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Adams v. State

Court of Appeals of Idaho

November 4, 2016

CLAYTON ROBERT ADAMS, Petitioner-Appellant,
STATE OF IDAHO, Respondent.

         2016 Opinion No. 69

         Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. Renae J. Hoff, District Judge.

         Judgment summarily dismissing petition for post-conviction relief, affirmed; order denying motion for reconsideration, affirmed.

          Nevin, Benjamin, McKay & Bartlett, LLP; Dennis A. Benjamin, Boise, for appellant. Dennis A. Benjamin argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; John C. McKinney, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. John C. McKinney argued.

          MELANSON, Chief Judge

         Clayton Robert Adams appeals from the district court's judgment summarily dismissing Adams's petition for post-conviction relief and the district court's order denying Adams's motion for reconsideration. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


         Adams was driving a motor vehicle with four male passengers when Adams and the three backseat passengers became involved in an argument. An altercation ensued after Adams abruptly stopped the vehicle and the three backseat passengers exited the vehicle. It was alleged that, during the altercation, Adams stabbed two of the men, the second of whom later died from his injuries. Adams was charged with first degree premeditated murder or, in the alternative, first degree felony murder; three counts of attempted robbery; and one count of aggravated battery. At trial, Adams testified that the surviving victim and the deceased victim were the aggressors and had attacked Adams. Adams asserted that he used a knife in self-defense.

         A jury acquitted Adams of first degree murder and attempted robbery. However, the jury found Adams guilty of the lesser offense of second degree murder, I.C. §§ 18-4001 and 18-4003(g), and guilty of aggravated battery, I.C. § 18-907. The district court imposed a unified life sentence, with a minimum term of confinement of twenty-five years, for second degree murder and a consecutive ten-year sentence, with a minimum term of confinement of three years, for aggravated battery. Adams filed an I.C.R. 35 motion for reduction of his sentences, which the district court denied. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed Adams's judgment of conviction and sentences. State v. Adams, 147 Idaho 857, 216 P.3d 146 (Ct. App. 2009). Adams subsequently filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief and filed an amended petition raising numerous causes of action. Adams filed a motion for investigative services to locate two witnesses, which the district court denied. The district court issued an order summarily dismissing Adams's petition for post-conviction relief.[1] Adams filed a motion for reconsideration, which the district court denied. Adams appeals.


         A petition for post-conviction relief initiates a proceeding that is civil in nature. I.C. § 19-4907; Rhoades v. State, 148 Idaho 247, 249, 220 P.3d 1066, 1068 (2009); State v. Bearshield, 104 Idaho 676, 678, 662 P.2d 548, 550 (1983); Murray v. State, 121 Idaho 918, 921, 828 P.2d 1323, 1326 (Ct. App. 1992). Like a plaintiff in a civil action, the petitioner must prove by a preponderance of evidence the allegations upon which the request for post-conviction relief is based. Goodwin v. State, 138 Idaho 269, 271, 61 P.3d 626, 628 (Ct. App. 2002). A petition for post-conviction relief differs from a complaint in an ordinary civil action. Dunlap v. State, 141 Idaho 50, 56, 106 P.3d 376, 382 (2004). A petition must contain much more than a short and plain statement of the claim that would suffice for a complaint under I.R.C.P. 8(a)(1). Rather, a petition for post-conviction relief must be verified with respect to facts within the personal knowledge of the petitioner, and affidavits, records, or other evidence supporting its allegations must be attached or the petition must state why such supporting evidence is not included with the petition. I.C. § 19-4903. In other words, the petition must present or be accompanied by admissible evidence supporting its allegations or the petition will be subject to dismissal. Wolf v. State, 152 Idaho 64, 67, 266 P.3d 1169, 1172 (Ct. App. 2011).

