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Steele v. Ellis

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 22, 2014

JASON ELLIS, Warden, Respondent.


RONALD E. BUSH, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Petitioner Earl Wayne Steele's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. 1). Respondent has filed an Answer and Brief in Support of Dismissal (Dkt. 12), and Petitioner has filed a Traverse, or reply (Dkt. 15). The Court takes judicial notice of the records from Petitioner's state court proceedings, lodged by Respondent on September 16, 2013. ( See Dkt. 11.)

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). (Dkt. 9.) 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 oral argument is unnecessary. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order denying the Petition and dismissing this case with prejudice.


The facts underlying Petitioner's conviction are set forth clearly and accurately in Steele v. Idaho, 291 P.3d 466, 468 (Idaho Ct. App. 2012), 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.

Petitioner was charged with three counts of lewd conduct with a minor under 16 years of age against his daughter, as well as one count of sexual abuse of a minor under 16 years of age against his daughter's friend, in the Fourth Judicial District in Ada County, Idaho. The time period of these charges spanned from 2004 to 2007. (State's Lodging A-1 at 17-18.) Pursuant to a plea agreement, the prosecution downgraded the lewd conduct charge with respect to Petitioner's daughter to a charge of sexual abuse of a minor under 16.[1] The prosecution also agreed to drop all remaining charges and to refrain from filing additional charges involving other alleged child victims (Petitioner's two minor sons).

Petitioner entered an Alford plea[2] to one count of sexual abuse of a minor against his daughter, limited to the 2004 to 2005 time frame-the amended indictment deleted any reference to conduct committed in 2007. The timing of the charged conduct was critical because the sexual abuse statute, Idaho Code § 18-1506, was amended in 2006 to increase the maximum penalty from 15 to 25 years in prison. (State's Lodging B-4 at 2.) Thus, Petitioner's plea to conduct committed during 2004 or 2005 eliminated the possibility of his serving more than 15 years in prison. As part of the plea agreement, Petitioner agreed to participate in a psychosexual evaluation for sentencing purposes.

During the change of plea hearing, the prosecutor made the following proffer as a factual basis for Petitioner's plea:

Judge, had we gone to trial the state would have presented the following evidence to prove sexual abuse of a minor [under] the age of 16 beyond a reasonable doubt.
We would have first presented the testimony of [Petitioner's daughter], who would have identified the defendant as being her dad, bio dad. And she would have testified that on or about September 2007, she ran away from home and was gone approximately four days. Once police found her and talked with her, she disclosed ongoing sexual abuse and lewd and lascivious conduct acts that had been going on for the past three years.
That time line of when those acts, which she would have described at the trial, was concurrent with when her mother stopped being able to be sexually intimate with Dad due to a car accident, so mom got in a car accident and [was] severely disabled about the time defendant started having sexual contact in 2004/2005, and mom was in a wheelchair.
Mom would have testified at the trial that she was in this car accident, unable to perform sexually, and she does remember a time when she rolled into the bedroom and caught the defendant, who had been drinking heavily, naked in bed with their daughter and that he jumped up.
She would have also testified that she's pled guilty for failure to report that to authorities. She's already been processed on that charge[] and sentenced.
In addition, [Petitioner's daughter] would have testified that the touching that occurred for those three and a half years was progressing in severity from touching, having the defendant have her touch him when he had been drinking on his penis, until he "spermed." That was her words [sic].
That he would put his hands down her pants. There was a curtain over the bathroom door because Mom's wheelchair needed to go in and out, and that a lot of times she would be bathing or grooming and she would catch him looking at her.
In addition, you'll note that one of the charges I'm dismissing is Count 4, and that is [the daughter's] little friend, [M.] who the defendant actually solicited while [M.] was over.
[M.] would have testified at trial, as she did in the grand jury, and I think that this would have been coming in 404(b) towards [the daughter's] case that when she spent the night over there, the defendant had [his daughter] contact [M.] and say "Do you want to do these things with me, " and solicited her, touched her as well, just on the thigh, but offered to give them driving lessons and alcohol if they would go ahead and do this.
[Petitioner's daughter] would have testified that in addition, she ran away from home because when Mom and brothers were inside Wal-Mart shopping, she was in the car with her dad, and her dad solicited her and said, "I want to go all the way, " and that's basically what prompted her to take off and run away from home....
[Petitioner's two sons] were seen at CARES, as well, and described a lot of physical abuse when the defendant was under the influence of alcohol, much of what he does not remember, according to his attorney, and that's why we are offering this Alford [plea] to the court.
Lastly, we would have proven flight evidence that once this came to the attention of law-enforcement, the defendant took off. And so from my perspective, we would have had no problem proving this sexual-abuse count alleged in Count 1, and I believe there is a factual basis.

(State's Lodging A-2 at 12-15.) Petitioner agreed that the judge should "accept the state's recitation of the facts as they would have been presented at trial." ( Id. at 15.)

After entry of the Alford plea, Petitioner participated in a psychosexual evaluation as required by the plea agreement. During that evaluation, Petitioner evidently maintained that he did not remember having committed the crime, blaming his behavior on alcoholic blackouts; Petitioner might even have affirmatively asserted his innocence.[3] Based at least in part on Petitioner's failure to accept responsibility for the harm he caused his daughter, the evaluator determined ...

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