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Dennings v. State

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

September 18, 2017

BRYANT DENNINGS, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA, [1]Respondent.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge

         The matter is before the court on respondent's motion for summary judgment (DE 19) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The issues raised have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, this court grants respondent's motion.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         On May 18, 2016, petitioner, an inmate in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in state custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner asserts that his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution have been violated. See Pet. (DE 1).

         On November 15, 2016, this court reviewed the petition pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. This court determined that it did not clearly appear from the face of the petition that petitioner was entitled to no relief. This court allowed the matter to proceed and directed the Clerk of Court to maintain management of the matter.

         On January 6, 2017, respondent filed its answer and a motion for summary judgment. In support of its motion, respondent relies upon the following: statement of material facts (DE 20); State indictments (DE 21-1, 21-2); correspondence between petitioner and counsel (DE 21-3); transcript of plea (DE 21-4); felony judgment findings of aggravating and mitigating factors (DE 21-5); worksheet for prior record level for felony sentencing (DE 21-6); judgment and commitment (DE-21-7); MAR (DE 21-8); MAR order (DE 21-9); petition for writ of certiorari (DE 21-10); and order dismissing petition for writ of certiorari (DE 21-11).

         On February 2, 2017, petitioner filed a memorandum in opposition (DE 24), an opposing statements of material facts (DE25), and an appendix to his statement of the facts (DE 26). To support his statement of the facts, petitioner relies upon the following documents: letter to Judge “Ammonds” (DE 26-1) at 1; February 10, 2016, incident report (DE 26-1) at 3-4; Magistrate's Order, Case No. 15CR 052689 (DE 26-1) at 5-6; arrest warrant, Case No. 01CR 059288 (DE 26-1) at 7; CCDC Disciplinary Committee Inmate Hearing Decision (DE 26-1) at 9-10; N.C. Judicial Standards Commission letter (DE 26-1) at 12; motion for probable cause hearing (DE 26-1) at 13-14; Memorandum from Judge Ammons (DE 26-1) at 15; letter from counsel (DE 26-1) at 16-18; case supplemental report (DE 26-1) at 19-20; letter to Clerk of Court (DE-26-1) at 21; letter to counsel (DE-26-1) at 22-24; letter from counsel (DE-26-1) at 25-26; Fayetteville Police Department notes (DE-26-1) at 29; Magistrate's Order, Case No. 15CR 052690 (DE-26-1) at 30-31; indictments (DE-26-1) at 32, 34-35, 37-44; victim letter (DE-26-1) at 45; and affidavit from Taneisha Dennings (DE-26-1) at 46-50.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

         The facts, as established by the record before this court, are as follows: On February 9, 2015, a grand jury in Cumberland County, North Carolina indicted petitioner with one count of burning personal property, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-66; one count of misdemeanor resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223; and one count of having attained the status of habitual felon, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-7.1. All charges were based on an incident taking place on May 25, 2014. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 1 (State v. Jennings, No. 14 CRS 56224 indictments).

         On September 14, 2015, a grand jury in Cumberland County, North Carolina indicted petitioner with two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.1; and two counts of having attained the status of a habitual felon, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-7.1. All charges were based on an incident taking place on March 4, 2015. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 2 (State v. Jennings, No. 15 CRS 52689-90 indictments).

         The plea offer that was pending when appointed counsel took over petitioner's case was an active sentence of 101 months to 134 months incarceration. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 3 at 4. Petitioner's appointed counsel, Eric L. Johnson, [2] negotiated an agreed upon disposition to the charges, which consisted of a consolidated sentence of 76 months minimum and 104 months maximum active incarceration. See App. (DE 21) Ex 3.[3] This agreed upon sentence fell at the bottom of the mitigated range for a Class C felony. See App. (DE 21) Ex 3.

         The State had evidence, a video of a March 3, 2015 incident, which could have supported additional charges and resulted in a longer period of incarceration for petitioner.[4] S e e App. (DE 21) at 4. The State agreed, however, to forego additional charges in exchange for petitioner's plea. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 3 at 4. The State also agreed to forego consecutive sentences in exchange for petitioner's plea. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 3 at 4. The State agreed to forego proof of aggravating factors, and even agreed to the existence of a mitigating factor. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 3 at 4; Ex. 5. Finally, the State agreed to a sentence at the very lowest end of the mitigated range for petitioner's felony grade and prior record level. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 3 at 4.

         The State agreed to dismiss one count of misdemeanor resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-223, and also agreed to a consolidated minimum sentence of 76 months and a maximum sentence of 104 months of active incarceration. See App. (DE 21). The State agreed to the existence of one mitigating factor. See App. (DE 21) at Ex. 5. In particular, the State agreed that petitioner had “accepted responsibility for [his] criminal conduct.” See App. (DE 21) Ex. 5 at 3. With respect to sentencing, the parties agreed that petitioner had 16 prior record points and a Prior Record Level of V. See App. (DE 21) at Ex. 6. The parties agreed to a consolidated single active sentence in the mitigated range for a habitualized Class G felon[5] with a Prior Record Level of V. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 6.

         On March 10, 2016, petitioner pleaded guilty, before Superior Court Judge Claire V. Hill (“Judge Hill”), in accordance with his plea agreement.[6] S e e App. (DE 21) Ex. 4 (transcript of plea). Judge Hill described the charges against petitioner, including the maximum punishments and mandatory minimum punishments he faced, and the possibility of consecutive sentences. See App. (DE 21) Ex. 4 ¶ 12. Judge Hill specifically asked petitioner if he was, in fact, guilty, and he acknowledged that he was. See Stat. Mat. Facts (DE 21) Ex. 4 ¶ 14.

         Petitioner admitted, both in writing and under oath, that he had been asked the legally-required questions in open court and his responses were accurately transcribed in the Transcript of Plea; no one had told him to give false answers in order to have the court accept his plea; and the terms and conditions of the plea, as stated in the ...


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