Shelton v. State of Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION & ORDER DENYING HABEAS CORPUS PETITION. It is therefore ordered that this Habeas Corpus Petition under 2254 is DENIED. Signed by Judge Tena Campbell on 7/23/2012. (kpf)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH
) MEMORANDUM DECISION & ORDER
) DENYING HABEAS CORPUS PETITION
) Case No. 2:10-CV-190 TC
) District Judge Tena Campbell
STEVEN TURLEY et al.,
SCOTT ROBERT SHELTON,
Petitioner, Scott Robert Shelton, an inmate at Utah State
Prison, petitions for habeas corpus relief.1
For the reasons set
forth below, the Court denies his petition.
Petitioner pleaded guilty in Utah state court to three
counts of second-degree-felony forcible sexual abuse, for which
he was sentenced to one term each of one-to-fifteen years, to be
He did not file a direct appeal.
he did file for state-post-conviction relief, a challenge that
was rejected in a Utah Court of Appeals memorandum decision.2
The Utah Supreme Court then summarily denied Petitioner's
petition for writ of certiorari.3
Petitioner's petition here is both timely and exhausted.
argues that his constitutional rights were violated because his
defense counsel did not tell him until the day of sentencing that
See 28 U.S.C.S. § 2254 (2012).
Shelton v. Utah, 2009 UT App 220 (per curiam).
Shelton v. Utah, 225 P.3d 880 (Utah 2010) (table).
a victim had recanted her accusation of rape.
He argues this
both as a violation in its own right (perhaps as an involuntary
plea) and as a violation through an ineffective-assistance-ofcounsel claim.
The State responded to the petition, rightly
contending that these issues do not overcome the federal habeas
standard of review that controls the Court's analysis.
Standard of Review
The standard of review to be applied in federal habeas cases
is found in § 2254 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), under which this habeas petition is
(d) An application for a writ of habeas
corpus on behalf of a person in custody
pursuant to the judgment of a State court
shall not be granted with respect to any
claim that was adjudicated on the merits in
State court proceedings unless the
adjudication of the claim-(1) resulted in a decision that was
contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of
the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was
based on an unreasonable determination of the
facts in light of the evidence presented in
the State court proceeding.4
"Subsection (d)(1) governs claims of legal error while subsection
(d)(2) governs claims of factual error."5
28 U.S.C.S. § 2254(d) (2012).
House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1015 (10th Cir. 2008).
The Court's inquiry centers on whether the court of
appeals's rejection of Petitioner's claims "was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
This "'highly deferential standard'"7 is
"'difficult to meet,' because the purpose of AEDPA is to ensure
that federal habeas relief functions as a '"guard against extreme
malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems,"' and not as
a means of error correction."8
The Court is not to determine
whether the court of appeals's decision was correct or whether
this Court may have reached a different outcome.9
"The role of
federal habeas proceedings, while important in assuring that
constitutional rights are observed, is secondary and limited."10
And, "[t]he petitioner carries the burden of proof."11
Under Carey v. Musladin,12 the first step is determining
whether clearly established federal law exists relevant to
Only after answering yes to that
28 U.S.C.S. § 2254(d)(1) (2012).
Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S. Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011) (citations omitted).
Greene v. Fisher, 132 S. Ct. 38, 43-44 (2011) (quoting Harrington v.
Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S.
307, 332 n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment))).
See Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003).
Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 887 (1983).
Cullen, 131 S. Ct. at 1398.
549 U.S. 70 (2006).
House, 527 F.3d at 1017-18.
"threshold question" may the Court go on to "ask whether the
state court decision is either contrary to or an unreasonable
application of such law."14
[C]learly established [federal] law consists
of Supreme Court holdings in cases where the
facts are at least closely-related or similar
to the case sub judice. Although the legal
rule at issue need not have had its genesis
in the closely-related or similar factual
context, the Supreme Court must have
expressly extended the legal rule to that
In deciding whether relevant clearly established federal law
exists, this Court is not restricted by the state court's
If this threshold is overcome, this Court may grant habeas
relief only when the state court has "unreasonably applied the
governing legal principle to the facts of the petitioner's
This deferential standard does not let a federal habeas
court issue a writ merely because it determines on its own that
the state-court decision erroneously applied clearly established
Id. at 1018.
Id. at 1016.
See Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455 (2005) ("[F]ederal courts are not
free to presume that a state court did not comply with constitutional dictates
on the basis of nothing more than a lack of citation."); Mitchell v. Esparza,
540 U.S. 12, 16 (2003) ("[A] state court need not even be aware of our
precedents, 'so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the statecourt decision contradicts them.'") (citation omitted).
