. (State's Lodging A-1, pp. 30-33.) On appeal, Petitioner argued only that his sentences were excessive, and the Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court. (State's Lodgings B-1, B-4.) The Idaho Supreme Court declined to review the case. (State's Lodging B-7.)
Petitioner next filed an application for post-conviction relief in state district court, claiming that he did not voluntarily enter his guilty plea because of his trial counsel's ineffectiveness. (State's Lodging C-1.) The district court appointed post-conviction counsel, who amended the petition and again raised claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. (State's Lodging C-16.) On February 20, 2009, the court dismissed the Amended Petition in written opinion without conducting an evidentiary hearing. (State's Lodging C-32.)
Four days before the expiration of the 42-day deadline to appeal, on March 31, 2009, post-conviction counsel mailed a copy of the opinion to Petitioner at an out of state prison. (State's Lodging C-33.) On April 13, 2009, after the expiration of the time to appeal, Petitioner submitted to the district court a pro se "Permission to File Late Appeal," in which he contended that he had not actually received the district court's order until 43 days after it was filed. (Id.) The trial court denied the motion, but Petitioner's Notice of Appeal was nonetheless filed and the trial court appointed the State Appellate Public Defender to assist him in attempting to perfect the appeal. (State's Lodging C-34; State's Lodging C-35, p. 3.)
The Idaho Supreme Court thereafter issued an order conditionally dismissing the appeal, but it gave Petitioner an opportunity to demonstrate that it was timely. (State's Lodging D-1.) With the assistance of counsel, Petitioner responded to the order by showing that he mailed his Notice of Appeal on April 9, 2009, which was 48 days after the trial court's opinion was filed, but he did not provide any other reason for its untimeliness. (State's Lodging D-2.) The Idaho Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. (State's Lodging D-3.)
On August 11, 2009, Petitioner filed a "Motion for Rule 60(b)" in the state district court, requesting that the district court re-enter the judgment so that he could file a timely appeal. (State's Lodging C-38.) The trial court denied the Motion, and the Idaho Supreme Court dismissed Petitioner's attempt to appeal from that order after concluding that it was not "a final, appealable Order or Judgment." (State's Lodgings E-1, E-2, E-3, E-4.)
Petitioner came to federal court with his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court on May 12, 2010, alleging again that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of trial counsel because his counsel pressured and threatened him to plead guilty, and because his counsel suffered from a conflict of interest.*fn1 United States Magistrate Judge Mikel H. Williams conducted an initial review of the Petition, noting that "Petitioner admits that as a result of the dismissal of his post-conviction appeal, he has not presented his Sixth Amendment claims in the IdahoSupreme Court, and that he 'fully intends to present documents (evidence) to support his right to a late appeal and for this court's purposes of exhaustion.'" (Dkt. 6, p. 2.) Judge Williams indicated that, based on the limited information available to him, he was unable to conclusively resolve the exhaustion issue, and the Petition was served on Respondents. (Id.)
Respondents have since filed a Motion for Summary Dismissal, arguing that the Idaho Supreme Court's dismissal of Petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel rest on independent and adequate state law grounds, and that Petitioner's claims must be dismissed as procedurally defaulted in this proceeding. (Dkt. 12.) The case has been reassigned to the undersigned District Judge based on the parties' lack of consent to a magistrate judge exercising full jurisdiction. (Dkt. 17.) The Court has reviewed the parties' arguments, and is now prepared to issue its ruling.
A habeas petitioner must exhaust his remedies in the state courts before a federal court can grant relief on constitutional claims. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). This means that the petitioner must invoke one complete round of the state's established appellate review process, fairly presenting all constitutional claims to the state courts so they have a full and fair opportunity to correct alleged constitutional errors at each level of appellate review. Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27 (2004).
When a habeas petitioner has not fairly presented a constitutional claim to the highest state court, and it is clear that the state court would now refuse to consider it because of the state's procedural rules, the claim is said to be "procedurally defaulted." Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 161 (1996). A habeas claim is also procedurally defaulted when the petitioner actually raised the claim in state court, but the state court denied or dismissed the claim after invoking a state law ground that is independent of federal law and is adequate to support the judgment. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-30 (1991). A federal court cannot reach the merits of a procedurally defaulted claim unless the ...