United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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 Entry 1.) On June 14, 2012, in the Superior Court of Guilford County, Petitioner pled guilty, pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), to felonious habitual misdemeanor assault, and pled guilty to attaining habitual felon status, in cases 11 CRS 23219 and 10 CRS 23583. (See Docket Entry 1, ¶¶ 1, 2, 4-6; see also Docket Entries 7-2 (transcript of plea form), 7-3 (plea hearing transcript).) The trial court sentenced Petitioner in accordance with his plea arrangement to 87 to 114 months' imprisonment. (See Docket Entry 1, ¶ 3; see also Docket Entry 7-2 at 4, Docket Entry 7-3 at 49-50; Docket Entry 7-4 (judgment and commitment forms).) Petitioner did not pursue a direct appeal.
Petitioner thereafter filed a motion for appropriate relief ("MAR") with the state trial court (Docket Entry 7-7; see Docket Entry 1, ¶¶ 10, 11(a)(1)), which that court denied (Docket Entry 7-8). Petitioner sought review of his MAR's denial by filing a certiorari petition in the North Carolina Court of Appeals (Docket Entry 7-9; see Docket Entry 1, ¶ 11(a)(1)), which that court denied (Docket Entry 7-11).
Petitioner subsequently submitted his instant Petition to this Court. (Docket Entry 1.) Respondent moved for summary judgment on the merits (Docket Entry 6) and Petitioner responded in opposition (Docket Entries 9, 10).
Grounds for Relief
Petitioner raises four grounds for relief in his Petition: (1) the state violated Petitioner's Fifth Amendment rights against double jeopardy by charging him with substantially the same crime as the assault on a female charge that the state dismissed on July 15, 2011 (Docket Entry 1 at 5; see also Docket Entry 10 at 2-8); (2) the state trial court denied Petitioner equal protection of the laws and fairness under the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to answer Petitioner's three requests to explain how the state could charge him with substantially the same crime as the assault on a female charge that the state dismissed on July 15, 2011 (Docket Entry 1 at 6; see also Docket Entry 10 at 9); (3) the state trial court's threats to send the case to trial pressured and coerced Petitioner into taking a plea and rendered his plea involuntary (Docket Entry 1 at 8; see also Docket Entry 10 at 10); and (4) Petitioner's trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by answering "Yes" to the trial court's question as to whether Petitioner wanted to plead guilty and by failing to answer Petitioner's question about the state's dismissal of the assault on a female charge (Docket Entry 1 at 10; see also Docket Entry 10 at 11).
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 [or]... confront facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant [United States] Supreme Court precedent and arrive at a result opposite to that reached by [the United States Supreme Court]." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (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").
I. Ground One
In Petitioner's first ground for relief, he contends that the state violated his rights against double jeopardy by charging him with (and, upon his Alford plea, convicting him of) felonious habitual misdemeanor assault, which constitutes substantially the same crime based on the same facts as the misdemeanor assault on a female charge that the state dismissed with prejudice on July 15, 2011. (See Docket Entry 1 at 5, 15; see also Docket Entry 10 at 2-8.) Petitioner attached a document to his Petition summarizing the details and disposition of his misdemeanor assault on a female charge (Docket Entry 1 at 15), and argues that, under the constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy, the prosecutor's dismissal "with prejudice" of that charge bars the state from prosecuting Petitioner for other substantially similar crimes based on the same facts, citing Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508 (1990), and Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 161, 165 (1977). (Docket Entry 1 at 5, 15; see Docket Entry 10 at 2.) Petitioner's argument lacks merit.
As an initial matter, the parties disagree whether Petitioner exhausted his state remedies with respect to this ground for relief by sufficiently presenting the substance of the claim to the MAR court. (See Docket Entry 7 at 4-6, Docket Entry 10 at 4-8.) Respondent contends that "a review of Petitioner's MAR shows that although he mentioned the dismissal of his misdemeanor assault on a female charge, and argued his subsequent charge contained the same elements, he did not squarely raise a double jeopardy claim, " citing Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364 (1995), and Mallory v. Smith, 27 F.3d 991, 994-95 (4th Cir. 1994). (Docket Entry 7 at 4.) In response, Petitioner maintains the sufficiency of the following language in his MAR to adequately place his double jeopardy claim before the MAR court: "I tried very hard to understand the plea but was just not sure if the plea was lawful because the charge that I plead to had been dismissed in some of the charges that have the same element [sic] from beginning to end." (Docket Entry 10 at 4; see also Docket Entry 10-2 at 3.) Petitioner urges the Court to liberally construe his pro se MAR to find sufficient exhaustion. (See id. at 5-7.)
"For a claim to be exhausted, both the operative facts and the controlling legal principles must be presented to the state court.'" Winston v. Kelly, 592 F.3d 535, 549 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Matthews v. Evatt, 105 F.3d 907, 911 (4th Cir. 1997)); see also Jones v. Sussex I State Prison, 591 F.3d 707, 712-13 (4th Cir. 2010) (observing that, to exhaust a claim, a "prisoner must fairly present his claim in each appropriate state court, " which requires "more than scatter[ing] some makeshift needles in the haystack of the state court record, " but instead obligates the prisoner to make the "substance of the claim evident, such that both the operative facts and the controlling legal principles are presented to the state court" (internal brackets, citations, and quotation marks omitted and emphasis added)).
Here, Petitioner arguably included the operative facts regarding his double jeopardy claim to the MAR court (i.e., dismissal of a prior charge with the same elements as the current charge), albeit in one brief sentence. (See Docket Entry 10-2 at 3.) However, Petitioner did so in the context of urging the unlawful nature of his plea. (See id.) Indeed, his entire MAR focused on the issue of whether he knowingly and voluntarily entered his Alford plea to felonious habitual misdemeanor assault, rather than on issues of double jeopardy. (Docket Entry 10-2.) Moreover, Petitioner did not cite any state or federal cases that would have the apprised the MAR court that he intended to raise a federal double jeopardy claim. See Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 33 (2004) ("The petition provides no citation of any case that might have alerted the court to the alleged federal nature of the claim."). Accordingly, Petitioner did not, even under a liberal ...