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Strickland v. Qualls

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

September 6, 2017

TINA GAIL STRICKLAND, Petitioner,
v.
ERIC QUALLS, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEON JORDAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a pro se prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [Doc. 2]. Respondent filed a response in opposition thereto, as well as a copy of the state record [Docs. 8 and 9]. Petitioner has not filed a reply to Respondent's response and the time for doing so has passed. See E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.1. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2254 petition [Doc. 2] will be DENIED and this action will be DISMISSED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 21, 2010, Petitioner pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide without a sentencing agreement. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to twelve years in the Tennessee Department of Corrections on September 24, 2010. No appeal was taken by Petitioner. On May 23, 2011, Petitioner filed a petition for state post-conviction relief arguing that that the trial court erred by finding that her guilty plea was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered because she received the ineffective assistance of counsel. On December 19, 2011, Petitioner filed an amended post-conviction petition with the assistance of counsel. Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition on April 4, 2013. On May 6, 2013, Petitioner filed a timely notice of appeal; however, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed the post- conviction court's denial of relief. On June 23, 2014, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied Petitioner's application for permission to appeal.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following factual background is taken from the TCCA's opinion on appeal of Petitioner's petition for post-conviction relief:

The record shows that at the guilty plea hearing on June 21, 2010, the trial court reviewed with the Petitioner the charges against her and confirmed that she was pleading guilty to vehicular homicide without a sentencing agreement. The court stated that she faced possible punishment of eight to twelve years. The Petitioner responded that she understood the plea agreement. She told the court that counsel reviewed the plea agreement with her and that she signed the agreement because she was guilty of vehicular homicide. She denied consuming alcohol, narcotics, drugs, medications, or mind-altering substances that might affect her ability to understand what was happening in court. She admitted, though, that she took muscle relaxers, vitamins, and iron supplements and used a breathing inhaler. The Petitioner passed routine drug screens when she was released on bond. The court advised the Petitioner that by pleading guilty she gave up the rights to have a jury trial, to cross-examine witnesses, to subpoena witnesses to testify on her behalf, and to testify on her own behalf. She denied that she was forced, threatened, or promised anything in exchange for her pleading guilty and said that her plea was voluntary and of her own free will. She said she was pleased with counsel's representation.
The trial court requested that the Petitioner state how the offense occurred. She said, “I really don't remember the accident, but I know I was drinking [.]” The last thing she remembered was standing on Connie Whitehead's porch. Although she had no memory of the accident, she agreed she killed someone while driving her car. The victim was ninety-one years old at the time of the accident. The Petitioner did not appeal her sentence but now seeks post-conviction relief.
At the post-conviction hearing, the Petitioner testified that counsel failed to advise her properly about the possible sentence she faced. She said counsel told her that the maximum sentence was eight years, although the trial court sentenced her to twelve years. She said that counsel advised her that pleading guilty was in her best interest but that after she pleaded guilty, counsel wrote her a letter stating that the maximum sentence was twelve years. A copy of the July 10, 2010 letter was received as an exhibit. In the letter, counsel stated,
I am writing to review our discussion on sentencing and to correct one thing we discussed. When we were talking about the maximum amount of jail time Judge Cupp could give you, I told you 8 years. I was using the bottom of the range, which is our usual agreement with the State. In your case, as you recall, we don't have such an agreement. Therefore, Judge Cupp could give you any sentence within the range, which is 8-12 years.
Counsel also discussed in the letter the possibility of probation if the trial court sentenced her to ten years or less. Counsel also advised that at least one enhancement factor applied, which provided the court with the authority to increase her sentence from the minimum sentence.
The Petitioner testified that she and counsel never discussed a sentence higher than eight years. She admitted, though, that the trial court questioned her at the guilty plea hearing about her knowledge of the sentencing range. She said that she understood the sentencing range and that she faced a maximum sentence of twelve years after the court told her at the guilty plea hearing.
The Petitioner testified that she would not have pleaded guilty had she known she would receive more than eight years. She said that although she learned at the guilty plea hearing that she faced a twelve-year sentence, she entered a guilty plea because she had “already signed the paper before court started.” She denied knowing she could have told the trial court that she did not know she might receive a sentence above eight years. She believed she could not change her mind about entering a guilty plea after she signed the “paperwork.”
On cross-examination, the Petitioner testified that she met with counsel at least twice before entering her guilty plea but that she did not recall scheduling appointments. She said her fiancé and her mother attended some of the meetings. She agreed counsel told her the blood analysis showed that her blood alcohol content was 0.22 at the time of the accident. She said she did not recall much about the accident and did not think she drank alcohol that day. She said she pleaded guilty because she was told it was in her best interest to plead guilty and because she did not understand “any of this.” She agreed she told the trial court at the guilty plea hearing that she was pleading guilty because she was guilty of vehicular homicide.
The Petitioner testified that although counsel told her the maximum sentence was eight years, the trial court told her at the guilty plea hearing that no agreement existed regarding the sentence and that the court would determine the sentence after a sentencing hearing. She agreed the court advised her of her rights and said she understood those rights. She agreed that the ...

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