         Idaho Code Section 19-4906 authorizes summary dismissal of a petition for post-conviction relief, either pursuant to a motion by a party or upon the court's own initiative, if it appears from the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions and agreements of fact, together with any affidavits submitted, that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. When considering summary dismissal, the district court must construe disputed facts in the petitioner's favor, but the court is not required to accept either the petitioner's mere conclusory allegations, unsupported by admissible evidence, or the petitioner's conclusions of law. Roman v. State, 125 Idaho 644, 647, 873 P.2d 898, 901 (Ct. App. 1994); Baruth v. Gardner, 110 Idaho 156, 159, 715 P.2d 369, 372 (Ct. App. 1986). Moreover, the district court, as the trier of fact, is not constrained to draw inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion for summary disposition; rather, the district court is free to arrive at the most probable inferences to be drawn from uncontroverted evidence. Hayes v. State, 146 Idaho 353, 355, 195 P.3d 712, 714 (Ct. App. 2008). Such inferences will not be disturbed on appeal if the uncontroverted evidence is sufficient to justify them. Id.

         Claims may be summarily dismissed if the petitioner's allegations are clearly disproven by the record of the criminal proceedings, if the petitioner has not presented evidence making a prima facie case as to each essential element of the claims, or if the petitioner's allegations do not justify relief as a matter of law. Kelly v. State, 149 Idaho 517, 521, 236 P.3d 1277, 1281 (2010); DeRushé v. State, 146 Idaho 599, 603, 200 P.3d 1148, 1152 (2009). Thus, summary dismissal of a claim for post-conviction relief is appropriate when the court can conclude, as a matter of law, that the petitioner is not entitled to relief even with all disputed facts construed in the petitioner's favor. For this reason, summary dismissal of a post-conviction petition may be appropriate even when the state does not controvert the petitioner's evidence. See Roman, 125 Idaho at 647, 873 P.2d at 901.

         Conversely, if the petition, affidavits, and other evidence supporting the petition allege facts that, if true, would entitle the petitioner to relief, the post-conviction claim may not be summarily dismissed. Charboneau v. State, 140 Idaho 789, 792, 102 P.3d 1108, 1111 (2004); Sheahan v. State, 146 Idaho 101, 104, 190 P.3d 920, 923 (Ct. App. 2008). If a genuine issue of material fact is presented, an evidentiary hearing must be conducted to resolve the factual issues. Goodwin, 138 Idaho at 272, 61 P.3d at 629.

         On appeal from an order of summary dismissal, we apply the same standards utilized by the trial courts and examine whether the petitioner's admissible evidence asserts facts which, if true, would entitle the petitioner to relief. Ridgley v. State, 148 Idaho 671, 675, 227 P.3d 925, 929 (2010); Sheahan, 146 Idaho at 104, 190 P.3d at 923. Over questions of law, we exercise free review. Rhoades, 148 Idaho at 250, 220 P.3d at 1069; Downing v. State, 136 Idaho 367, 370, 33 P.3d 841, 844 (Ct. App. 2001).

         III. ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Adams argues the district court erred in summarily dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief. Specifically, Adams claims the district court abused its discretion in denying Adams's motion for investigative services to locate two witnesses. Adams also alleges trial counsel was ineffective and that the cumulative effect of trial counsel's deficient performances denied Adams of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Finally, Adams argues the district court erred in denying Adams's motion for reconsideration of the order summarily dismissing his petition.

         A. Investigative Services

         Adams argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying Adams's motion for investigative services. In his petition for post-conviction relief, Adams raised a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to investigate and call two witnesses in Adams's defense at trial. Adams contends that these witnesses would have undermined the State's theory of events and supported Adams's testimony that he acted in self-defense.

          By way of deposition, trial counsel testified that he had no recollection of either witness. Adams also asserted that he did not have access to trial counsel's working file[2] to clarify whether the witnesses had been contacted and questioned. Consequently, Adams filed a motion for investigative services, arguing that an investigator was necessary in order to find the witnesses and question them about the events on the night of the altercation and whether they had been contacted by trial counsel. Adams asserted that such information would substantiate his claim and aid in responding to the State's motion for summary dismissal.

         The district court held a hearing on Adams's motion and found:

The issue of these two witnesses was raised in the amended petition filed back in June of 2012. And counsel for [Adams] states today she's been unable to locate these people. But it has been two years. And here we are on the eve of the State noticing up their motion. And I get this responding matter that an [investigator is] needed to locate the witnesses. Other than what counsel says today, it was not detailed as to what had been undertaken to locate the witnesses.
I don't find good cause for delay at this point in time. We've been trying to put this case--or get this matter heard for years now. And I don't see a real justification to delay this matter. I want to move forward on the matter of summary judgment.

