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Sifuentes v. Davis

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

January 22, 2018

LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.


         This is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by petitioner, Augustine Sifuentes, a state prisoner confined in the Correctional institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), against Lorie Davis, director of TDCJ, respondent. After having considered the pleadings, state court records, and relief sought by petitioner, the court has concluded that the petition should be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The state court records reflect that in December 2014 petitioner was indicted in Tarrant County, Texas, Case Nos. 13491496D, 1391497D, and 1391499D, for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, unlawful possession of a firearm, and theft of firearm, respectively. (01SHR 49, doc. 10- 2; 02SHR 50, doc. 10-4; 03SHR 95, doc. 10-6.[1]) The indictments for possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of a firearm included habitual-offender notices and the indictment for theft of a firearm included a state-jail-felony enhancement. On May 8, 2015, pursuant to plea agreements, the state waived the habitual-offender allegations and petitioner pleaded guilty to all three offenses. (01SHR 55, doc. 10-2; 02SHR 52-56, doc. 10-4; 03SHR 97-101, doc. 10-6.) In accordance with the plea agreements, the trial court sentenced petitioner to 15 years' imprisonment in each case, the sentences to run concurrently. (01SHR 56, doc. 10-2; 02SHR 57, doc. 10-4; 03SHR 102, doc. 10-6.) Petitioner did not appeal the trial court's judgments of conviction, but he did seek postconviction state habeas relief by filing three state habeas applications, one for each conviction, which were denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals without written order on the findings of the trial court. (01SHR, Action Taken, doc. 10-1; 02SHR, Action Taken, doc. 10-3; 03SHR, Action Taken, doc. 10-10-54.) This federal petition followed.

         II. ISSUES

         In one ground for relief, petitioner claims he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel-

(1) coerced or frightened him into pleading guilty;
(2) failed to investigate the cases;
(3) failed to challenge the indictment in the theft-of-firearm case;
(4) refused to go to trial; and
(5) gave him erroneous advice and lied about the nature of the theft-of-firearm offense.

(Pet. 6, doc. 1.)


         Respondent does not believe that the petition is successive, that the petition should be dismissed as untimely, or that Petitioner's claims are unexhausted. (Resp't's Answer 3, doc. 11.)


         A § 2254 habeas petition is governed by the heightened standard of review provided for by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under the Act, a writ of habeas corpus should be granted only if a state court arrives at a decision that is contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court or that is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the record before the state court. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100-01 (2011); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (1}- (2) . Additionally, the statute requires that federal courts give great deference to a state court's factual findings. Hill v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 481, 485 (5th Cir. 2000). Section 2254(e) (1) provides that a determination of a factual issue made by a state court shall be presumed to be correct. It is the petitioner's burden to rebut the presumption of correctness through clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (e) (1).

         V. DISCUSSION

         A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel at trial. U.S. Const, amend, VI, XIV; Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 396 (1985); Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984). To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim in the context of a guilty plea, a defendant must demonstrate that his plea was rendered unknowing or involuntary by showing that (1) counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's deficient performance, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56-59 (1985); Smith v. Estelle, 711 F.2d 677, 682 (5th Cir. 1983); see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. In assessing the reasonableness of counsel's representation, "counsel should be 'strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.'" Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 189 (2011} (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690).

         Further, by entering a knowing, intelligent and voluntary guilty plea, a defendant waives all nonjurisdictional defects in the proceedings preceding the plea, including all claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that do not attack the voluntariness of the guilty plea. Smith, 711 F.2d at 682; Bradbury v. Wainwright, 658 F.2d 1083, 1087 (5th Cir. 1981). A guilty plea is knowing, voluntary and intelligent if done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences surrounding the plea. Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970). If a challenged guilty plea is knowing, voluntary and intelligent, it will be upheld on federal habeas review. James v. Cain, 56 F.3d 662, 666 (5th Cir. 1995).

         In this case, counsel filed an affidavit in the state habeas proceedings addressing petitioner's claims, wherein he states (all spelling, grammatical, and/or punctuation errors are in the original):

I understand [petitioner]'[s] complaint herein to be that I "rendered ineffective assistance of counsel" by;
1) coercing or frightening him into a plea of ...

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