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Hilling v. Sallaz

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 9, 2018

Danielle Hilling, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
J.D. Sallaz, Acting Warden, Lakin Correctional Center, Respondent Below, Respondent

          Monongalia County 14-C-589

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Danielle Hilling, by counsel Teresa J. Lyons, appeals the March 28, 2017, order of the Circuit Court of Monongalia County denying her petition for post-conviction habeas corpus relief. Respondent J.D. Sallaz, Acting Warden, Lakin Correctional Center, by counsel, Sarah B. Massey, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order.[1] Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in finding that an omnibus hearing was unnecessary, in denying petitioner's motion to expand the record, and in denying habeas relief.

         The 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 May of 2006, petitioner was indicted for one count of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy. At trial, petitioner was convicted of both counts. Ultimately, petitioner was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for first degree murder and one to five years of incarceration for conspiracy, said sentences to be served concurrently. Petitioner appealed her conviction. The Court refused the appeal by order entered in May of 2008.

         In June of 2009, petitioner, by previous counsel, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The circuit court summarily denied those claims without an omnibus evidentiary hearing. Petitioner appealed the denial, and this Court affirmed the circuit court order. Hilling v. Nohe, No. 12-0131, 2013 WL 3185089 (W.Va. June 24, 2013)(memorandum decision).

         Thereafter, petitioner filed a second petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County asserting ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Counsel was appointed for petitioner who filed an amended petition and a supporting memorandum of law. Respondent filed an answer. In a thirteen-page order entered on March 28, 2017, the circuit court denied the petition without holding an omnibus hearing. The circuit court found that "[p]etitioner has not shown that trial counsel's performance was so deficient under an objective standard of reasonableness that she was denied the effective assistance of counsel." Further, the circuit court found that "[p]etitioner has not shown that but for trial counsel's actions and/or omissions, the result of her trial and sentencing would have been different." In regard to an omnibus hearing, the court found that petitioner "has not disclosed an expert opinion or indicated that any expert or other testimony would be taken at a hearing" and that "petitioner has not identified any evidence she wishes to introduce in support of her [p]etition." Petitioner now appeals that order.

         We apply the following standard of review in habeas appeals:

"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." Syl. Pt. 1, Mathena v. Haines, 219 W.Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006).

Syl. Pt. 1, Anstey v. Ballard, 237 W.Va. 411, 787 S.E.2d 864 (2016).

         On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court abused its discretion by dismissing her amended petition without affording her an omnibus hearing or another opportunity to expand the record. Respondent argues that petitioner had no entitlement to expand the record and that the circuit court may deny habeas petitions that are procedurally barred or meritless. We agree with respondent and find no error in the circuit court's denial of petitioner's habeas petition.

         West Virginia Code § 53-4A-7(a) provides

[i]f the petition, affidavits, exhibits, records and other documentary evidence attached thereto, or the return or other pleadings, or the record in the proceedings which resulted in the conviction and sentence . . . show to the satisfaction of the court that the petition is entitled to no relief . . . the court shall enter an order denying the relief sought.

         Additionally, we have previously held as follows:

'A court having jurisdiction over habeas corpus proceedings may deny a petition for a writ of habeas corpus without a hearing and without appointing counsel for the petitioner if the petition, exhibits, affidavits or other documentary evidence filed therewith show to such court's satisfaction that the petitioner is entitled to no relief. Syllabus Point 1, Perdue v. Coiner, 156 W.Va. 467, ...

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