Smith v. Renworth et al

Filing 9

ORDER OF DISMISSAL without prejudice to plaintiff filing a new civil rights action if his criminal conviction or sentence is ever set aside. The clerk shall close the file. (Illston, Susan) (Filed on 2/11/2013) Modified on 2/11/2013 (ysS, COURT STAFF).

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 8 TRACY S. SMITH, 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 No. C 12-5106 SI (pr) Plaintiff, ORDER OF DISMISSAL v. 11 PATRICK RENWORTH, Assistant Public Defender of 12 Santa Clara County; et al., 13 Defendants. / 14 15 INTRODUCTION 16 Tracy S. Smith, currently an inmate at Mule Creek State Prison, filed a pro se civil rights 17 complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint is now before the court for review under 28 18 U.S.C. § 1915A. 19 20 21 22 BACKGROUND This civil rights action stems from the use of a federal conviction for sentence enhancement purposes in later state court criminal proceedings. 23 Smith entered a plea agreement in 1991 in federal court in United States v. Tracy Shelly 24 Smith, No. CR 91-20206 JW, in a case in which he had been charged with three counts of 25 unarmed bank robbery and five counts of bank robbery. See Docket # 1-3. The docket for that 26 case indicates he received a thirty month sentence followed by five years of supervised release. 27 In 1995, he was indicted in Santa Clara County Superior Court for nine counts of robbery and 28 attempted robbery (all of which allegedly took place at financial institutions) and was alleged to have suffered many prior convictions. See Docket # 1-2. He eventually was convicted and 1 sentenced on May 17, 1999 to 25 years to life in prison. See Docket # 1-5. He also was 2 convicted of second degree robbery in San Mateo County Superior Court in 1996, and was 3 sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on August 27, 1996. See Docket # 1-4. The abstract of 4 judgment in the San Mateo County Superior Court case stated that the sentence was to be served 5 consecutive to the term imposed by Santa Clara County Superior Court. Id. In his federal civil rights complaint, Smith sues the public defenders, prosecutors, and 7 judges from his two state court criminal cases, as well as the prosecutor from the federal criminal 8 case. 9 constitutional rights during those criminal prosecutions. Smith alleges that his plea agreement 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 6 in the federal criminal case was breached by the use of the federal conviction for sentence 11 enhancement purposes in the state court criminal cases. For relief, he asks that the court "issu[e] 12 a federal order directing the state court to resentence plaintiff" without using the prior federal 13 conviction for sentence enhancement purposes, "and/or pay Plaintiff the sum of $3 million 14 dollars for the breach and violation of his civil rights." Docket # 1-1, pp. 7, 8. He alleges that the state public defenders, prosecutors, and judges violated his 15 The federal defendant in this action is Leo P. Cunningham, the Assistant United States 16 Attorney who allegedly drafted the plea agreement that Smith entered into in federal court. 17 See Docket # 1-1, pp. 5-6. Smith claims that the federal prosecutor was alerted to the allegedly 18 improper use of the federal conviction for sentence enhancement purposes in state court and 19 therefore had a duty "to 'secure' the breach by the state court-officials." Id. at 7. He further 20 alleges that the federal prosecutor had a duty to compel "specific performance" by the state 21 officials to honor the plea agreement. Id. 22 23 DISCUSSION 24 A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner 25 seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 26 See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable claims, and 27 dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may 28 be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See id. 2 1 at § 1915A(b). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police 2 Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). 3 To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that 4 a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the 5 violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 6 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Generally, a plaintiff may not obtain damages in a § 1983 action for alleged constitutional 8 violations in connection with his criminal trial as long as the conviction remains in place. Heck 9 v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), held that a plaintiff cannot bring a civil rights action for 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 7 damages for a wrongful conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose 11 unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, unless that conviction or sentence 12 already has been determined to be wrongful. See id. at 486-87. A conviction or sentence may 13 be determined to be wrongful by, for example, being reversed on appeal or being set aside when 14 a state or federal court issues a writ of habeas corpus. See id. The Heck rule also prevents a 15 person from bringing an action that -- even if it does not directly challenge the conviction or 16 other decision -- would imply that the conviction or other decision was invalid. The practical 17 importance of this rule is that a plaintiff cannot attack his conviction in a civil rights action for 18 damages; the decision must have been successfully attacked before the civil rights action for 19 damages is filed. The Heck rule was first announced with respect to an action for damages, but 20 the Supreme Court has since applied the rule to an action that sought declaratory relief as well 21 as damages. See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997). That Heck applies to both 22 damages and equitable relief was further clarified in Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 23 (2005). Whether the Heck rule applies requires one to consider whether success in the § 1983 24 action would "necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of the confinement or its duration." Id. at 25 82. If so, the § 1983 action is barred no matter the relief sought (i.e., damages or equitable 26 relief) as long as the conviction has not been set aside. 27 Smith claims that defendants violated his constitutional rights at his trial and during 28 sentencing proceedings by using the prior federal conviction for sentence enhancement purposes. 3 1 Smith's claims against the state actors are squarely within the Heck rule because success on them 2 would call into question the validity of his conviction and sentence from the Santa Clara County 3 Superior Court as well as his conviction and sentence from the San Mateo County Superior 4 Court. The claims must be dismissed. The claim against the federal prosecutor also is barred by Heck because success on that 6 claim – i.e., that the federal prosecutor had a duty to make the state officials resentence Smith 7 – would call into question the validity of the state court sentence because the existence of the 8 duty is premised on the state sentences being impermissible. Even if the claim against the 9 federal prosecutor was not barred by Heck, it would have to be dismissed as patently meritless. 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 5 Smith alleges that his "entire (whole) understanding (according to the Plea Agreement) was and 11 is contained in the writing of his contract – Plea Agreement." Docket # 1-1, p. 6. That written 12 plea agreement plainly has no promise that the conviction will never be used for sentence 13 enhancement purposes in later cases, notwithstanding Smith's assertion that the agreement 14 provided that he would not suffer any adverse consequences not agreed to in writing. The 15 agreement attached to and incorporated into the complaint shows his breach claim to be factually 16 meritless. Finally, the silence of the plea agreement with regard to the possibility that the 17 conviction could be used for later sentence enhancement purposes does not give rise to a claim 18 because there is no duty to advise the pleading defendant of a collateral consequence such as the 19 possibility of a sentence enhancement based on the guilty plea. See United States v. Garrett, 680 20 F.2d 64, 65-66 (9th Cir. 1982). In other words, the plea agreement did not preclude the later use 21 of the conviction, and the plea is not defective for failing to inform Smith that the conviction 22 could later be used in later cases for sentence enhancement purposes. 23 If plaintiff wishes to challenge his state court convictions or sentences, he may file a 24 petition for writ of habeas corpus to assert such a challenge. Before he may file a federal habeas 25 petition for writ of habeas corpus, however, he must exhaust state judicial remedies, either on 26 direct appeal or through collateral proceedings, by presenting the highest state court available 27 with a fair opportunity to rule on the merits of each and every issue she seeks to raise in federal 28 court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A),(c); Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 3 (1981). 4 CONCLUSION 1 2 For the foregoing reasons, this action is DISMISSED without prejudice to plaintiff filing 3 a new civil rights action if his criminal conviction or sentence is ever set aside. The clerk shall 4 close the file. 5 6 7 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: February 11, 2013 _______________________ SUSAN ILLSTON United States District Judge 8 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5

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