(Monongalia County 13-C-846)
Daniel Slonaker, by counsel Jason E. Wingfield, appeals the
Circuit Court of Monongalia County's January 24, 2018,
order denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Respondent Donnie Ames, Superintendent, by counsel Caleb A.
Ellis, filed a response. On appeal, petitioner argues that the
circuit court erred in denying his habeas petition based upon
an erroneous standard. He further argues that the circuit
court erred in denying his petition without affording him a
hearing in regard to his claims of ineffective assistance of
counsel, improper prosecutorial comments, and involuntary
statements made to law enforcement.
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.
2011, following a jury trial, petitioner was convicted of
three counts of second-degree sexual assault arising from
forced intercourse with the victim. For these crimes, the
circuit court sentenced petitioner to ten to twenty-five
years of incarceration for each count. Further, petitioner, a
recidivist, received an enhanced sentence of life
imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Petitioner filed
a direct appeal, and this Court affirmed the trial
court's decision on May 17, 2013. See State v.
Slonaker, No. 12-0127, 2013 WL 2157831 ( W.Va. May 17,
filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus on
October 30, 2013. After being appointed counsel, petitioner
filed two amended petitions, the second being filed on
January 17, 2017. Relevant to this appeal, petitioner
asserted several grounds for relief, including ineffective
assistance of counsel due to trial counsel's alleged
failure to call witnesses at trial, raise legitimate
defenses, and raise certain arguments on direct appeal.
Petitioner also asserted improper prosecutorial statements
and that his statement to police was coerced and involuntary.
receipt of a response, but without holding a hearing, the
habeas court denied petitioner habeas relief on January 24,
2018. The habeas court undertook a review of the records from
petitioner's underlying proceedings and concluded that
petitioner was not denied effective assistance of counsel.
While petitioner asserted that his trial counsel should have
called witnesses to corroborate his statements given to law
enforcement, the court determined that petitioner never
identified or claimed that there were other witnesses to the
events, other than those who testified at trial. Petitioner
also contended that his trial counsel should have called a
subject matter expert that could have explained why victims
make false accusations of rape. However, the habeas court
found that no such witness was needed given that the victim
never accused petitioner of rape due to her complete
inability to remember any of the events of that
night.Further, although petitioner averred that
his counsel erred in not calling an expert witness to rebut
one of the State's witnesses, the habeas court found that
there was no need as the State's witness testified as to
what petitioner wanted to prove-that there were no major
injuries to the victim. The habeas court concluded that
"[n]one of these allegations amount to ineffective
assistance of counsel and had Petitioner's counsel
pursued them, it would not have made a difference in the
outcome of the trial."
habeas court also denied petitioner's claims regarding
his allegedly coerced statement to the police due to the fact
that testimony demonstrated that, contrary to
petitioner's claims, he had been permitted to use the
restroom prior to giving his statement. Moreover, the
recording of petitioner's statement demonstrated that
petitioner "did almost all of the talking" and did
not appear to be in a rush or in distress. The habeas court
also dismissed petitioner's improper prosecutorial
comments claim, finding that the remarks made by the
prosecutor were not "devastatingly prejudicial" and
did not amount to a violation of petitioner's right to a
fair trial. Further, it found the statements did not result
in manifest injustice and did not warrant a reversal of the
verdict. It is from this order that petitioner appeals.
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 first contends that the habeas court erred
in denying him an omnibus hearing based upon an incorrect
evidentiary standard. According to petitioner, the habeas
court erroneously applied a preponderance of the evidence
standard, rather than the lower probable cause standard set
forth in West Virginia Code § 53-4A-7(a). By improperly
applying a higher standard of review, petitioner argues he
was denied the benefit of an evidentiary hearing, which would
have allowed him to address the claims set forth in his
petition. Secondly, petitioner contends that the habeas court
erred in dismissing his petition without holding a hearing on
his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, prejudicial
statements made by the prosecutor, and that his statements to
the police were coerced. Petitioner avers that his claims as
set forth in his petition were sufficient to warrant an
omnibus hearing and that the habeas court abused its
discretion in denying the same. We disagree.
previously noted that
[i]t is evident from a reading of W.Va. Code §
53-4A-7(a) that a petitioner for habeas corpus relief is not
entitled, as a matter of right, to a full evidentiary hearing
in every proceeding instituted under the provisions of the
post-conviction habeas corpus act. . . . A hearing is
required only "[i]f it appears to the court . . . that
there is probable cause to believe that the petitioner may be
entitled to some relief and that the contention or
contentions and grounds (in fact or law) advanced have not
been previously and finally adjudicated or waived." Even
in such circumstances, there is no requirement that a full
evidentiary hearing be conducted.
Gibson v. Dale, 173 W.Va. 681, 688, 319 S.E.2d 806,
813 (1984) (footnote omitted). The decision to hold a hearing
rests in the "sound discretion" of the circuit
court. Tex S. v. Pszczolkowski, 236 W.Va. 245, 253,
778 S.E.2d ...