Williams v. Bunting
Memorandum Opinion and Order Adopting Report and Recommendation re 9 denying 1 Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (2254). Judge Christopher A. Boyko on 4/1/2015. (R,D)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
MAURICE L. WILLIAMS,
JASON BUNTING, Warden,
CASE NO. 1:13CV659
JUDGE CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO, J:
This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Maurice L. Williams’ Petition
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (ECF
#1). For the following reasons, the Court accepts and adopts the Magistrate Judge’s
Report and Recommendation, and denies Petitioner’s Petition.
The following is a factual synopsis of Petitioner’s claims. The Magistrate Judge’s
Report and Recommendation, adopted and incorporated, provides a more complete and
detailed discussion of the facts.
Petitioner was indicted on Attempted Murder, two counts of Felonious Assault,
Attempted Aggravated Arson, Domestic Violence and an additional count of Attempted
Aggravated Arson. On February 28, 2011, Petitioner entered a plea of no contest and
the court found him guilty on all counts. Petitioner was sentenced to nine years for
Attempted Murder and three consecutive years for Attempted Aggravated Arson. The
court found the other counts were allied offenses of similar import and merged them
with the Attempted Murder conviction.
On July 5, 2011, Petitioner filed a Notice of Appeal with the Ninth District Court of
Appeals. On July 30, 2012, the Ninth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s
judgment. On September 6, 2012, Petitioner filed a Notice of Appeal with the Ohio
Supreme Court. On November 28, 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court declined jurisdiction
and dismissed the Appeal.
Petitioner filed the instant Petition on March 26, 2013, asserting the
following grounds for relief:
Supporting Facts: The court should have conducted a hearing on Williams’
motion to withdraw his plea, especially in light of the fact that Williams wanted to
replace his counsel because of difference in how they felt the case should
continue. Williams was not afforded a hearing on his motion to withdraw his plea
and furthermore the court did not fairly consider Williams[’] motion to withdraw his
Supporting Facts: The court chose not to appoint new counsel in part because
appointing new counsel would have placed an additional expense on the
taxpayers. Williams’ Att.[sic] told the court that Williams wanted to have his case
tried within ninety [day] speedy trial limit but that the defense Att.[sic] was willing
to go past that time limit and try the case starting on Jan.12, 2011.
In the case at bar the state never proved on the record that the state had not
exceeded the time in which a defendant is guaranteed a speedy trial. The court
made no findings of fact but merely asked the Atts.[sic] in the case how much
time was left.
On April 18, 2013, this Court referred Petitioner’s Petition to the Magistrate
Judge for a Report and Recommendation. The Magistrate Judge issued her Report and
Recommendation on December 19, 2014. On February 23, 2015, Petitioner filed
Objections to the Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When a federal habeas claim has been adjudicated by the state courts, 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) provides the writ shall not issue unless the state decision “was
contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law
as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” Further, a federal court may
grant habeas relief if the state court arrives at a decision opposite to that reached by the
Supreme Court of the United States on a question of law, or if the state court decides a
case differently than did the Supreme Court on a set of materially indistinguishable
facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000). The appropriate measure of
whether or not a state court decision unreasonably applied clearly established federal
law is whether that state adjudication was “objectively unreasonable” and not merely
erroneous or incorrect. Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-411.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), findings of fact made by the state court are
presumed correct, rebuttable only by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
McAdoo v. Elo, 365 F. 3d 487, 493-494 (6th Cir. 2004). Finally, Rule 8(b)(4) of the Rules
Governing §2254 states:
A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of
those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or
recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the
court may accept, reject, or modify in whole or in part any
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.
In Ground One, Petitioner argues that the court erred when it denied his pro se
Motion to Withdraw his no contest plea. While represented by counsel, Petitioner filed
the Motion requesting the court allow him to withdraw his no contest plea and appoint
new counsel. The court held a hearing on the request for a new attorney, but declined
to hear Petitioner’s Motion to withdraw his plea. Respondent asserts that Ground One
is non-cognizable in habeas since it was presented on direct appeal as a state law
violation, not as a federal constitutional claim.
The Magistrate Judge correctly concluded that as a violation of state law, “it is
not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on
state-law questions”. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). A federal court
may not issue a writ of habeas corpus “on the basis of a perceived error of state law”.
Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 41, 104 S.Ct. 871, 79 L.Ed.2d 29 (1984). “A violation of
state law is not cognizable in federal habeas corpus unless such error amounts to a
fundamental miscarriage of justice or a violation of the right to due process in violation
of the United States Constitution”. Cristini v. McKee, 526 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2008)
(internal citations omitted).
In Petitioner’s Traverse, he alludes to a federal due process violation but does
not reference a due process violation in his Petition. The Magistrate Judge points out
that while pleadings of pro se prisoners are liberally construed, see Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520-521(1972), a court is not required to address a theory of relief
asserted only in a traverse but not in the habeas petition. See Tyler v. Mitchell, 416
F.3d 500, 504 (6th Cir. 2005). The Court agrees that even if Petitioner fairly and
properly presented a federal due process claim to the state courts and this Court, the
claim is without merit. “There is no federal constitutional right to withdraw a guilty plea”.
Jones v. Sheldon, 2014 WL 1493137, *10 (N.D. Ohio Apr. 11, 2014) (internal citations
A review of the record shows that Petitioner’s plea was voluntary and intelligent.
Petitioner does not attempt to argue that it was not. The Court finds that Petitioner’s
assertion of a violation of state law in Ground One is not cognizable on federal habeas
review. Petitioner’s assertion of a violation of his federal due process rights were not
presented to the Court of Appeals in the same manner, and he has failed to
demonstrate that the Court of Appeals denial of his Motion to Withdraw No Contest Plea
was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.
Therefore, Ground One is denied.
In Ground Two, Petitioner refers to counsel’s Motion to Withdraw as Counsel.
The trial court denied the motion. Petitioner contends that the trial court should have
granted his attorney’s Motion to Withdraw and appointed new counsel. In reviewing this
claim on direct appeal, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not abuse its
discretion in refusing to appoint Petitioner new counsel. The trial court conducted a
hearing on defense counsel’s Motion and found that there was no breakdown in
communication and that appointing new counsel would only cause further delay.
Petitioner argued on direct appeal that his attorney misled him to enter a plea of no
contest. However, the Court of Appeals found that Petitioner offered no explanation
why a no contest plea would not be in Petitioner’s best interest.
The Magistrate Judge determined that Petitioner argued in his Traverse that the
trial court violated his right to effective assistance of counsel by not granting the Motion,
but that claim is not clear in his Petition. As stated above, a court is not required to
address a theory of relief asserted only in a traverse but not in the habeas petition.
Respondent asserts in its Return of Writ that the decision regarding whether to
appoint new counsel at a defendant's request is committed to the sound discretion of
the court. See United States v. Trujillo, 376 F.3d 593, 606 (6th Cir.2004). In
considering a request to substitute counsel, the Court must consider "the timeliness of
the motion; the adequacy of the court's inquiry into the defendant's complaint; and
whether the conflict between the attorney and client was so great that it resulted in a
total lack of communication preventing an adequate defense”. Benitez v. United States,
521 F.3d 625, 632 (6th Cir.2008); United States v. Henderson, 626 F.3d 326, 2010 WL
4670503, at *10 (6th Cir. 2010).
The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in
refusing to appoint Petitioner new counsel. The Magistrate Judge thoroughly reviewed
the record and determined that the trial court conducted an adequate hearing on the
motion, clearly considered whether there was a break down of the attorney client
relationship and considered Petitioner’s issue with counsel’s delay in filing for discovery.
The trial court was satisfied with counsel’s explanation regarding the discovery issue. In
his Objections, Petitioner states that because of the breakdown in the relationship with
counsel, he had no choice but to enter a plea of no contest as he was left defenseless.
The Court disagrees. Petitioner entered his no contest plea on his scheduled trial date
and he could have exercised his right to proceed to trial.
The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that Petitioner has not shown that
the Court of Appeals decision was contrary to clearly established federal law.
Therefore, Ground Two is denied.
In Ground Three, Petitioner contends that his right to a speedy trial was violated.
The Magistrate Judge points out that to the extent that Ground Three is premised upon
an alleged violation of Ohio’s speedy trial statute, Petitioner fails to raise a cognizable
claim for federal habeas relief. See Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68 (“a federal court is limited
to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States”). To the extent that Ground Three is premised upon an alleged violation of the
Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, Petitioner is unable to demonstrate that the
Ninth District Court of Appeals’ determination regarding his speedy trial claim was
contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the
States through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees a defendant a “speedy and
public trial.” U.S. Const. Amend. VI; Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 515-516 (1972).
