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Watts v. Wengler

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 10, 2014

CAMERON D. WATTS, Petitioner,
TIM WENGLER, Respondent.


CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Petitioner Cameron D. Watts's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. 3). Respondent has filed an Answer and Brief in Support of Dismissal (Dkt. 14). Petitioner has filed a reply (Dkt. 16), and Respondent has filed a sur-reply (Dkt. 17). The Court takes judicial notice of the records from Petitioner's state court proceedings, lodged by Respondent on November 30, 2012.[1] See Fed.R.Evid. 201(b); Dawson v. Mahoney, 451 F.3d 550, 551 (9th Cir. 2006).

The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings in this case in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Having carefully reviewed the record, including the state court record, the Court finds that the parties have adequately presented the facts and legal arguments in the briefs and record and that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Therefore, the Court will decide this matter on the written motions, briefs and record without oral argument. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order denying the Petition and dismissing this case.


The facts underlying Petitioner's conviction are set forth clearly and accurately in Watts v. State, Docket No. 37748, 723 (Idaho Ct. App. Nov. 22, 2011) (unpublished), which is contained in the record at State's Lodging D-4. The facts will not be repeated here except as necessary to explain the Court's decision.

1. Petitioner's Guilty Plea

Pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner pleaded guilty in the Fifth Judicial District in Twin Falls County, Idaho, to first degree felony murder. The victim died during the course of a kidnaping in which Petitioner admittedly participated. (State's Lodging D-4 at 1.)

In exchange for Petitioner's guilty plea, the state agreed to stipulate that the fixed portion of the sentence would be 20 years imprisonment; the state also agreed not to pursue various lewd and lascivious conduct charges against Petitioner. (State's Lodging C-7, C-8.) Petitioner filled out a guilty plea advisory form stating that he had sufficient time to discuss the plea with his attorney, that he had reviewed the discovery in the case, and that he understood "no one, including [his] attorney, [could] force [him] to plead guilty." (State's Lodging C-6 at 6.) At the change of plea hearing, Petitioner and the trial judge engaged in a thorough plea colloquy, in which Petitioner stated that he fully understood all of the questions in the guilty plea advisory form, that his counsel had answered all of his questions, that no one had pressured him into pleading guilty, and that he enough time to consider the plea with his counsel and with friends and family. (State's Lodging C-1 at 7-15.)

Petitioner was sentenced to a unified term of life imprisonment with the first 20 years fixed. (State's Lodging D-4 at 2.) He appealed, but the Idaho Supreme Court dismissed the appeal based on the appeal waiver in Petitioner's plea agreement. (State's Lodging B-2.)

2. Postconviction Proceedings

Petitioner next filed a postconviction petition in the state trial court. He was appointed counsel (State's Lodging C-1 at 39), who voluntarily dismissed all of the claims in the petition except Petitioner's claims that (1) counsel coerced him into pleading guilty and (2) counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to file a motion to withdraw Petitioner's guilty plea prior to sentencing. (State's Lodging D-4 at 2.) The trial court dismissed these two remaining claims after holding an evidentiary hearing. (State's Lodging C-1 at 155-76.) The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Idaho Supreme Court declined review. (State's Lodging D-4, D-7.)


Petitioner asserts three claims in his federal habeas petition: (1) that his trial counsel coerced him into pleading guilty; (2) that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to move to withdraw Petitioner's guilty plea; and (3) that he is actually innocent. (Pet., Dkt. 3, at 4-6.)

1. Standard of Law

Federal habeas corpus relief may be granted on claims adjudicated on the merits in a state court judgment when the federal court determines that the petitioner "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal habeas court reviews the state court's "last reasoned decision" in determining whether a petitioner is entitled to relief. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 804 (1991).

Under § 2254(d), as amended by the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), federal habeas relief is generally limited to instances where the state court's adjudication of the petitioner's claim

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that 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).

When a party contests the state court's legal conclusions, including application of the law to the facts, § 2254(d)(1) governs. Section 2254(d)(1) has two clauses, each with independent meaning. That section consists of two alternative tests: the "contrary to" test and the "unreasonable application" test.

Under the first test, a state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law "if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] [has] done on a set of ...

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