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John Meier v. Johanna Smith

August 29, 2011

JOHN MEIER, PETITIONER,
v.
JOHANNA SMITH, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Several motions are currently pending in this habeas corpus matter. The Court finds that decisional process would not be aided by oral argument, and it will resolve these motions after consideration of the parties' written briefing. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d).

For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Petitioner's Motion for Leave to Amend Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and dismisses Respondent's Motion for Partial Summary Dismissal of the original Petition. After reviewing the claims in the Amended Petition, however, the Court concludes that it plainly appears that Petitioner will not be entitled to habeas relief. See Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases. Accordingly, the Court intends to enter judgment dismissing this case with prejudice unless Petitioner can show cause why it should be retained.

BACKGROUND

In 2006, Boise police officers were investigating reports of several fraudulent merchandise returns at local retail stores, and Petitioner was suspected of being involved in these crimes. (State's Lodging A-2, p. 6.) With the assistance of Petitioner's probation officer, the police searched a storage unit that Petitioner had rented. (State's Lodging A-2, pp. 6-7; State's Lodging A-5.) Inside the unit, they found a cache of child pornography and other sexually suggestive depictions of children, including numerous photographs, DVDs, and at least one movie showing Petitioner personally engaging in lewd conduct with a male toddler. (State's Lodging A-2, pp. 7, 17-20.)

The State charged Petitioner with three counts of possessing material that sexually exploited a child and, in a separate count, charged that he was a persistent violator of the law based on two prior felony convictions. (State's Lodging A-1, pp. 21-23.) Petitioner agreed to enter an Alford plea to one count of possessing sexually exploitative material and to the persistent violator charge, in exchange for the State's agreement to dismiss the other two counts and not to pursue additional theft charges. (State's Lodging A-4, p. 5.) After applying the persistent violator enhancement, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (State's Lodging A-4, p. 35.) On appeal, Petitioner claimed that his sentence was excessive, but the Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Idaho Supreme Court declined to review the case. (State's Lodgings B-4, B-7.)

Petitioner filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief in state district court, alleging that he was deprived of the effective assistance of trial counsel and that his guilty plea was coerced. (State's Lodging C-1, pp. 5-12.) Specifically, Petitioner claimed that his trial counsel should have filed a motion to suppress based on the fact that Petitioner's brother was also listed on the rental agreement for the storage unit that had been searched. (Id.) Petitioner asserted that this information was concealed from him in an effort to force him to plead guilty. (Id.)

The trial court appointed counsel to represent Petitioner in the post-conviction matter and held an evidentiary hearing. At the hearing, Petitioner's trial counsel, John Loschi, testified that early in the case Petitioner made clear to him that he intended to plead guilty. (State's Lodging C-2, p. 53.) Loschi also claimed that he did not believe that the facts supported a motion to suppress. (State's Lodging C-2, pp. 57-58.) At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied all relief. (State's Lodging C-1, pp. 47-48.)

The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision. The Court of Appeals determined that Petitioner had not carried his burden to show that his guilty plea was coerced or that a motion to suppress would have had any merit on the grounds that he alleged. (State's Lodging D-5, pp. 4-5.) The Idaho Supreme Court declined to review the case. (State's Lodging D-8.)

Petitioner next filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court. (Dkt. 3.) United States Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush conducted an initial review of the Petition and ordered Respondent to submit a response. (Dkt. 6.) Respondent did so by filing a Motion for Partial Summary Dismissal, arguing that several of the claims in the Petition had not been properly exhausted in the Idaho state courts and were now procedurally defaulted. (Dkt. 12.)

Within two weeks of receiving Respondent's Motion, Petitioner requested leave to amend his Petition, noting that he had made "several faulty claims" and that he "wishes to correct these issues through a better or more informed re-application." (Dkt. 14.) He followed this request with a copy of his proposed Amended Petition. (Dkt. 16.) The case has since been reassigned to the undersigned District Judge. (Dkt. 24.)

These matters are fully briefed, and the Court is now prepared to issue its ruling.

MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND

Respondent argues that Petitioner should not be permitted to amend his Petition because he has engaged in unnecessary delay and because two of the proposed claims are procedurally defaulted.*fn1

An application for habeas relief may be amended "as provided in the rules of procedure applicable to civil actions." 28 U.S.C. § 2242. Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the amendment of civil pleadings. Under Rule 15(a), a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within 21 days after the service of a responsive pleading or after a motion brought under Rule 12(b),(e), or (f). Petitioner's Motion for Leave to Amend was filed twelve days after Respondent filed his Motion for Partial Summary Dismissal, which is timely. Moreover, the Court does not find evidence of bad faith or unnecessary delay and sees little prejudice to Respondent. See Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995) (discussing the factors to be weighed when reviewing a request to amend).

The Court will allow the Amended Petition to be filed. Given this ruling, Respondent's Motion for Partial Summary Dismissal pertaining to the ...


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