         The district court denied Adams's motion. On appeal, Adams argues that the district court was not acting consistently with the applicable legal standards when it failed to consider the prejudicial effects the denial of Adams's motion would have on his substantive rights.

Idaho Code Section 19-4904 provides:

If the applicant is unable to pay court costs and expenses of representation, including stenographic, printing, witness fees and expenses, and legal services, these costs and expenses, and a court-appointed attorney may be made available to the applicant in the preparation of the application, in the trial court, and on appeal, and paid, on order of the district court, by the county in which the application is filed.

         A request under I.C. § 19-4904 for funds to retain an expert may be viewed as analogous to a request for discovery in a post-conviction action. Murphy v. State, 143 Idaho 139, 148, 139 P.3d 741, 750 (Ct. App. 2006). When a petitioner believes discovery is necessary for acquisition of evidence to support a claim for post-conviction relief, the petitioner must obtain authorization from the district court to conduct discovery. I.C.R. 57(b); Raudebaugh v. State, 135 Idaho 602, 605, 21 P.3d 924, 927 (2001). Discovery in a post-conviction action is not required unless necessary to protect a petitioner's substantial rights. Murphy, 143 Idaho at 148, 139 P.3d at 750; Griffith v. State, 121 Idaho 371, 375, 825 P.2d 94, 98 (Ct. App. 1992). Discovery may be denied where the petitioner's claims are nothing more than speculation, unsupported by any evidence. Raudebaugh, 135 Idaho at 605, 21 P.3d at 927. Indeed, discovery may not be used to engage in "fishing expeditions, " as post-conviction actions provide a forum for known grievances, not an opportunity to search for them. Murphy, 143 Idaho at 148, 139 P.3d at 750.

         Whether to authorize discovery is a matter directed to the discretion of the court. Raudebaugh, 135 Idaho at 605, 21 P.3d at 927. When a trial court's discretionary decision is reviewed on appeal, the appellate court conducts a multi-tiered inquiry to determine whether the lower court correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; acted within the boundaries of such discretion and consistently with any legal standards applicable to the specific choices before it; and reached its decision by an exercise of reason. Sun Valley Shopping Ctr., Inc. v. Idaho Power Co., 119 Idaho 87, 94, 803 P.2d 993, 1000 (1991). The issue on appeal is whether the district court acted consistently with the applicable legal standards when it denied Adams's motion as being unsupported and untimely.

         Although the district court did not specifically discuss on the record the impact of its ruling on Adams's substantial rights, we note that the district court expressly found no "good cause" or "justification" to delay the proceedings further. However, even presuming that the district court's reference to "good cause" or "justification" did not implicitly contemplate Adams's substantial rights, the district court had the discretion to consider the foundation and timeliness of Adams's motion. Post-conviction motions for discovery and, by analogy, motions for funds to hire experts are subject to the supervision and firm control of the trial courts to prevent abuses. Murphy, 143 Idaho at 148, 139 P.3d at 750 (requests under I.C. § 19-4904 for funds are viewed as analogous to a request for discovery in a post-conviction action); see I.C.R. 57(b) (providing that the provisions for discovery shall not apply to the proceedings unless and only to the extent ordered by the trial court); Morris v. Slappy, 461 U.S. 1, 11 (1983) (holding that trial courts require a great deal of latitude in scheduling trials and this burden counsels against continuances except for compelling reasons); United States v. Harp, 282 F.App'x 774, 776 (11th Cir. 2008) (trial courts are not required to grant an eleventh-hour request for expert services, particularly where the delay in making the request is unjustified and would require continuance of trial); Christian v. Rhode, 41 F.3d 461, 470 (9th Cir. 1994) (upholding denial of untimely motion for discovery because party failed to explain the delay); State v. Tapia, 127 Idaho 249, 255, 899 P.2d 959, 965 (1995) (upholding denial of motion to continue based on late discovery of evidence because party was unable to show that tardiness of disclosure resulted in prejudice--specifically what methods might have been used or what additional evidence could have been established with the extra time); State v. Cagle, 126 Idaho 794, 797, 891 P.2d 1054, 1057 (Ct. App. 1995) (holding that, when trial courts consider motions which may cause delay in the proceedings, the timing of the motion, length of the delay, and whether the delay is an attempt to manipulate proceedings are relevant factors in the trial court's consideration).

