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Wright v. Director, TDCJ-CID

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Texarkana Division

April 5, 2018

JUSTIN D. WRIGHT
v.
DIRECTOR, TDCJ-CID

          MEMORANDUM ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS AND ADOPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT W. SCHROEDER III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Justin D. Wright, proceeding pro se, filed the above-styled petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Docket No. 1. The Court previously referred this matter to the Honorable Caroline M. Craven, United States Magistrate Judge, for consideration pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3). The Magistrate Judge has submitted a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending the petition for writ of habeas corpus be denied. Docket No. 13 at 10. Petitioner filed objections to the Report. Docket No. 14. The Court reviews the objected-to portions of the Report de novo. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3).

         Pursuant to a guilty plea, Petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He asserted the following grounds for review: (1) he received ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) his plea of guilty was involuntary and unintelligent; and (3) he was improperly denied an evidentiary hearing. The Magistrate Judge analyzed each of Petitioner's grounds for review and concluded that under the appropriate legal standard his grounds for review were without merit. Petitioner's objections focus on the Magistrate Judge's conclusion regarding his second and third grounds for review.

         First Ground for Review

         In his first ground for view, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his counsel advised him to agree to a plea agreement which was of no benefit to him. He also asserted that on several occasions counsel made racial comments concerning the interracial aspects of the case and stated that no black person could get a fair trial for killing a white person. Finally, he stated counsel was ineffective for failing to bring to the court's attention that Petitioner was under extreme emotional duress.

         The Magistrate Judge observed that based on an affidavit from counsel and the record before it, the state habeas trial court found: (1) counsel tried to negotiate a better plea bargain, but the prosecution was not willing to agree to anything less than a life sentence; (2) Petitioner wanted to plea guilty and was willing to accept a life sentence; (3) there was no credible evidence Petitioner and his attorneys ever discussed the issue of race; and (4) at the time he entered his guilty plea, Petitioner signed a document stating he was mentally competent and the Court found he was mentally competent. The Magistrate Judge concluded that based on the record, the state habeas trial court's factual findings were not unreasonable. She further concluded that the rejection by the state court of this ground for review was not contrary to clearly established federal law and did not involve an unreasonable application of thereof.

         Because no objections were filed regarding this ground for review, the Court reviews the Magistrate Judge's conclusion regarding this ground for review for plain error. Rodriguez v. Bowen, 857 F.2d 275, 276-77 (5th Cir. 1988). Having considered the record and the Report, the Court finds no plain error with the Magistrate Judge's conclusion.

         Second Ground for Review

         In his second ground for review, Petitioner asserted his plea of guilty was involuntary and unintelligent. He contends he was under extreme emotional duress as a result of the death of the victim and was coerced into pleading guilty by his attorneys. He states the fact that he signed a plea agreement that was of no benefit to him demonstrates his plea was unintelligent.

         A federal court will uphold a guilty plea challenged in a habeas corpus proceeding if the plea was knowing, voluntary and intelligent. James v. Cain, 56 F.3d 662, 666 (5th Cir. 1995) (citing Hobbs v. Blackburn, 752 F.2d 1079, 1081 (5th Cir. 1985)). For a guilty plea to be intelligently and knowingly entered, the defendant must understand both the true nature of the charge against him and the consequences of a guilty plea. United States v. Briggs, 939 F.2d 222, 227 (5th Cir. 1991). “As long as the defendant understands the length of time he might possibly receive, he is fully aware of the consequences of his plea.” Hobbs, 752 F.2d at 1081-1082. When “a defendant understands the nature of the charges against him and the consequences of his plea, yet voluntarily chooses to plead guilty, that plea should be upheld on federal review.” Diaz v. Martin, 718 F.2d 1372, 1376-77 (5th Cir. 1983).

         The Magistrate Judge stated the state habeas trial court found that trial counsel had advised Petitioner of the charge he faced and of the maximum punishment he could receive. The court also found there was no credible evidence demonstrating counsel threatened or coerced Petitioner to plead guilty. The Magistrate Judge noted there were three documents in the record signed by Petitioner relating to his guilty plea. The “Admonishments of the Court” informed Petitioner he was charged with murder and that he could received a sentence of five to 99 years of imprisonment. In the “Defendant's Stipulations and Waivers Prior to Guilty Plea, ” Petitioner acknowledged: (a) he understood the charge against him and the consequences of a guilty plea; (b) his guilty plea was voluntary, knowing and intelligent and (c) he was mentally competent. The “Proposed Punishment Recommendation” stated the parties agreed to a recommended sentence of life imprisonment.

         The Magistrate Judge concluded the documents signed by Petitioner demonstrated his plea was voluntary and he was aware of the nature of the charge against him. In addition, she found that the documents showed Petitioner was aware of the maximum sentence he could receive, indicating he was aware of the consequences of his plea. She further concluded the findings of the state habeas trial court demonstrated: (a) Petitioner was aware of the charges against him and the maximum punishment he could receive and (b) Petitioner's plea was voluntary and not the result of coercion. The Magistrate Judge found Petitioner had not shown the trial court's findings constituted an unreasonable determination of the facts before the court. Based on the trial court's findings and the documents referenced above, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the rejection by the state courts of this ground for review was not contrary to, and did not involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

         In his objections, Petitioner states he does not remember half of the things his attorneys talked to him about regarding the case. He states he merely remembers counsel stating he faced life imprisonment and that his kids would not forgive him for what he did. Petitioner states he had never been charged with a serious crime and did not understand the law. He states he lost his sanity weeks or months before he signed his plea agreement. Petitioner notes that the doctor who examined him stated he had intermittently experienced some symptoms of psychosis. Petitioner asserts that having him sign a plea agreement which only benefitted the prosecution was like taking candy from a baby because he was mentally incompetent.

         In connection with Petitioner's state application for writ of habeas corpus, the state habeas trial ...


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