United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
JAMES R. BLUE, Petitioner,
CHERRY LINDAMOOD, Warden, Respondent.
ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.
Petitioner James R. Blue, a state prisoner incarcerated at the Whiteville Correctional Facility in Hardeman County, Tennessee, filed a pro se petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for the writ of habeas corpus challenging his 2012 conviction in the Criminal Court of Davidson County, Tennessee. (ECF No. 1.) The respondent filed an answer in opposition to the petition (ECF No. 20), along with a complete copy of the underlying state-court record (ECF No. 21). The petition is ripe for review, and this court has jurisdiction.
Upon consideration of the petition, the answer, and the underlying state-court record, the court finds for the reasons set forth herein that the petitioner is not entitled to relief on the grounds asserted. The court further finds that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary, see Smith v. United States, 348 F.3d 545, 550 (6th Cir. 2003) (an evidentiary hearing is not required when the record conclusively shows that the petitioner is not entitled to relief). Blue's petition will be denied and this matter dismissed.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On February 22, 2012, the petitioner submitted a petition to enter a plea of guilty to one count of a three-count indictment (for sale of more than.5 grams of a Schedule II Controlled Substance). The plea agreement provided for the dismissal of the other two counts and a stipulated sentence of 20 years' incarceration to be served at 45% for parole-eligibility purposes. (ECF No. 21-1, at 13-17 (Plea Pet'n).) The plea petition was accepted by the Davidson County Criminal Court ( id. at 18 (Order accepting plea)), and the petitioner was sentenced in accordance with the agreed sentence, meaning that he was classified as a Range III persistent offender. ( Id. at 14 (Judgment).)
The petitioner did not pursue a direct appeal, but he filed a post-conviction petition in the state court on January 9, 2013. (ECF No. 21-1, at 19-35.) The trial court appointed counsel, who filed an amended petition. After conducting a hearing at which the petitioner and his trial attorney testified, the trial court entered an order denying the petition. ( Id. at 43-47.) That decision was affirmed. Blue v. State, No. M2013-02251-CCA-R3-PC, 2014 WL 2592802 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 10, 2014).
Blue filed his § 2254 petition on or about July 18, 2014. The respondent apparently concedes that the petition is timely.
II. STATEMENT OF THE ISSUE
The petitioner raises two intertwined arguments in this Court: (1) that his entry of a plea was not truly knowing and voluntary because (2) his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for allowing him to plead as a Range III persistent offender when he actually should have been classified, based on his prior criminal history, as a Range II offender. (ECF No. 1, at 5.)
The petitioner raised the same claims in his post-conviction proceedings at both the trial and appellate levels.
III. RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals summarized the procedural and factual history of this case as follows:
The brief factual basis for the petitioner's conviction, as stated at the guilty plea hearing, is "this matter took place here in Davidson County on November 4th of 2010 where the [petitioner] sold a quantity of cocaine over. 5 grams to an undercover police officer inside Club Traks".... The State filed a Notice of Enhanced Punishment in the case, which established the petitioner's status as a Range III persistent offender. The State relied upon five prior convictions which arose from two separate cases: 96-C-1691 and 96-C-1373. Case 96-C-1691 involved two felony convictions, and Case 96-C-1373 involved three felony convictions. The State subsequently offered and the petitioner accepted a plea agreement in which the petitioner pled guilty to the sale of.5 grams or more of a Schedule II controlled substance, and the remaining charges were dismissed. The agreement also provided for a sentence of twenty years in confinement as a Range III offender.
At the guilty plea hearing, the trial court extensively covered the rights which the petitioner would be waiving should he choose to enter the guilty plea. Under oath, the petitioner acknowledged that he had read the plea petition and reviewed it with trial counsel, stating that he fully understood the contents of the agreement. The court reviewed the charges against the petitioner and noted the possible ranges of punishment for each crime should the petitioner choose to proceed to trial. The petitioner again acknowledged that he understood the charges and the possible sentences related to each of the separate charges. He testified that he understood that he was pleading guilty to one offense, with the others being dismissed, and that he understood the sentence which would be imposed pursuant to the plea agreement.
The petitioner stated on the record in the plea admission hearing that he had no complaints whatsoever with trial counsel's representation of him during the case. He related that he had an opportunity to discuss with trial counsel the facts and circumstances of the case, the applicable law, and the State's evidence against him. The petitioner testified that trial counsel had answered any questions he had concerning the case. The trial court accepted the guilty plea, and the petitioner began serving his sentence.
Thereafter, the petitioner filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging that his plea was not entered knowingly and voluntarily based upon the ineffective assistance of counsel. Following the appointment of counsel, an amended petition was filed. The main allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel, although others were mentioned in the petition, was that trial counsel failed to discover that the three convictions in Case 96-C-1373 were in "limbo" and therefore could not be used to enhance the petitioner's range. The petitioner contends that he, on the advice of trial counsel, actually accepted a plea agreement as a Range III offender when in reality, he only qualified as a Range II offender.
At the post-conviction hearing, the petitioner and trial counsel both offered testimony....
The petitioner testified that trial counsel brought him some of the discovery materials later in the representation. He claimed that he did not receive all of them until after he was in the Department of Correction. After he was incarcerated, the petitioner claimed that he hired a private investigator to work on his case. At some point following his conviction, the petitioner did receive all of the discovery materials, including the State's Notice of Enhanced Punishment. The notice listed a prior conviction in 2005 in Case 96-C-1691 for which the petitioner was not convicted. However, the petitioner was convicted in 1998 in that case of the charges listed. The State erred by listing the date of conviction of a co-defendant in the case. Regardless of that error, the petitioner did acknowledge that he had five prior convictions in two cases. However, he testified that, because of a technicality, he now believed that only two were valid convictions. Accordingly, he felt that trial counsel was ineffective for allowing him to accept a plea agreement as a Range III offender.
Trial counsel also testified at the hearing that he represented the petitioner from general sessions court until the completion of the case....
During the argument portion of the hearing, the State conceded that the petitioner was correct in that the enumerated 2005 conviction on the notice of enhancement was in error. However, it was not disputed that the petitioner did have five prior convictions in two separate cases. Counsel for the petitioner argued that only two of ...