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Williams v. Denney

United States District Court, Western District of Missouri, Southern Division

March 19, 2015

PAUL WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
LARRY DENNEY, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING THE ISSUANCE OF A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

DOUGLAS HARPOOL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Petitioner, a convicted state prisoner currently confined at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, has filed pro se a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner pleaded guilty to burglary in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, two counts of armed criminal action, unlawful use of a weapon, kidnapping, felonious restrain, and unlawful possession of a firearm in the Circuit Court of Greene County, Missouri, in 2012. The trial court sentenced petitioner to concurrent terms of twenty-five years each for burglary, robbery, kidnapping, and the two counts of armed criminal action, seven years each for felonious restrain and unlawful possession of a firearm, and five years for unlawful use of a firearm. These sentences are consecutive to previously imposed sentences, and petitioner still is serving the previously imposed sentences.

Petitioner asserts two (2) grounds for relief: (1) ineffective assistance of guilty plea counsel for giving petitioner false hope about the likely sentence on an open plea; and (2) trial court error in failing to grant petitioner’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Respondent contends that both grounds are without merit.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On July 2, 2011, petitioner unlawfully entered the home of Samantha Maggard while Samantha Maggard and others, including R.W., were in the home. Resp. Ex. B, p. 20. At that time, petitioner was armed with a pistol. Id. Petitioner threatened to shoot everyone if R.W. did not leave with him. Id. Petitioner also demanded that everybody in the house give him their cell phones, and threatened to shoot anybody who called the police. Id. All of the people present gave petitioner their cell phones. Id. Petitioner then fired a shot into a TV before leaving with R.W. in his custody. Id.

Petitioner took R.W. to another location where he held her against her will for a period of time. Resp. Ex. B, p. 20. R.W. eventually convinced petitioner to let her go. Id.

The State charged petitioner with burglary in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, two counts of armed criminal action, unlawful use of a weapon, kidnapping, felonious restrain, and unlawful possession of a firearm. Resp. Ex. B, pp. 11-15. Petitioner entered an open plea of guilty to all eight counts. Resp. Ex. B, pp. 17-21.

Before his sentencing hearing, petitioner sent a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea to the Circuit Clerk. Resp. Ex. B, p. 5. When asked at his sentencing hearing whether there was any legal reason why sentence should not be pronounced, petitioner responded no and did not ask for a ruling on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Resp. Ex. B, p. 26. Petitioner did not directly appeal from his conviction or the implicit denial of his motion. Resp. Ex. B, p. 6.

GROUND 1

In his first ground for relief, petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in that his guilty plea counsel gave him false hope about the likely sentence that he would receive on an open plea. Plaintiff specifically asserts that his attorney told him that, by pleading guilty, he would receive Mental Health Court and probation.

In order for petitioner to successfully assert a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, petitioner must demonstrate that his attorney's performance “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness” and that “the deficient performance” actually prejudiced him. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88 (1984). This Court, moreover, may not grant habeas relief unless the state appellate court’s decision “was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, the standard articulated by the [United States] Supreme Court in Strickland." Owens v. Dormire, 198 F.3d 679, 681 (8th Cir. 1999), cert denied, 530 U.S. 1265 (2000).

“A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must apply a 'strong presumption' that counsel's representation was within the 'wide range' of reasonable professional assistance." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 787 (2011) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). Petitioner must show Athat counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687.

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District found that the motion court’s judgment was supported by the record, explaining

In his sole point on appeal, [petitioner] claims the trial court clearly erred in denying his claim that his plea was involuntary because plea counsel "gave him the false hope that he would be eligible for mental health court[.]" This claim is without merit ...

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