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Sexton v. Carlton

March 30, 2007

DONNA JEAN SEXTON #246358
v.
HOWARD CARLTON, WARDEN



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Ronnie Greer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

These pro se habeas corpus petitions, brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by a state prisoner, were consolidated and are now before the Court upon the respondent's unopposed motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 9].*fn1 In support of the motion, the respondent has also submitted copies of the state court record. [Doc. 11, Addenda 1-10]. For the reasons below, the motion will be GRANTED and the petitions DISMISSED.

I. Procedural Background

On March 20, 1995, pursuant to the petitioner's pleas of nolo contendere, she was convicted of felony first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the Criminal Court for Carter County, Tennessee. The petitioner and her boyfriend robbed a convenience market and her boyfriend stabbed the store clerk to death. The petitioner received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole for the murder and a concurrent eight years for the aggravated robbery. She did not seek direct review.

Instead, she filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief and several amended petitions. Counsel was obtained, but he filed no amendments to his client's pro se submissions. The trial court summarily dismissed the petition, but the judgment was reversed on appeal and the case was remanded. Sexton v. State, 2000 WL 1100328 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 31, 2000).

A different attorney was retained. He submitted a final amended post-conviction petition, alleging as grounds for relief that the petitioner's pleas were invalid and that she had had ineffective assistance of counsel. Following an evidentiary hearing, the petition once again was dismissed. This time the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment, and the Tennessee Supreme Court declined further review. Sexton v. State, 151 S.W.3d 525 (Tenn. Crim. App.), perm. app. denied (Tenn. 2004). The petitioner now brings this instant petition, seeking a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that her nolo contendere plea to felony murder was unconstitutionally obtained and her attorneys were ineffective.*fn2

II. Standards of Review

A district court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus for any claim adjudicated on its merits in state court unless the adjudication resulted in a decision that either (1) was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, or (2) was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A state court's factual findings will be presumed correct, unless a petitioner shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that those findings are erroneous. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

Summary judgment may be granted only where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Only disputes over facts which might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The Court FINDS that this case is susceptible to a summary disposition.

III. Discussion

A. Involuntary Guilty (Nolo Contendere) Pleas*fn3

The seminal case on the validity of guilty pleas is Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969). Boykin instructs that, before accepting a guilty plea, a court must determine whether a defendant understands that she is waiving her right to a trial by jury; her right to confront the witnesses against her; and her privilege against self-incrimination. Id. at 243-44. Whether a plea is voluntarily and intelligently entered depends upon the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 749 (1979).

A defendant must be sufficiently aware of the relevant circumstances, as well as the probable and direct consequences of his plea. Id. at 748. The constitutional standards which determine whether a plea of nolo condendere is valid are the same ones which apply to a guilty plea. The validity of either type of plea depends upon whether it is entered voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. North Carolina v. Alford, 400 ...


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