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Jesse B. v. Terry

Supreme Court of West Virginia

January 8, 2018

Jesse B., Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
Ralph Terry, Acting Warden, Mt. Olive Correctional Complex, Respondent Below, Respondent

         Ohio County 14-C-129

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Jesse B., by counsel Mark D. Panepinto and pro se, appeals the Circuit Court of Ohio County's March 29, 2016, order denying his petition for writ of habeas corpus. [1] Respondent Ralph Terry, Acting Warden, by counsel Elizabeth Davis Grant, filed a response. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in finding that his plea was voluntary and that he was afforded effective assistance of counsel.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         In March of 2010, petitioner was charged, by way of criminal complaint, with four counts of sexual abuse by a parent, three counts of first-degree sexual abuse, and one count of first-degree sexual assault. Petitioner entered into a plea agreement with the State whereby he agreed to plead no contest [2] to the first-degree sexual assault charge in exchange for the State's agreement to refrain from prosecuting him for any offense known to the State and occurring before the date on which the plea was entered. The circuit court accepted this plea on May 7, 2010, and proceeded to sentence him to not less than 25 nor more than 100 years of incarceration.

         On May 12, 2014, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus alleging that his plea was involuntary and ineffective assistance of counsel. The circuit court held an omnibus hearing on January 7, 2015, and denied the petition by order entered on March 29, 2016. It is from this order that petitioner appeals.

         This Court reviews appeals of circuit court orders denying habeas corpus relief under the following standard:

"In reviewing challenges to the findings and conclusions of the circuit court in a habeas corpus action, we apply a three-prong standard of review. We review the final order and the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard; the underlying factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard; and questions of law are subject to a de novo review." Syllabus point 1, Mathena v. Haines, 219 W.Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006).

Syl. Pt. 1, State ex rel. Franklin v. McBride, 226 W.Va. 375, 701 S.E.2d 97 (2009).

         Petitioner advances two assignments of error on appeal. Petitioner's first contention is that the circuit court erred in finding that his plea was voluntary. Petitioner states that he "did not understand any thing [sic] that was happening" and that he "just followed the lead of [c]ounsel." Petitioner asserts that "sexual offenders are frowned upon in jail and prison by other inmates which ultimately cause[d him to] be under a lot of duress." Petitioner claims that the stress of his incarceration caused him to "say and do anything to get out of the place in which he resided." Petitioner further states that he was confused by the plea agreement and led to believe that he would be receiving a fifteen to thirty-five-year sentence.

         Petitioner's second assignment of error is that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel pressured him into entering into the plea agreement. Petitioner contends that he was under duress as explained above, confused about the plea, and did not wish to plead guilty or no contest. Accordingly, petitioner contends he was "under no condition to be forced into taking a plea."

         In Call v. McKenzie, 159 W.Va. 191, 220 S.E.2d 665 (1975), we observed that "[t]he most common issues in [h]abeas corpus cases are whether there were, indeed, knowing and intelligent waivers, whether there were facts outside the record which improperly caused the defendant to enter his plea, and whether defendant's counsel was indeed competent." Id. at 196, 220 S.E.2d at 669-70. We found that these issues "can all be finally resolved in the careful taking of the original plea" and outlined certain inquiries that should be made prior to the acceptance of a plea. Id. at 196, 220 S.E.2d at 670. Where a plea bargain has been entered into, "the trial court should spread the terms of the bargain upon the record and interrogate the defendant concerning whether he understands the rights he is waiving by pleading guilty and whether there is any pressure upon him to plead guilty other than the consideration admitted on the record." Id. at 191, 220 S.E.2d at 667, Syl. Pt. 4. Further,

[a] trial court should spread upon the record the defendant's education, whether he consulted with friends or relatives about his plea, any history of mental illness or drug use, the extent he consulted with counsel, and all other relevant matters which will demonstrate to an appellate court or a trial court proceeding in [h]abeas corpus that the defendant's plea was knowingly and intelligently made with due regard to the intelligent waiver of known rights.

Id. at 192, 220 S.E.2d at 668, Syl. Pt. 5. ...


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