United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner, a prisoner of the State of North Carolina, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Docket Entries 2 (petition), 3 (memorandum in support).) Petitioner pled guilty pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford , 400 U.S. 25 (1970), in the Superior Court of Rowan County to eight counts of discharging a firearm into occupied property, three counts of possession of a firearm by a felon, and one count each of possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine, possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana, maintaining a dwelling for the sale of controlled substances, driving while impaired ("DWI"), driving with license revoked, driving left of center, possession of cocaine, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, carrying a concealed weapon, injury to personal property, assault on a female, communicating threats, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. (Docket Entry 2, ¶¶ 1, 2, 4-6; see also Docket Entry 6-2 (transcript of plea).) Pursuant to the terms of a plea bargain, Petitioner pled guilty to attaining habitual felon status, and the trial court consolidated all charges except the DWI charge into a Class C felony and sentenced Petitioner to consecutive prison terms of 110 to 141 months (habitual felon) and 24 months (DWI). (Docket Entry 2, ¶ 3; see also Docket Entry 6-3 (judgments).) Petitioner did not appeal.
The Superior Court thereafter denied Petitioner's Motion for Appropriate Relief ("MAR") and the North Carolina Court of Appeals declined review. (Docket Entry 2, ¶¶ 10, 11; see also Docket Entry 6-6 (MAR filed by Petitioner); Docket Entry 6-7 (order denying MAR); Docket Entry 6-8 (certiorari petition filed by Petitioner); Docket Entry 6-10 (order denying certiorari).) He then instituted this action. (Docket Entry 2.) Respondent answered (Docket Entry 6), moved for summary judgment (Docket Entry 7), and filed a motion and memorandum in support for leave to expand the record to include an affidavit from Petitioner's trial counsel (Docket Entries 10, 11). Petitioner responded in opposition to Respondent's summary judgment motion (Docket Entry 13) and submitted a document entitled "Order Allowing Motion to Expand the Record to Include Defense Counsel's Affidavit" (Docket Entry 14). The Parties consented to the disposition of this case by a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry 15.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny any habeas relief.
I. PETITIONER'S CLAIMS
The Petition identifies six separate grounds for relief. (Docket Entry 2, ¶ 12 and continuation pages 27-35.) Petitioner alleges that (1) the "habitual felon indictment is defective" in violation of the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution because "the prosecutor's exercise of discretion... to apply the Habitual Felon Act exceeded... [his] authority" under "Article IV, Section 18" of the North Carolina Constitution (id. at 16, 29); (2) Petitioner's guilty plea "was involuntary" in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because the trial court did not sentence him in accordance with the plea agreement and his counsel did not appeal or inform Petitioner of his statutory right to appeal or to withdraw the plea (id. at 17, 31); (3) Petitioner suffered ineffective assistance of trial counsel at sentencing because Petitioner did not receive the sentence for which he plea-bargained (id. at 19, 32); (4) the trial court violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to retroactively apply the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011 to Petitioner's sentence (id. at 21, 33); (5) the trial court "committed constitutional error by imposing consecutive sentences and sentencing Petitioner out of the mitigat[ed] range" in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (id. at 27; see also id. at 34); and (6) the MAR court "failed to apply the standards of review [in] violation of Due Process of Law" and "wrongfully determined that Petitioner's MAR was without merit and denied an evidentiary hearing" (id. at 28, 35).
II. HABEAS STANDARDS
The Court "shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Further, "[b]efore [the] [C]ourt may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, the prisoner must exhaust his remedies in state court. In other words, the state prisoner must give the state courts an opportunity to act on his claims before he presents those claims to [this] [C]ourt in a habeas petition. The exhaustion doctrine... is now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)." O'Sullivan v. Boerckel , 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(3) ("A State shall not be deemed to have waived the exhaustion requirement... unless the State, through counsel, expressly waives the requirement.").
When a petitioner has exhausted state remedies, this Court must apply a highly deferential standard of review in connection with habeas claims "adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings, " 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). More specifically, the Court may not grant relief unless a state court decision on the merits "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or... was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." Id . To qualify as "contrary to" United States Supreme Court precedent, a state court decision either must arrive at "a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the United States Supreme] Court on a question of law" or "confront facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant [United States] Supreme Court precedent and arrive at a result opposite" to the United States Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 406 (2000). A state court decision "involves an unreasonable application" of United States Supreme Court case law "if the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the United States Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Id . at 407; see also id. at 409-11 (explaining that "unreasonable" does not mean merely "incorrect" or "erroneous"). Finally, this Court must presume state court findings of fact correct unless clear and convincing evidence rebuts them. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
A. Habitual Felon Indictment
In his first ground for relief, Petitioner asserts that the prosecutor exceeded his authority under Article IV, Section 18 of the North Carolina Constitution by charging Petitioner as an habitual felon, rendering the habitual felon "indictment" defective. (Docket Entry 2 at 29.) Petitioner contends that Article IV, Section 18 limits district attorneys to the prosecution of crimes, and that prosecutors lacked the authority to charge individuals with habitual felon status until the effective date of the applicable portion of the Justice Reinvestment Act on December 1, 2011. (Id. at 29-30.) Additionally, Petitioner maintains that "unequal and arbitrary application of the Habitual Felon Act (1967) in Rowan County, North Carolina, violates the right to equal protection of law and to be free from arbitrary punishment secured by the 8th and 14th Amendments of the [United States] Const[itution]." (Docket Entry 13 at 4.) According to Petitioner, "[t]he validity of an indictment can be challenged at any time through collateral attacks and cannot be waived by a plea of guilty, " although Petitioner cites no authority for that proposition. (Id. at 30 (emphasis in original).) Those arguments provide no basis for habeas relief.
To the extent that Petitioner's first ground for relief relies upon an alleged violation of Article IV, Section 18 of the North Carolina Constitution, such a claim is simply not cognizable on federal habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) ("[A] district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States."); see also Estelle v. McGuire , 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991) ("We have stated many times that federal habeas corpus does not lie for errors of state law.'" (quoting Lewis v. Jeffers , 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990))).
The portion of Petitioner's first claim grounded on purported violations of the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution similarly fails as conclusory and unsupported, Nickerson v. Lee , 971 F.2d 1125, 1136 (4th Cir. 1992) (recognizing that "[u]nsupported, conclusory allegations do not entitle a habeas petitioner to an evidentiary hearing"), abrogated on other grounds by, Gray v. Netherland , 518 U.S. 152, 165-66 (1996). Petitioner has provided no evidence, beyond his own unsupported allegations, of "unequal and arbitrary application of the Habitual Felon Act (1967) in Rowan County, North Carolina" (Docket Entry 13 at 4), and has thus fallen far short of his obligation to provide "clear evidence" of selective or vindictive prosecution. United States v. Armstrong , 517 U.S. ...