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David Tyler Hill v. Warden Phillip Valdez

November 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Larry M. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge


Earlier in this habeas corpus action, a number of Petitioner's habeas corpus claims were dismissed when Respondent's Motion for Partial Summary Dismissal (Dkt. 27) was granted in part. (Dkt. 31.) As a result, Petitioner is proceeding on the merits of Claims 2(a) and 3(b) only. (Dkt. 3.) He challenges his conviction by guilty plea for the felony crime of sexual abuse of a child under the age of sixteen years, arising from criminal proceedings in the Fourth Judicial District Court in Ada County, Idaho. Respondent has filed an Answer (Dkt. 34), and Petitioner has filed a Traverse. (Dkt. 35.) Accordingly, the remaining claims in the Petition are ripe for adjudication. In addition, several other motions filed by the parties are pending.

Both parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge to enter final orders in this case. (Dkt. 9, 10.) See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 73. Having reviewed the record in this case, including the state court record, and having considered the arguments of the parties, the Court enters the following Order denying and dismissing the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.


Respondent filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File an Answer, citing an unusually heavy workload as the reason for the delay. (Dkt. 33.) Good cause appearing, the Answer (Dkt. 34) is considered timely.

Petitioner also filed a Motion to Expedite Habeas Corpus Proceedings. (Dkt. 38.) Petitioner's case is being heard in due course, in the order in which it was received. To the extent that the Court has fully considered the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, the Motion to Expedite is now moot.


1. Background

Petitioner, then a 23-year-old man, was indicted on one count of lewd conduct with a minor under the age of 16, arising from an incident of sexual intercourse with a family friend, a young woman of 14. (State's Lodging A-4, p. 2.) At and before sentencing, Petitioner alleged that the young woman consented to intercourse, but admitted that he should not have "taken advantage" of her; however, he contested the allegations that the sexual contact was under circumstances of threat or physical force.*fn1 (State's Lodging A- 5.) Contrarily, on post-conviction review, Petitioner asserted that he expressed his complete innocence to his counsel from the beginning.(State's Lodgings C-1 and C-2, pp. 30-32.)

Based on the advice of his attorney, Ronald Christian, Petitioner entered into a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of sexual abuse of a child under the age of sixteen. (State's Lodging A-1, pp. 47-55.) Petitioner received a sentence of ten years fixed, with five years indeterminate. (Id., pp. 76-78.)

Claim 2(a) is that Petitioner's trial counsel, Ronald Christian, was ineffective because he coerced Petitioner into pleading guilty. Claim 3(b) is that Petitioner's counsel on direct appeal, Heather Carlson, was ineffective for failing to raise a claim that the guilty plea was coerced as a result of Mr. Christian's actions.

2. Standard of Law Governing Habeas Corpus Relief, State Court Factual Determinations, and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims Federal habeas corpus relief is available to a petitioner held in state custody only where he can demonstrate that his custody "is in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). If a petitioner contests a state court judgment that adjudicated the merits of his claims, the petitioner cannot obtain federal habeas corpus relief unless he shows that the state court judgment was either: (1) "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A state court need not "give reasons before its decision can be deemed to have been 'adjudicated on the merits.'" Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 785 (2011).

The record reflects that Petitioner's claims were summarily dismissed by the Idaho Court of Appeals on grounds of insufficiency of evidence to support the claims, which is an adjudication of the claims on the merits. Petitioner contests both the factual basis and the legal basis of the Idaho Court of Appeals's opinion.

As a result, the Court first determines whether the state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts under § 2254(d)(2). If the factual determination was unreasonable, then the Court is not limited by § 2254(d)(1), but proceeds to a de novo review of the claims, which may include consideration of evidence outside the state court record. See Maxwell v. Roe, 628 F.3d 486, 494-95 (9th Cir. 2010). See also Jones v. Walker, 540 F.3d 1277 (11th Cir. 2008) (en banc).*fn2

If the factual determination was reasonable, then the Court examines the legal basis of the state court decision under the limitations of § 2254(d)(1) and confined to the evidence contained in the state court record. See Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1400 (2011) ("If a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, a federal habeas petitioner must overcome the limitation of § 2254(d)(1) on the record that was before that state court.") (footnote omitted); Holland v. Jackson, 542 U.S. 649, 652 (2004) ("[W]e have made clear that whether a state courts decision was unreasonable must be assessed in light of the record the court had before it.") (citations omitted).

To contest a state court decision under § 2254(d)(2), the petitioner must show that the state court decision was based upon a factual determination that was "unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." Id. The United States Supreme Court has admonished that a "state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance." Wood v. Allen, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849 (2010) (citations omitted).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has identified four types of unreasonable factual determinations that result from procedural flaws that occurred in state court proceedings: (1) when state courts fail to make a finding of fact; (2) when courts mistakenly make factual findings under the wrong legal standard; (3) when "the fact-finding process itself is defective"; or (4) when courts "plainly misapprehend or misstate the record in making their findings, and the misapprehension goes to a material factual issue that is central to petitioner's claim." Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d. 992, 1000-01 (9th Cir. 2004).*fn3

Whether the determination of fact was unreasonable must be decided in the context of the proper legal standard. The United States Supreme Court has held that the validity of a guilty plea turns on "whether the plea represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant." North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 31 (1970). In Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52 (1985), the Court held that a plea is not knowing and voluntary if it was the result of defense counsel's advice amounting to ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 59.

