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 1, 16.) On February 2, 2010, Petitioner pled guilty in the Superior Court of Guilford County to conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, trafficking in cocaine by transportation, trafficking in cocaine by possession, maintaining a vehicle to keep controlled substances, and possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine in cases 09 CRS 84775 through 84779. (Docket Entry 23-2; see also Docket Entry 1, ¶¶ 1-2, 4-6; Docket Entry 16, ¶¶ 1-2, 4-6.) On June 1, 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to robbery with a dangerous weapon and first degree burglary in cases 10 CRS 75227 and 75228. (Docket Entry 23-3; see also Docket Entry 1, ¶¶ 1-2, 4-6; Docket Entry 16, ¶¶ 1-2, 4-6.) The trial court then consolidated the drug-related convictions and sentenced Petitioner to 35 to 42 months of imprisonment. (Docket Entry 1-1 at 9-10; see also Docket Entry 1, ¶ 3; Docket Entry 16, ¶ 3.) The trial court also consolidated the robbery and burglary convictions and sentenced Petitioner to a second, consecutive term of 73 to 97 months of imprisonment. (Docket Entry 1-1 at 19-20; see also Docket Entry 16, ¶ 3.) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal. (See Docket Entry 1, ¶¶ 8, 9.)
Petitioner did file a pro se motion for appropriate relief ("MAR") with the state trial court (Docket Entry 8-3), which the trial court denied on the merits (Docket Entry 8-4). The record does not reflect that Petitioner sought review of the trial court's order denying that MAR; however, Petitioner did file a second pro se MAR with the state trial court. (Docket Entry 8-5.) The trial court summarily denied that second MAR as procedurally barred. (Docket Entry 8-6.) Thereafter, the North Carolina Court of Appeals denied Petitioner's certiorari petition and the North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed his petition for discretionary review ("PDR"). (Docket Entry 1-1 at 1-26 (PDR), 28 (order denying certiorari), 29 (order dismissing PDR); Docket Entry 8-7 (certiorari petition.)
Petitioner subsequently submitted his instant Petition to this Court. (Docket Entry 1.) Petitioner later moved for leave to amend his Petition (Docket Entry 5) and the Court granted that request by deeming the new allegations in the motion as amendments to the Petition which Respondent had to answer (Docket Entry 6). Thereafter, Petitioner filed an Amended Petition purporting to add another ground for relief. (Docket Entry 16.) The undersigned Magistrate Judge then denied Respondent's motion to dismiss the Petition on statute of limitation grounds (Docket Entry 7), and ordered Respondent to answer the Petition, as amended by Docket Entry 5, and to respond to Docket Entry 16, which the undersigned construed as a motion to amend the Petition (as previously amended by Docket Entry 5). (Docket Entry 19.) Respondent moved for summary judgment and addressed all of Petitioner's claims, including those within Docket Entry 16. (Docket Entries 22, 23.) Petitioner has responded in opposition. (Docket Entry 25.) The parties have consented to disposition of this case by a United States Magistrate Judge. (See Docket Entry 12.)
I. Petitioner's Claims
Petitioner has raised four claims for relief in his Petition: (1) he received ineffective assistance of counsel in that his trial counsel misrepresented the plea bargain as involving concurrent rather than consecutive sentences (see Docket Entry 1 at 5); (2) his trial counsel coerced him into pleading guilty (see id. at 6); (3) "[b]oth sentences was [sic] to be ran [sic] concurrent, and consolidated into one sentence" (id. at 8); and (4) "during [his] plea hearing [he] was on mind impairment medications" (id. at 10). In the filing that the Court deemed a proper amendment (Docket Entry 5; see also Docket Entry 6), Petitioner added allegations that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance "by failing to bring to the [trial] court's attention that the police illegal [sic] search [sic] his house... and illegally held him' without bond, and never read him his constitutional rights... for three days until a detective came and seen [sic] him" (Docket Entry 5 at 2). Petitioner's subsequent Amended Petition purports to add a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on his trial counsel's failure to give notice of appeal in open court, inform Petitioner about his appellate rights and object to the State's use of a prayer for judgment continued ("PJC") to increase Petitioner's prior record level and enhance his sentence. (See Docket Entry 16 at 3-5.)
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").
Claims 1, 2, and 3
In his first two claims for relief, Petitioner asserts that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance and coerced him into pleading guilty by misrepresenting the plea bargain as involving concurrent rather than consecutive sentences. (See Docket Entry 1 at 5, 6.) Similarly, in his third claim, Petitioner alleges that "[b]oth sentences was [sic] to be ran [sic] concurrent, and consolidated into one sentence." (Id. at 8.) Those claims provide no basis for relief.
Petitioner raised the substance of those claims for the first time in his second MAR (see Docket Entry 8-5 at 3-7) and the state court denied the claims on procedural default grounds (see Docket Entry 8-6). Under North Carolina law, an MAR court may deny relief if, "[u]pon a previous [MAR], the defendant was in a position to adequately raise the ground or issue underlying the present motion but did not do so." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1419(a)(1). Because the claims at issue allege errors occurring at the time of Petitioner's guilty pleas in February and June 2010, he could have raised those claims in his first MAR filed on December 17, 2010, but failed to do so. (See Docket Entry 8-4.) Accordingly, the trial court correctly applied Section 15A-1419(a)(1)'s procedural bar to those claims. (See Docket Entry 8-6.) The Fourth Circuit has consistently found Section 15A-1419 to constitute an adequate and independent state ground precluding federal habeas review. See, e.g., Thomas v. Polk, 176 F.App'x 377, 381 (4th Cir. 2006); Bacon v. Lee, 225 F.3d 470, 476 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing cases).
In light of the procedural bar, Petitioner must demonstrate either that cause for and prejudice from his procedural default exists or that the refusal to address this claim will result in a miscarriage of justice. Longworth v. Ozmint, 377 F.3d 437, 447-48 (4th Cir. 2004). ...