         Prior to the status hearing on Adams's motion for investigative services, Adams had long been on notice that the two witnesses' alleged testimonies would be at issue and that contact with the witnesses would be necessary to support his claim. Specifically, Adams's claim concerning trial counsel's failure to call the two witnesses was initially alleged in Adams's 2010 pro se petition. In an August 2011 deposition, Adams questioned trial counsel concerning the two witnesses and trial counsel stated that he did not recall either witness. In 2012, Adams again asserted his claim that trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to call the two witnesses. Adams did not move to obtain funds to hire an investigator for the purpose of locating the two witnesses until June 2014--just prior to the summary dismissal stage of the proceedings.

         At the hearing on his motion, Adams declared in a conclusory fashion that he had limited resources and was unable to find the witnesses. Adams provided no justification for his delayed motion so late in the proceedings. In addition, Adams did not provide any foundation or explanation as to why his limited resources kept him from locating the two witnesses, especially given that, as Adams notes on appeal, both witnesses appeared to live in the local area. Additionally, Adams made no showing of what efforts had been made to locate the two witnesses in the years leading up to his motion. Based on the information presented at the time of the hearing, the district court exercised its discretion to control the proceedings, found that Adams's motion would cause an unjustified delay, and considered it untimely.

         Adams argues that the district court's timeliness concerns were unfounded because the hearing on the State's motion for summary dismissal could not be held for thirteen days after the district court denied Adams's motion for investigative services. Adams speculates that the investigator likely could have found the two witnesses within that time, especially as it appeared that the both witnesses lived locally. The district court ruled on Adams's motion finding that Adams had failed to present the district court any details about the witnesses, their locations, or Adams's efforts to locate them. Based on the limited information provided by Adams, the district court was within its discretion to find that Adams's motion would have caused undue delay to the proceedings.

         Adams has failed to show that the district court engaged in reversible error or otherwise failed to act consistently with applicable legal standards. Accordingly, the district court did not err in denying Adams's motion for investigative funds.

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Adams claims that his trial counsel was ineffective on multiple grounds and that the district court's summary dismissal of Adam's post-conviction claims was erroneous. A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel may properly be brought under the Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure Act. Barcella v. State, 148 Idaho 469, 477, 224 P.3d 536, 544 (Ct. App. 2009). To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the petitioner must show that the attorney's performance was deficient and that the petitioner was prejudiced by the deficiency. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984); Self v. State, 145 Idaho 578, 580, 181 P.3d 504, 506 (Ct. App. 2007). To establish a deficiency, the petitioner has the burden of showing that the attorney's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Aragon v. State, 114 Idaho 758, 760, 760 P.2d 1174, 1176 (1988); Knutsen v. State, 144 Idaho 433, 442, 163 P.3d 222, 231 (Ct. App. 2007). To establish prejudice, the petitioner must show a reasonable probability that, but for the attorney's deficient performance, the outcome of the trial would have been different. Aragon, 114 Idaho at 761, 760 P.2d at 1177; Knutsen, 144 Idaho at 442, 163 P.3d at 231. This Court has long adhered to the proposition that tactical or strategic decisions of trial counsel will not be second-guessed on appeal unless those decisions are based on inadequate preparation, ignorance of relevant law, or other shortcomings capable of objective evaluation. Gonzales v. State, 151 Idaho 168, 172, 254 P.3d 69, 73 (Ct. App. 2011).

         1. Paramedic testimony

         Adams argues that the district court erred in summarily dismissing his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a paramedic's testimony that the surviving victim suffered a stab wound. At trial, the State called a paramedic, who had been dispatched to the scene of the altercation, to testify about the wounds sustained by both the deceased and surviving victims. Concerning the surviving victim, the State introduced a ...

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