Berkeley County 14-C-655
Ronald S., by counsel Matthew T. Yanni, appeals the Circuit
Court of Berkeley County's November 16, 2017, order
denying his amended petition for a writ of habeas
corpus.Respondent Donnie Ames, Superintendent, by
counsel Benjamin F. Yancey III, filed a
response.On appeal, petitioner argues that the
circuit court erred in denying his habeas petition without
affording him a hearing.
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.
April of 2012, petitioner was convicted of two counts of
sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, or custodian and one
count of third-degree sexual assault. The circuit court
sentenced petitioner to consecutive terms of incarceration of
not less than ten nor more than twenty years for each of his
sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, or custodian convictions
and not less than one nor more than five years for his
third-degree sexual assault conviction. We affirmed
petitioner's convictions in State v. [Ronald
S.], No. 12-0955, 2013 WL 3184769 (W.Va. June 24,
pro se, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the
circuit court on September 26, 2014. The circuit court
appointed counsel for petitioner, and petitioner, with the
assistance of counsel, filed an amended habeas petition on
March 1, 2017. In his amended petition, petitioner asserted
twenty-eight grounds for relief, one of which was ineffective
assistance of counsel due to counsel's alleged failure to
communicate a plea offer to him.
holding a hearing, the circuit court denied petitioner habeas
relief on November 16, 2017. The court concluded that
petitioner failed to demonstrate that he would have accepted
a plea offer, assuming his trial counsel failed to
communicate one in the first instance. In reaching this
conclusion, the court considered an exchange that took place
during a pretrial hearing, where petitioner confirmed his
rejection of a plea offer that postdated the one allegedly
not conferred by counsel. At the pretrial hearing, the
circuit court inquired of petitioner's then-counsel,
Christopher Prezioso, whether a plea agreement had been
offered. Mr. Prezioso explained that one had been
offered, which petitioner rejected. The court continued,
"So there's no plea on the table now?" Mr.
Prezioso set forth the terms of the rejected agreement and
explained that he "went out there [to the jail], went
over it with my client, made sure - I actually came back to
make sure. . . . I went out there, handed it to him, came
back, reviewed it again. [He] [d]id not want it." The
court then inquired of petitioner: "[Y]ou've heard
how Mr. Prezioso has explained the plea agreement and that he
discussed it with you and that you after discussion with him
wanted to reject that; is that correct?" Petitioner
responded, "Yes, sir."
to the conclusion of the pretrial hearing, Mr. Prezioso
Judge, can I just put on the record if this plea was
available today he would still not want it. . . . I explained
to [petitioner] that we could further negotiate this plea and
even if this was available today, you're telling me you
wouldn't want it; correct?
confirmed, "Correct." It is from this order that
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." 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).
appeal, petitioner contends that the circuit court erred in
dismissing his amended habeas petition without holding a
hearing, but he only claims error with respect to the denial
of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. In his
amended habeas petition, petitioner claimed that the State
communicated a plea offer to his original trial counsel,
William DeHaven, which Mr. DeHaven failed to communicate to
petitioner. Petitioner contends that, without a hearing, he
was unable to prove the existence of this offer and that he
would have accepted it had he known of it.
In the West Virginia courts, claims of ineffective assistance
of counsel are to be governed by the two-pronged test
established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S.
668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984): (1) Counsel's
performance was deficient under an objective standard of
reasonableness; and (2) there is a reasonable probability
that, but for ...