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Hinkle v. Binion

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 19, 2019

Lawrence K. Hinkle, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
J.T. Binion, Superintendent, Huttonsville Correctional Center, Respondent Below, Respondent

          Mingo County 12-C-320

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Lawrence K. Hinkle, pro se, appeals the April 9, 2018, order of the Circuit Court of Mingo County dismissing his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Respondent J.T. Binion, Superintendent, Huttonsville Correctional Center, [1] by counsel Shannon Frederick Kiser, filed a summary response. Petitioner filed a reply.

         The Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal.[2] The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. This case satisfies the "limited circumstances" requirement of Rule 21(d) of the Rules of Appellate Procedure and is appropriate for a memorandum decision rather than an opinion. For the reasons expressed below, the decision of the circuit court is reversed, and this case is remanded to the circuit court for specific findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding petitioner's allegation that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in his first habeas corpus proceeding.

         In 1998, petitioner was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder. The second killing occurred while petitioner was free on bond following the first killing. On June 2, 1998, petitioner entered into a plea agreement with the State. Pursuant to the plea agreement, petitioner agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter with regard to the first killing and to first-degree murder with regard to the second killing in exchange for a recommendation of mercy. The State further agreed to make a non-binding recommendation that petitioner serve his sentences of incarceration concurrently. At a June 1, 1998, plea hearing, the circuit court questioned petitioner as to whether those terms constituted the entirety of the parties' agreement and whether petitioner was promised anything not contained within the plea agreement:

Q. Now that I have read to you the plea letter of June 1st in open court in its entirely, is that the entire agreement that you have with the State of West Virginia?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is there anything else whatsoever that you think has been promised to you or that's a part of your plea agreement that is not set forth in this letter.
A. No.

         Following its full colloquy with petitioner, [3] the circuit court found that he voluntarily, intelligently, and knowingly entered a guilty plea to the offense of voluntary manslaughter with regard to the first killing and a guilty plea to the offense of first-degree murder with regard to the second killing. At a July 20, 1998, sentencing hearing, petitioner's trial attorney informed the circuit court that petitioner was initially reluctant to accept the plea agreement because he did not believe that he deserved a plea bargain, but that petitioner's friend helped to persuade him to agree to the State's plea offer. Trial counsel explained:

. . . I went to a family friend of [petitioner] and together we talked to him, cried, talked, cried, and it ended up that [trial counsel's husband] was right. [Petitioner] didn't think he deserved the deal. The reason this finally ended in a plea is because [petitioner] seemed to realize that this plea offer not only was for him[, ] it was also for members of both families and his family.

         The circuit court sentenced petitioner to a life term of incarceration for his first-degree murder conviction, with the possibility of parole, and to fifteen years for his voluntary manslaughter conviction.[4] Petitioner did not file an appeal in his criminal case.

         On January 10, 2011, petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition was filed by Attorney Charles S. West, whom petitioner's family retained to represent him in his first habeas proceeding. Petitioner identifies Attorney West as the family friend who helped to persuade him to agree to the State's plea offer in his criminal case. In the first habeas proceeding, the circuit court held an evidentiary hearing on May 31, 2011. Attorney West presented the testimony of several witnesses including petitioner and petitioner's trial counsel. Among the grounds for relief raised by Attorney West were that petitioner's guilty pleas should be found invalid and that the plea agreement should be voided.[5] However, neither petitioner nor Attorney West informed the circuit court of Attorney West's involvement in persuading petitioner to accept the plea agreement. By order entered June 10, 2011, the circuit court rejected petitioner's grounds for relief and denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner did not appeal the denial of his first petition.

         On December 13, 2012, petitioner filed a second habeas petition alleging ineffective assistance of habeas counsel. Petitioner was appointed counsel, who filed an amended petition on March 12, 2018. Petitioner argued that Attorney West had a conflict of interest that he should have disclosed to the circuit court in the prior habeas proceeding. Petitioner alleged that, in persuading petitioner to accept the plea agreement, Attorney West told him that, after petitioner served ten years of incarceration, Attorney West would "do something to get him released."[6] Following a March 13, 2018, hearing, the circuit court dismissed the petition, finding that petitioner had "no new grounds [for relief]."[7]

         Petitioner now appeals the circuit court's April 9, 2018, order dismissing the instant habeas petition. In Syllabus Point 1 of Watts v. Ballard, 2 ...


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