United States District Court, D. South Carolina
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner Eduardo Martinez ("Petitioner") is a state prisoner who filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c) DSC, for a Report and Recommendation on Respondent's Return and Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF Nos. 21, 22. On August 19, 2014, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised Petitioner of the Summary Judgment Motion, dismissal procedures, and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to Respondent's Motion. ECF No. 23. On September 24, 2014, Petitioner filed a Response in Opposition to Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 26. Having carefully considered the parties' submissions and the record in this case, the undersigned recommends that Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 21, be granted.
Petitioner is currently incarcerated in the Lieber Correctional Institution ("LCI") of the South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC"). ECF No. 1 at 1. In 2007, Petitioner was indicted at the January term of the Charleston County Grand Jury for trafficking in cocaine (200 to 400 grams) (2007-GS-10-0066) and possession with intent to distribute cocaine within the proximity of a school (2007-GS-10-0065). App. 4-5; 131-32. On March 3, 2008, Petitioner pleaded guilty to both charges before the Honorable R. Markley Dennis, Jr. App. 1-15. During his plea, Jacqueline G. Grau represented Petitioner, and Assistant Solicitor Julie Cardillo appeared on behalf of the State. Id. Pursuant to negotiations with the State, Judge Dennis sentenced Petitioner to concurrent terms of 18 years for the trafficking charge and 8 years for the possession charge. App. 14. Petitioner did not file a Notice of Appeal. ECF No. 1 at 2.
II. Procedural History
On August 7, 2008, Petitioner filed an application for Post-Conviction Relief ("PCR"), alleging, verbatim, the following claims:
(a) Counsel failed to investigate;
(b) Counsel failed to interview certain witnesses;
(c) I was coerce into pleading guilty.
App. 19. The State filed a Return to Petitioner's Application on March 23, 2009. ECF No. 25-28. Thereafter a motions hearing convened on November 20, 2009, before the Honorable Kristi Leah Harrington. App. 30-99. Petitioner was present and represented by Barrett R. Brewer, and Assistant Attorney General Matthew J. Friedman appeared on behalf of the State. See id. After the hearing, the PCR Court denied and dismissed Petitioner's PCR Application with prejudice on December 14, 2009, making the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:
This Court has had the opportunity to review the record in its entirety and has heard the testimony and arguments presented at the PCR hearing. This Court has further had the opportunity to observe each witness who testified at the hearing, and to closely pass upon his or her credibility. This Court has weighed the testimony accordingly. Set forth below are the relevant findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by S.C. Code Ann. § 17-27-80 (2003).
The Applicant testified that he was not able to communicate with counsel in English. He asserted that he asked for an interpreter, but she never hired one prior to the plea hearing. Applicant testified that he received counsel's letter dated January 3, 2008, but he did not understand the letter. He understood that there was an offer for fifteen (15) years, but he did not know if it was for one charge or two charges. Applicant testified that counsel did not speak Spanish. He asserted that he understood some of what she said but not enough for effective assistance. Applicant testified that his interpreter at the plea hearing explained the prior plea offer of fifteen (15) years to him. He asserted that he would have accepted the prior offer if he had understood it. He testified that he was pressured by counsel to plead guilty because the case had been going on for so long and she had not been paid. Applicant testified that he told the court he was satisfied with counsel because he thought the judge was asking if counsel was a good person. He testified that the plea judge did not ask him if counsel did a good job.
Plea counsel testified that she met with Applicant 10-20 times. She testified that she communicated with Applicant in English and some Spanish. She testified that Applicant understood their discussions. She asserted that Applicant speaks more English than he was letting on. Counsel testified that Applicant never asked for an interpreter. She asserted that she did not need an interpreter during his meetings with the Applicant. She testified that Applicant understood the offer for fifteen (15) years, but he was upset about getting that much time so he rejected the offer. Counsel asserted that she did not pressure Applicant into accepting the plea offer and she would never tell a client she was not getting paid. She testified that she was prepared for trial. She testified that she and Applicant had substantial discussions about the consequences of the plea, and she believed Applicant understood the terms of the negotiated sentence.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel/Coerced Plea
The Applicant alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. In a postconviction relief action, the applicant has the burden of proving the allegations in the application. Rule 71.1(e), SCRCP; Butler v. State, 286 S.C. 441, 334 S.E.2d 813 (1985). Where ineffective assistance of counsel is alleged as a ground for relief, the applicant must prove that "counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied upon as having produced a just result." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984); Butler, 334 S.E.2d 813. The proper measure of performance is whether the attorney provided representation within the range of competence required in criminal cases. The courts presume that counsel rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment. Strickland, 466 U.S. 668. The applicant must overcome this presumption in order to receive relief. Cherry, 386 S.E.2d 624.
Courts use a two-pronged test to evaluate allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. First, the applicant must prove that counsel's performance was deficient. Under this prong, attorney performance is measured by its "reasonableness under professional norms." Id. at 625 (citing Strickland, 466 U.S. 668). Second, counsel's deficient performance must have prejudiced the applicant such that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 625. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Johnson v. State, 325 S.C. 182, 480 S.E.2d 733 (1997). When there has been a guilty plea, the applicant must prove that counsel's representation was below the standard of reasonableness and that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, there is a reasonable probability that he would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58-59, 106 S.Ct. 366, 370 (1985); Roscoe v. State, 345 S.C. 16, 20, 546 S.E.2d 417, 419 (2001).
To be knowing and voluntary, a plea must be entered with a full understanding of the charges and the consequences of the plea. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243-44, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 1712 (1969); Dover v. State, 304 S.C. 433, 434, 405 S.E.2d 391, 392 (1991). When determining issues relating to guilty pleas, the court will consider the entire record, including the transcript of the guilty plea, and the evidence presented at the post-conviction relief hearing. Anderson v. State, 342 S.C. 54, 57, 535 S.E.2d 649, 657 (2000) (citing Hanes v. Leeke, 282 S.C. 131, 318 S.E.2d 360 (1984). When a defendant pleads guilty on the advice of counsel, the plea may only be attacked through a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Roscoe v. State, 345 S.C. 16, 20, 546 S.E.2d 417, 419 (2002) (citations omitted).
This Court finds that Applicant's testimony is not credible while also finding that counsel's testimony is credible. This Court finds that counsel is a trial practitioner who has extensive experience in the trial of serious offenses. Counsel conferred with the Applicant on numerous occasions. During conferences with the Applicant, counsel discussed the pending charges, the elements of the charges and what the State was required to prove, Applicant's constitutional rights, Applicant's version of the facts, and possible defenses or lack thereof. This Court finds that the record reflects that Applicant's plea was entered freely, voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. Applicant acknowledged that he understood the nature of the charges, the possible punishments, and his constitutional rights. Applicant admitted that he was guilty of these offenses. Applicant told the plea court that he was satisfied with counsel and that no one had threatened him or promised him anything to accept the plea offer. This Court finds that Applicant understood the terms of the negotiated sentence. The record reflects that Applicant answered some of the plea judge's questions in English and he did not use the interpreter for the entire plea hearing.
Regarding the Applicant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, this Court finds the Applicant has failed to meet his burden of proof. This Court finds that Applicant's attorney demonstrated the normal degree of skill, knowledge, professional judgment, and representation that are expected of an attorney who practices criminal law in South Carolina. State v. Pendergrass, 270 S.C. 1, 239 S.E.2d 750 (1977); Strickland, 466 U.S. at 668; Butler, 286 S.C. 441. 334 S.E.2d 813. This Court further finds counsel adequately conferred with the Applicant, conducted a proper investigation, and was ...