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Craft v. State

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

March 23, 2015

STATE OF IOWA, Defendant.


EDWARD J. McMANUS, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on plaintiff's resisted Petition for Habeas Corpus, filed October 31, 2013. Briefing concluded January 14, 2015. Petition dismissed.

Pro se petitioner Craft, an inmate in Anamosa State Penitentiary, pleaded guilty to and was convicted of second degree murder of his girlfriend Shayla Todd on September 2, 2007. He brings this petition for habeas corpus asserting (1) ineffective assistance of counsel, and (2) violation of his due process rights by the Iowa courts by denying him an evidentiary hearing.

When a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court, habeas corpus will not be granted unless the state court adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the United States Supreme Court; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an reasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Craft argues his state-court counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is governed by Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668 (1984). To show constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel under this standard, a petitioner bears the burden of affirmatively showing "both deficient performance by counsel and prejudice." Knowles v. Mirzayance , 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009). To establish the "deficient performance" prong, a petitioner must show that "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 687-91. To establish the "prejudice" prong, a petitioner is required to show that there is "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 694. "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. It is not enough "to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding. Virtually every act or omission of counsel would meet that test...." Id. at 693. Thus, "[s]urmounting Strickland's high bar is never an easy task." Padilla v. Kentucky , 559 U.S. 356, 371 (2010).

Craft argues his trial counsel was ineffective for allowing him to plead guilty when Craft did not fully understand the consequences of the plea. More specifically, Craft asserts his counsel told him he would not have to serve the seventy-percent mandatory minimum applicable to his crime because the legislature would lower the mandatory minimum. This advice, he argues, led him to enter an involuntary and unintelligent plea.

In support of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, Craft argues the Iowa courts unreasonably determined the facts because they failed to provide him an evidentiary hearing. But the Constitution does not guarantee Craft the right to postconviction proceedings. Pennsylvania v. Finley , 481 U.S. 551, 557 (1987). Therefore, Craft does not have a federal constitutional right to any certain process, including an evidentiary hearing, within postconviction proceedings. As such, the Iowa district court was not unreasonable in rejecting his claim without an evidentiary hearing.

The rule in Iowa is that a hearing is necessary only if "a minimum threshold of credibility is met." Foster v. State , 395 N.W.2d 637, 638 (Iowa 1986). Craft's self-serving statement about his counsel's advice, together with affidavits from his mother and sister, do not supply the minimum credibility necessary to overcome the ample record evidence showing he was advised multiple times of the seventy-percent mandatory minimum. Appendix 9-14, 40, 48. This is especially true in a situation like this where even a lay person should recognize there is no way to predict what a state legislature may do in the future. The upshot is that Craft was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing in state court, and he cannot complain that the state court fact-finding process was unreasonable.

Nothing in § 2254(d)(2) "suggests [courts] defer to a state court's factual findings only if the state court held a hearing on the issue." Cowans v. Bagley , 639 F.3d 241, 246-48 (6th Cir. 2011) (according deference to state court's fact finding on competence to stand trial despite lack of a hearing); see also Mendiola v. Schomig , 224 F.3d 589, 592-93 (7th Cir. 2000) (comparing pre-AEDPA version of section 2254 which required a hearing to trigger deference to state courts with post-AEDPA section 2254, which lacks any such requirement, and holding that "if the state court's finding is supported by the record, even though not by a hearing on the merits of [the] factual issues, ' then it is presumed to be correct."). This court will defer to the Iowa courts' finding of facts, irrespective of whether a hearing occurred.

The Iowa Court of Appeals' decided that Craft was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing as a matter of Iowa law. This court cannot change that on habeas review. See Estelle v. McGuire , 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) ("[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions. In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). The Iowa Court of Appeals' approval of the district court's summary disposition is binding.

Given proper deference, the Iowa Court of Appeals' factual finding dictates the outcome of the Sixth Amendment issue. If defense counsel did not advise Craft that the Iowa legislature would eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder, he could not have been ineffective. Compare Buchheit v. Norris , 459 F.3d 849, 852 (8th 2008) (noting Supreme Court has not decided whether failure to advise as to parole eligibility amounts to ineffective assistance), with ...

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