Walker v. Gibson, 228 F.3d 1217, 1225 (10th Cir. 2000) (citing
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000)).
"'Rather that application must also be
Indeed, "'an unreasonable application of
federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal
This highly demanding standard was meant to pose a sizable
obstacle to the habeas petitioner.21
Section 2254(d) "stops
short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of
claims already rejected in state proceedings."22
power to issue the writ when no possibility exists that
"fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's
decision conflicts with th[e Supreme] Court's precedents.
goes no farther."23
To prevail in federal court, "a state
prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim
being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification
that there was an error well understood and comprehended in
existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded
Id. (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 411).
Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 785 (emphasis in original) (quoting
Williams, 529 U.S. at 410).
Id. at 786.
It is against this backdrop that this Court now
applies the standard of review to the circumstances of this case.
Application of Standard of Review
Petitioner urges this Court to overturn the Utah Court of
Appeals' decision that his federal constitutional rights were not
violated when Petitioner's counsel failed to tell him about the
recantation of the rape accusation until the day of sentencing.
Petitioner argues that, had he known of the recantation, he would
not have agreed to the plea bargain, in which several charges,
including rape, were dropped in exchange for Petitioner pleading
guilty to three counts of forcible sexual abuse.
Noting again that review is tightly circumscribed by the
standard of review for federal habeas claims by state prisoners,
this Court observes that the court of appeals did not cite to any
governing case law with which to analyze Petitioner's challenges.
The court's analysis follows:
Shelton asserts that he is entitled to postconviction relief because after he entered a
plea agreement with the State, he was not
informed until the day of sentencing that one
of his two victims had allegedly recanted her
accusations of rape. [FN 1 Shelton does not
contend that the victim withdrew her
allegations of forcible sexual abuse.] He
contends that had he known that the victim
had recanted her allegation of rape, he would
not have pleaded guilty to the three counts
of forcible sexual abuse. The district court
correctly concluded that Shelton failed to
state a claim for relief. Shelton did not
Id. at 786-87.
plead guilty to rape. Shelton pleaded guilty
to three counts of forcible sexual abuse,
only one of which involved the victim that
had allegedly recanted her claim of rape. In
regard to this victim, Shelton admitted to
facts forming the basis of the forcible
sexual abuse claim, including touching the
breasts of the victim with requisite intent
under the statute. See Utah Code Ann. § 765-404(1) (2008) (setting forth elements of
forcible sexual abuse). Thus, because the
alleged recantation was unrelated to the
charges for which Shelton pleaded guilty, the
district court did not err in determining
that Shelton was not entitled to postconviction relief.
Shelton also asserted in his petition for
post-conviction relief that he was not
informed that he could withdraw his plea at
any time prior to sentencing. More
particularly, Shelton claimed that he did not
know he could have filed a motion to withdraw
his plea after allegedly learning that one of
the victims had recanted her allegation of
rape. The district court expressly
determined that in Shelton's Statement in
Support of his Guilty Plea, Shelton
acknowledged, "I understand that if I want to
withdraw my guilty plea, I must file a
written motion to withdraw my plea(s) before
sentence is announced." Thus, Shelton was
fully aware that he had the ability to file a
motion to withdraw his plea.25
Under Carey, this Court must first determine whether there
is applicable on-point Supreme Court precedent.26
regardless of the court of appeals's failure to cite or refer to
Shelton, 2009 UT App 220.
House, 527 F.3d at 1017-18.
any case law at all, let alone Supreme Court cases.27
Court's independent review of Supreme Court precedent reveals no
There are no cases in which the Supreme Court
has decided that a victim's alleged recantation on a dropped
charge (in this case, rape) gives a basis for a criminal
defendant to validly challenge his conviction on another charge
to which he has admitted facts that fit the elements of the crime
of conviction (in this case, forcible sexual abuse), especially
given an unchallenged (or inadequately challenged) finding of
fact that the defendant understood his right to withdraw his
Petitioner completely ignores the federal statutory habeas
standard of review.
He merely insists, without analysis, that
his constitutional rights were violated.
However, based on its
careful reading of the court of appeals's decision in this case,
together with its review of United States Supreme Court cases,
this Court can find no hint that the court of appeals did not
apply relevant Supreme Court precedent.
And that is the end of
this Court's inquiry.
Petitioner's challenges to the circumstances of his guilty
plea raise no valid ground for federal habeas relief.
See Bell, 543 U.S. at 455; Mitchell, 540 U.S. at 16.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that this habeas corpus petition
under § 2254 is DENIED.
DATED this 23rd day of July, 2012.
BY THE COURT:
United States District Judge
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