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Earl Wayne Steele v. State of Idaho

October 25, 2012


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Darla S. Williamson, District Judge.

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

2012 Opinion No. 54

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Order dismissing petition for post-conviction relief, affirmed.

Earl Wayne Steele appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief following an evidentiary hearing. He asserts that his Alford*fn1 plea to one count of sexual abuse of a child was not made knowingly or intelligently because he did not understand the consequences of his plea. According to Steele, those consequences include a negative psychosexual evaluation report, the imposition of a longer sentence, and parole "ineligibility." He also asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney did not inform him of those consequences. We affirm.


Steele was indicted on three counts of lewd conduct with a minor under sixteen, Idaho Code § 18-1508, for alleged manual-to-genital contact with his daughter, and one count of sexual abuse of a child under the age of sixteen years, I.C. § 18-1506, for a sexual request he allegedly made to his daughter's friend. Steele asserted that he was unable to remember any of the alleged incidents as a result of heavy intoxication. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the State amended Count I of the indictment from a charge of lewd conduct to a charge of sexual abuse, dismissed the remaining charges, and agreed not to prosecute Steele on allegations that he abused two other children. Steele agreed to plead guilty without admitting a factual basis for his guilt pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970). The district court accepted Steele's Alford plea upon the State's recitation of the facts and set the matter for sentencing.

During the presentence investigation and Steele's psychosexual evaluation (PSE), Steele expressed remorse for his alcoholism, but equivocated on his acceptance of responsibility for the alleged sexual abuse. At the sentencing hearing, Steele stated, "I would like to apologize to my daughter. If I had touched her inappropriately, I didn't mean to or realize that I had. I had wrote a letter here. Your Honor, while thinking I was--it was truly possible of doing such an offense in a black out . . . ."*fn2 The district court rejected Steele's assertion that he was unable to remember any of the abuse as a result of intoxication because the conduct spanned multiple years. The district court then sentenced Steele to a unified term of twenty-five years including a fixed term of seven years, but subsequently reduced the sentence to a term of fifteen years with a seven-year determinate portion because the original sentence exceeded the statutory maximum punishment.

Steele filed a petition for post-conviction relief and two amended petitions, each asserting numerous claims. As relevant to this appeal, Steele asserted that he was not informed, prior to the entry of his plea, that his Alford plea and subsequent denials of guilt would result in consequences including a negative psychosexual evaluation, the imposition of a harsher sentence than would have otherwise been imposed, and the eventual denial of his parole. Steele's amended petition, which is less than clear, appears to frame each claim both as a due process violation and as a violation of his right to effective assistance of counsel. The district court denied Steele's petition following an evidentiary hearing. Steele appeals.


Steele asserts that all the allegations in his amended petition must be deemed to be true because the State did not file an answer to his amended petition.*fn3 Steele relies on Hall v. State, 126 Idaho 449, 451, 885 P.2d 1165, 1167 (Ct. App. 1994), in which this Court stated, "Allegations in an application for post-conviction relief must be deemed to be true until those allegations are controverted by the state." However, we have previously indicated that the "statement, frequently made in our opinions, that the allegations in a petition for post-conviction relief are deemed true until controverted by the State, refers only to the circumstance where the State has moved for summary disposition or the court has given notice of intent to summarily dismiss." Griffin v. State, 142 Idaho 438, 442, 128 P.3d 975, 979 (Ct. App. 2006). Steele's petition was not decided by way of summary disposition. Thus, the standard Steele cites is inapplicable.

In order to prevail in a post-conviction proceeding, the petitioner must prove the allegations by a preponderance of the evidence. I.C. § 19-4907; Stuart v. State, 118 Idaho 865, 869, 801 P.2d 1216, 1220 (1990). When reviewing a decision denying post-conviction relief after an evidentiary hearing, an appellate court will not disturb the lower court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. I.R.C.P. 52(a); Russell v. State, 118 Idaho 65, 67, 794 P.2d 654, 656 (Ct. App. 1990). 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). 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).


Because a guilty plea by a criminal defendant waives certain constitutional rights, due process requires that a defendant's plea be entered voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. State v. Heredia, 144 Idaho 95, 97, 156 P.3d 1193, 1195 (2007); State v. Colyer, 98 Idaho 32, 34, 557 P.2d 626, 628 (1976); Hayes v. State, 146 Idaho 353, 355, 195 P.3d 712, 714 (Ct. App. 2008). Accord McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466 (1969). Therefore, the plea must be entered with a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequences. Ray v. State, 133 Idaho 96, 99, 982 P.2d 931, 934 (1999); State v. Mauro, 121 Idaho 178, 180, 824 P.2d 109, 111 (1991). Accord Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 244 (1969). However, Idaho appellate courts have long held that a defendant must only be informed of the direct consequences of a plea, as opposed to the collateral or indirect consequences. Heredia, 144 Idaho at 97, 156 P.3d at 1195; Ray, 133 Idaho at 99-101, 982 P.2d at 934-36; State v. Huffman, 137 Idaho 886, 887, 55 P.3d 879, 880 (Ct. App. 2002); Jakoski v. State, 136 Idaho 280, 285, 32 P.3d 672, 677 (Ct. App. 2001); State v. Miller, 134 Idaho 458, 460, 4 P.3d 570, 572 (Ct. App. 2000); Carter v. State, 116 Idaho 468, 468, 776 P.2d 830, 830 (Ct. App. 1989). See also State v. Flowers, 150 Idaho 568, 573, 249 P.3d 367, 372 (2011); Hayes, 146 Idaho at 355, 195 P.3d at 714; State v. Shook, 144 Idaho 858, 859, 172 P.3d 1133, 1134 (Ct. App. 2007). Accord Torrey v. Estelle, ...

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