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Wright v. Warden of Manning Correctional Institution

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

July 29, 2019

Troy M. Wright, Petitioner,
v.
Warden of Manning Correctional Institution, Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Henry M. Herlong, Jr., Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court for review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.[1] Troy M. Wright (“Wright”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, is seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In her Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Baker recommends granting the Respondent's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Wright's petition with prejudice.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Wright is currently incarcerated at Fairfield County Detention Center. In 2013, Wright was charged with first-degree assault and battery after he attacked his former girlfriend at her place of employment. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 1 (App. 9-12), ECF No. 8-1.) The state offered to allow Wright to plead guilty to first-degree assault and battery on the condition that the state would recommend the maximum prison term of ten years. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 50-52), ECF No. 8-1.) Wright refused the plea deal. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 52), ECF No. 8-1.) After Wright refused this deal and after the prosecutor learned about the extent of the victim's injuries, Wright was indicted for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature (“ABHAN”) on December 1, 2014. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 59-60, 79), ECF No. 8-1.)

         Wright pled guilty to ABHAN pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970). According to Wright, the prosecutor allegedly promised not to make a recommendation at sentencing regarding the length of Wright's sentence. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 7-9, 53-54), ECF No. 8-1.) However, at sentencing, the prosecutor asked the court to impose the maximum sentence of twenty years' imprisonment. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 1 (App. 13), ECF No. 8-1.) On January 7, 2015, Wright was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment, suspended to eight years' imprisonment upon good behavior. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 19), ECF No. 8-1.) Wright did not file a direct appeal.

         On March 27, 2015, Wright filed an application for post-conviction relief (“PCR”) and raised three grounds for relief: (1) his attorney coerced him into pleading guilty, (2) ineffective assistance of plea counsel, and (3) the state prosecutor violated the plea agreement. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 21, 23, 44-45), ECF No. 8-1.) An evidentiary hearing was held on August 2, 2016. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 47), ECF No. 8-1.) On August 15, 2016, the PCR court denied Wright's PCR application. (Id. Attach. 1 (App. 76), ECF No. 8-1.) However, in its opinion, the PCR court did not address Wright's second and third grounds for relief. The PCR court addressed Wright's first ground for relief, which the court interpreted as a claim that plea counsel exposed Wright to “a possible twenty[-]year, violent, and serious offense of Assault and Battery of a High and Aggravated Nature (ABHAN), by not informing him of the statute's collateral consequences associated with ABHAN.” (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Attach. 1 (App. 75-76), ECF No. 8-1.) Wright's PCR counsel did not make a motion to alter or amend the PCR court's order.

         Wright appealed the PCR court's decision, and filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the South Carolina Supreme Court on December 9, 2016, raising the following grounds:

1. Whether Petitioner's guilty plea was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made where he pled guilty pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 200 U.S. 25 (1970)[, ] based on plea counsel's assurance that the state would not make a sentence recommendation during the hearing and where instead the assistant solicitor asked the court to sentence Petitioner to the maximum twenty years' imprisonment?
2. Did the PCR court err by failing to rule on Petitioner's claim that his guilty plea was not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made based on plea counsel's ineffective assistance of counsel since Petitioner properly raised the claim in his amended application, presented extensive evidence related to the claim at the evidentiary hearing, and the PCR court accepted oral argument from counsel on the claim at the conclusion of the hearing?

(Id. Attach. 2 (Pet. Writ Cert.), ECF No. 8-2.) The South Carolina Supreme Court transferred the petition to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, and on October 24, 2018, the Court of Appeals denied the petition. (Id. Attach. 4 (Oct. 24, 2018 Order) ECF No. 8-4.)

         Wright filed the instant § 2254 petition on December 11, 2018, [2] alleging the following three grounds for relief: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel based on Wright's assertion that his attorney coerced him to plead to a greater offense (“ground 1”), (2) breach of plea agreement (“ground 2”), and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel based on Wright's assertion that his attorney was inexperienced and unfamiliar with sentencing guidelines (“ground 3”). (§ 2254 Pet., ECF No. 1.) On February 22, 2019, Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment. (Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 9.) Wright filed a response on March 29, 2019.[3] (Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 13.) Respondent filed a reply on April 8, 2019. (Reply, ECF No. 14.) On June 3, 2019, Magistrate Judge Baker issued a Report and Recommendation. (R&R, ECF No. 15.) Magistrate Judge Baker recommends granting Respondent's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Wright's petition with prejudice because all grounds for relief are procedurally defaulted. (Id., ECF No. 15.) Wright filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on July 15, 2019.[4] (Objs., ECF No. 19.) This matter is now ripe for review.

         II. Discussion of the Law

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the ...


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