In addition, a voluntary plea must be free from either "physical or psychological coercion." Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637, 653 (1976). The United States Supreme Court has noted that "there is no per se rule against encouraging guilty pleas." Corbitt v. New Jersey, 439 U.S. 212, 218-19 (1978).

Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are governed by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Strickland established that, to succeed on an ineffective assistance claim, a petitioner must show: (1) counsel's performance was deficient in that it fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) the petitioner was prejudiced by the deficient performance. Id. at 684.

In assessing whether trial counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of competence under Strickland's first prong, a reviewing court must view counsel's conduct at the time the challenged act or omission occurred, making an effort to eliminate the distorting lens of hindsight. Id. at 689. The court must indulge in the strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id.

The second prong, prejudice, means that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 684, 694. A reasonable probability is one sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Id. at 694. A defendant challenging a guilty plea must also show there is a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty but for counsel's erroneous advice. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. at 59.

A petitioner must establish both incompetence and prejudice to prove an ineffective assistance of counsel case. 466 U.S. at 697. On habeas review, the court may consider either prong of the Strickland test first, or it may address both prongs, even if one is deficient and will compel denial. Id.

3. Discussion of Claim 2(b)

Claim 2(a) is that Petitioner's trial counsel, Ronald Christian, was ineffective because he coerced Petitioner into pleading guilty.

A. State Court Decision

On July 6, 2009, the Idaho Court of Appeals issued its opinion rejecting Petitioner's claim that his counsel coerced him to plead guilty, for the reason that the claim was "conclusory, unsupported by admissible evidence, and belied by the record." (State's Lodging D-4, pp. 4-5.) The Idaho Court of Appeals reasoned:

[Petitioner] Hill's primary argument in support of his claim of an invalid guilty plea is that his attorney coerced him into pleading guilty. To support his argument, Hill notes that he originally answered two questions on the guilty plea form affirmatively. However, Hill's affirmative answers were explored by the district court, and Hill explained them without any reference to coercion. (Id., p. 7.) The Idaho Court of Appeals then quoted from the guilty plea colloquy, which is set forth at length in the next section.

B. State Court Record

While the Idaho Court of Appeals singled out the guilty plea colloquy as grounds to reject Petitioner's claim, the state court record reflects that both the original criminal record and the post-conviction record were submitted to the Idaho Court of Appeals for review. (See State's Lodging C-1, pp. 235-37.) The following information and items found in the state court record are particularly relevant to Petitioner's claims: April 5, 2005 At the pretrial conference, Judge Ronald J. Wilper, the prosecutor, and Petitioner's attorney had private discussions at the bench, outside of Petitioner's presence.*fn4 (C-1, p. 20.) Judge Wilper stated on the record that, at the pretrial conference, the parties informed the court that an offer was being discussed, with counteroffers; as a result, the pretrial conference was continued to April 8. (A-3, p. 3.) Between April 5, and April 8, 2005, Petitioner's attorney spoke with Petitioner about a plea offer and suggested that Petitioner accept it. (Petitioner later alleged that he informed his attorney that he did not want to plead guilty. (C-1, p. 20.))

April 8, 2005 Mr. Christian and Petitioner spent one hour together before the hearing discussing whether Petitioner should plead guilty. The plea agreement offer was to reduce the charge from lewd conduct to sexual abuse, with the State to recommend a sentence of two years fixed with eight years indeterminate.

Petitioner completed the guilty plea form, which showed that two of his answers would not support a guilty plea: "Do you have any questions about whether or not you should plead guilty?" Answer: "Yes." "Do you feel like anyone, including your attorney, has pressured you into pleading guilty?" Answer: "Yes." (A-1, pp. 51-52.)

The change of plea hearing did not begin until one hour past its scheduled start time. Judge Wilper said to Petitioner: "You seem to be pretty upset. Do you feel okay, ready to go forward?" to which Petitioner answered, "Yeah." After having the terms of the plea agreement stated in open court by counsel, Judge Wilper informed Petitioner that the maximum potential punishment for the original lewd conduct charge was life in prison, and the maximum punishment for the sexual abuse charge to which Petitioner was pleading guilty is 15 years in prison. (A-3, pp. 5-6.) Petitioner stated that he understood and agreed with the plea agreement, that he understood the court was not bound by it, and that he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. (A-3, pp.9-10.) The court probed Petitioner's history of depression and anxiety. Petitioner stated that he had been taking his medications in jail. Petitioner answered "Yes" to the question, "Do you feel like you are able to understand these proceedings today?" (Id., pp. 11-12.)

The following colloquy took place at the plea hearing:

Court: Now, Mr. Hill, is this plea agreement acceptable to you?

Defendant: Yes.

Court: Do you understand that you are not required to accept this plea agreement?

Defendant: Yeah.

Court: Okay. Are you pleading guilty because you believe you are guilty?

Defendant: Yeah.

Court: Now, Mr. Hill, as you sit here today do you have any questions about whether or not you should plead guilty?

Defendant: No.

Court: You had answered the question affirmatively originally. You had said yes, you do have questions.

Defendant: Oh, I might have. I told my dad and my mom that I would talk to them first before I accepted anything, but I think they understand.

Court: Now, do you feel that anyone, including your attorney, has pressured you ...

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