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Hill v. Dotson

September 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier


Michael Hill ("Hill") has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Hill contends he was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, rendering his guilty pleas unknowing and involuntary. Specifically, Hill claims trial counsel failed to prepare adequately for trial; to advise him adequately about the elements of the three offenses for which he was indicted; and in effect, coerced him into pleading guilty because the petitioner had "no confidence that trial counsel was willing and prepared to vigorously represent him at trial." Respondent has filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law (Court File No. 5). After reviewing the record and applicable law, the Court concludes the motion for judgment as a matter of law (Court File No. 5) will be GRANTED and the § 2254 petition is without merit, and it will be DISMISSED (Court File No. 1).

I. Standard of Review

A state criminal defendant may obtain federal habeas relief if he can demonstrate he is in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under Rule 8 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Proceedings in the United States Districts Courts, the Court is to determine, after a review of the response, the transcript, record of state court proceedings, and the expanded record,*fn1 whether an evidentiary hearing is required. If a hearing is not required, the district judge may dispose of the case as justice dictates. After carefully reviewing the required materials, the Court finds it unnecessary to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Federal courts review decisions of the state courts pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) which is a part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). This statute generally limits a federal district court's jurisdiction to review habeas corpus claims adjudicated on the merits in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). In particular, a court considering a habeas claim must defer to any decision by a state court concerning that claim unless the state court's judgment (1) "resulted in a decision that 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) "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2).

A state-court decision is contrary to Supreme Court precedent if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court but reaches a different result. Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005) citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000); Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). "A state-court decision involves an unreasonable application of [the Supreme Court's] clearly established precedents if the state court applies [the Supreme Court's] precedent to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner." Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. at 141 citing Williams v. Taylor, supra, at 405 and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24-25 (2002).

A state court's determination of a factual issue shall be presumed to be correct and the presumption of correctness can only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (e)(1). Credibility findings made by state courts are entitled to the presumption of correctness. McQueen v. Scroggy, 99 F.3d 1302, 1310 (6th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1257 (1997), overruled on other grounds by In re Abdur'Rahman, 392 F.3d 174 (6th Cir. 2004), judgment vacated, 545 U.S. 1151 (2005); Smith v. Jago, 888 F.2d 399, 407 (6th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 961 (1990).

The grounds asserted by Hill in support of his present § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus are similar to the grounds asserted by Hill in his state post-conviction hearing and appeal in the Tennessee courts. The review in this case involves an essentially identical record of that considered by the state courts.

In reviewing each ground asserted by Hill as set forth below, the record reflects Hill received a full and fair hearing on the merits of the factual issues in the state court proceedings, and the state court's findings of fact are supported by the record. Absent any clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, this Court presumes the findings of the state courts to be correct. 28 U.S.C.§ 2254(d). This Court also finds that the state courts adequately resolved the questions of law.

II. Procedural Background

Hill pleaded guilty on November 17, 2004, in the Criminal Court of Bradley County, Tennessee, to three counts of rape in exchange for a 12-year sentence to be served at 100 percent.

Hill did not pursue a direct appeal but did file a state petition for post conviction relief on March 28, 2005. Following a hearing on November 23, 2005, the trial court denied relief and entered an order dismissing Hill's post conviction petition (Addendum No. 1).

Hill appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and on June 30, 2006, the appeals court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Hill's petition, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied his application for permission to appeal (Addenda Nos. 3 & 4).

On April 9, 2007, Hill filed this instant § 2254 petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, raising the same grounds for relief he previously raised in his Tennessee post-conviction hearing and his appeal.*fn2 Hill contends his guilty plea was involuntary and unknowing as a result of trial counsel's ineffectiveness.

III. Factual Background

This case arises from Hill's convictions for rapes committed against his step-daughter. The following facts are taken from the Tennessee Criminal Appeals Court opinion affirming the state post conviction court's denial of post conviction relief:

At the post-conviction hearing, the petitioner testified that he hired his attorney in October 2003 to represent him in a divorce case against his then-wife, Jeanette Hill, and that the grand jury indicted him on the rape charges in January 2004. He said he hired the same attorney to represent him on the criminal charges. He said that he was on bond until he entered his guilty pleas in November 2004 and that he met with his attorney approximately twelve times. He said that his ex-wife and other witnesses testified at his divorce trial regarding his step-daughter's allegations and that his attorney "questioned them some, but he didn't have a defense." He said that during the meetings, he would give his attorney information that would help the case but that his attorney would not listen to him. He acknowledged that his attorney went over witness statements with him, including statements by his step-daughter, his ex-wife, and the pastor in his ex-wife's church. He also acknowledged that his attorney went over the statement with him that the petitioner made to Detective Scoggins.

The petitioner testified that before he entered the pleas, he never expressed an interest in entering guilty pleas to his attorney. He said that his attorney first talked to him about entering pleas several weeks before the trial date and that his attorney advised him to accept the plea offer. He said that the night before he entered his pleas, his attorney met with him, his mother, his two brothers, and his friend. He said that he signed and initialed documents given to him by his attorney but that he did not read them.

The petitioner testified that he did not insist on going to trial, despite the fact that a jury had been called in, because his attorney had not prepared him for trial and he "didn't know what else to do." He acknowledged that when he entered the pleas, the trial court asked if he was pleased with his attorney and that he answered affirmatively. He said his attorney never explained the elements of the offenses or the lesser included offenses to him. He said that he entered the guilty pleas because he did not know that he could fire his attorney but that he wanted to fire his attorney because he had not prepared him for trial. He said that approximately one week after he entered his pleas, he contacted his attorney and told his attorney "it just wasn't right, you know, that I should have went to trial." He said his attorney told him, "You can file a post-conviction on it."

On cross-examination, the petitioner acknowledged that he was under oath during the plea hearing and that he told the trial court that his attorney was prepared and that he had no complaints about him. He said he "went along with whatever [his attorney] said." He said that his family listened to the tape of his statement and recommended he take the plea offer but that they did not know anything about the law. He acknowledged testifying in a deposition for his divorce case and being cross-examined. He acknowledged that his attorney believed he was not a good witness. He acknowledged he had some experience with the criminal justice system because he had been investigated "a few times" for rape allegations. He acknowledged that in addition to the twelve times he met with his attorney to talk about the criminal case, he also met with his attorney to discuss the divorce case and that the cases involved the same issues because the rapes were the basis for the divorce. He acknowledged telling Detective Scoggins that he raped his step-daughter but said that the statement was not true.

Nora Asalee Hill, the petitioner's mother, testified that the night before her son's trial date, she and her other two sons met with the petitioner's attorney. She said the petitioner's attorney hugged the petitioner and kept insisting that the petitioner plead guilty. She said the petitioner "got rattled, he didn't understand, he didn't know. His response, he finally said, 'Okay, I will plead guilty." ' On cross-examination, Ms. Hill denied that she recommended to the petitioner that he plead guilty and said that she "just went along with the rest of them whenever they said that."

The attorney testified that he had been an attorney for seventeen years, that he had been in the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps, that he had worked for the district attorney's office, and that he began his own practice doing mostly criminal defense work in 1994. He said he had handled many sexual assault cases. He said he first became involved with the petitioner in October or November 2003, when the petitioner came to his office to speak to him about a statement the petitioner had made to law enforcement about conduct occurring between him and his step-daughter. He said that he met the petitioner "more times than I can really count and ... from October of 2003 till this case was concluded in November [2004], I bet there was not a week that went by where I did not see [the petitioner] or have ...

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