The Magistrate Judge indicates the four factors to consider when balancing whether a
speedy trial violation has occurred: (1) the length of the delay; (2) the reason for the
delay; (3) the defendant’s assertion of his right to a speedy trial; and (4) prejudice to the
defendant. Barker, 407 U.S. at 530; see also Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647,
The Court of Appeals reviewed Petitioner’s claim on direct appeal and found that
the trial court had discretion to extend the time the Defendant may be brought to trial,
providing the continuance is reasonable. State v. Davis. 46 Ohio St.2d 444, 349 N.E.2d
315 (1976), syllabus; R.C. 2945.72(H); State v. McBreen. 54 Ohio St.2d 315, 318, 376
N.E.2d 593 (1978). The Court of Appeals found that the continuance was reasonable
and was not an abuse of the trial court’s discretion.
The Sixth Circuit addressed Ohio’s speedy trial statute in the context of federal
habeas review in Brown v. Bobby, 656 F.3d 325 (6th Cir. 2011). The court held that
AEDPA deference applied even though the Ohio Court of Appeals did not specifically
explain it was ruling on the petitioner’s Sixth Amendment speedy trial claim. Id at 329.
In considering the petitioner’s federal habeas claim under AEDPA, the Sixth Circuit
reasoned that AEDPA does not require that a state court strictly apply the relevant
federal standard as long as the test applied is not contrary to, or substantially different
from, the relevant Supreme Court precedent. Id. at 330. The Sixth Circuit recognized
that Ohio courts consider the provisions in Ohio’s speedy trial statute to be co-extensive
with the Sixth Amendment. Id. Indeed, the Sixth Circuit stated that “Ohio’s procedure
for determining whether a speedy trial violation has occurred, by applying the 270-day
limit, is not ‘substantially different’ from the Barker analysis, and can be seen as merely
the state’s method of applying that Supreme Court precedent in a more structured
manner”. Id. “Thus, any time an Ohio court reviews the implementation of a speedy
trial statute, it is guided not just by those provisions, but also by the dictates of the Sixth
Amendment whether or not it expressly applies the factors laid out in Barker”. Id. at
Petitioner was arrested on April 14, 2010, and entered a no contest plea
February 28, 2011, approximately ten and a half months later. The Magistrate Judge
correctly points out that with respect to the second Barker factor, i.e., reason for delay, a
large portion of the ten and a half month delay was attributed to Petitioner’s Motion to
Enter a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity plea (“NGRI plea”), which was filed on July 9,
2010, and tolled the period until December 17, 2010, when the trial court granted
Petitioner’s Motion to Withdraw his NGRI plea.
The Magistrate Judge further shows that with respect to the fourth Barker factor,
i.e., prejudice to the defendant, Petitioner fails to show how he was prejudiced by the
delay. Petitioner has not demonstrated impairment to his defense by virtue of the delay.
To the contrary, proceeding with a trial on or before December 23, 2010, the end of
Ohio’s speedy trial time, which was only six days after the withdraw of his NGRI plea
on December 17, 2010, could have been detrimental to his defense. Additionally,
Petitioner has not alleged nor demonstrated that any witness became unavailable or
that any other evidence was lost because of the delay. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 532.
The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge that the Ohio Court of Appeals’
decision was not contrary to federal law because its analysis under Ohio’s speedy trial
statute was consistent with the Sixth Amendment. See Brown, 656 F.3d at 330. The
Court finds that the Court of Appeals’ decision was not an unreasonable application of
federal law. Therefore, Ground Three is denied.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court ADOPTS and ACCEPTS the Magistrate
Judge’s well-reasoned Report and Recommendation, and denies Petitioner’s Petition
Under 28 U.S.C. §2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody.
The Court finds an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith. 28
U.S.C. § 1915 (a)(3). Since Petitioner has not made a substantial showing of a denial
of a constitutional right directly related to his conviction or custody, the Court declines to
issue a certificate of appealability. 28 U.S.C. § 2253 (c)(2); Fed. R. App. P. 22(b).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Christopher A. Boyko
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
United States District Judge
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