Woods v. Paquin - Document 20
ORDER signed by Judge Lynn Adelman on 10/27/11 DENYING the petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Clerk of Court shall enter final judgment. Pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, I find that petitioner has not made the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), and therefore I will not issue a certificate of appealability. (cc: all counsel, via USPS to petitioner)(dm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
STEPHEN LYNN WOODS,
Case No. 10-C-0581
JOHN PAQUIN, Warden,
Racine Correctional Institution,
DECISION AND ORDER
Stephen Lynn Woods seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
On January 15, 2008, Woods pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to
distribute between five and fifteen grams of cocaine, one count of possession with intent
to distribute between one and five grams of cocaine, and one count of possession with
intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana. He was sentenced to a total of five years’
imprisonment and five years’ extended supervision. Woods challenges only his conviction
on the first count of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.
Woods was arrested on October 1, 2007, after attempting to sell drugs to a police
informant. During the course of the arrest, Woods attempted to hide drugs that were in his
possession by putting them in his mouth and swallowing them.
However, he was
unsuccessful, and the arresting officers recovered 7.6 grams of cocaine. The officers then
conducted a search of Woods' home and recovered marijuana, cocaine base, drug
paraphernalia and $17,400 in cash.
After the prosecution agreed to drop certain charges against him, Woods decided
to plead guilty. Attorney Allison Ritter represented him at the plea hearing. During the
course of the plea colloquy, Woods stated twice on the record that he did not intend to sell
the 7.6 grams of cocaine, and that therefore he was guilty only of simple possession of
cocaine rather than possession with intent to distribute. After two discussions off the
record with Ritter, Woods informed the court that he understood what it means to possess
with intent to deliver and would plead guilty to that charge. He did so plead and was later
sentenced by the court.
Woods filed a post-conviction motion in the trial court challenging his guilty plea.
He alleged that Ritter’s advice to him concerning possession with intent to deliver was
inaccurate and that therefore she rendered ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically,
he alleged that Ritter advised him that possession of 7.6 grams of cocaine would give rise
to a presumption that he intended to distribute the cocaine rather than consume it himself,
and that therefore if he went to trial on the charge he would certainly be convicted. Woods
stated that if he did not receive this inaccurate advice he would not have pleaded guilty and
would have insisted on going to trial. Woods also moved to withdraw his guilty plea on the
ground that he was actually innocent of possession with intent deliver, and that therefore
a “manifest injustice” would occur if he was not allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.
In connection with the post-conviction motion, the trial court held a Machner hearing,
see State v. Machner, 92 Wis. 2d 463 (Ct. App. 1975), and heard testimony from both
Woods and Ritter regarding the advice that Ritter gave prior to and during Woods' plea
hearing. Woods testified that Ritter advised him that possession of 7.6 grams of cocaine
“infers intent,” and that this left him with the impression that because he was caught with
7.6 grams of cocaine the jury would presume that he had intent to deliver. (Machner
Hearing Tr. [Answer Ex. N] at 57-59.) He therefore decided to plead guilty to the charge
even though it was his intent to consume the cocaine himself. Ritter denied ever advising
Woods that possession of a certain amount of cocaine would raise an automatic
presumption that he had intent to deliver. (Id. at 28.) Rather, she advised him that
whether he had intent to deliver depended on the totality of the circumstances, and that it
was her opinion that if he went to trial on this charge the jury would most likely find that he
had intent to deliver the cocaine. (Id. at 20.) Her opinion was based on the amount of
cocaine in his possession at the time of arrest, the amount of cash in his possession, the
fact that he didn’t have a job at the time, and his statement to police that he sold drugs.
During the Machner hearing, Woods also indicated that if Ritter had informed him
that, at trial, he could ask the judge to submit a lesser-included-offense instruction for
simple possession, he would have gone to trial rather than plead guilty. (Id. at 46.) Ritter
testified that although she may not have specifically mentioned the possibility of requesting
a lesser-included instruction for simple possession, she did discuss with him the fact that
the “crux” of the decision between pleading guilty and going to trial was whether the
evidence would establish possession with intent or merely simple possession. (Id. at 1417.)
After the Machner hearing, the trial court found that Attorney Ritter's advice was not
deficient under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The court found that Ritter
did not give Woods erroneous advice concerning the standard for proving intent to deliver
under Wisconsin law and that her opinion that Woods would likely be found guilty if he
went to trial was reasonable.1 The court also found that although Ritter may never have
specifically mentioned the possibility of requesting a lesser-included instruction on simple
possession, her explanation about the difference between simple possession and
possession with intent to distribute was sufficient to fully advise Woods of the risks and
benefits of pleading guilty rather than going to trial. Finally, the court rejected Woods’
claim that he was actually innocent of possession with intent to deliver.
Woods appealed to the denial of his post-conviction motion to the Wisconsin Court
of Appeals, which affirmed. After the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined review, Woods
commenced this habeas action.
Woods raises three claims in his habeas petition: (1) that a manifest injustice will
occur if he is not allowed to withdraw his guilty plea; (2) that Ritter’s advice regarding the
inference of intent to deliver constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, and (3) that
Ritter’s failure to advise Woods that he could request a lesser-included-offense instruction
for simple possession constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. However, all three of
these claims boil down to the question of whether Ritter’s advice about pleading guilty
versus going to trial was constitutionally deficient.2 Because the Wisconsin courts resolved
The trial court did not issue its own findings; rather, it adopted the state’s brief in
opposition to the post-conviction motion as its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The
adopted brief can be found in the appendix to the state’s appellate brief, which is attached
to respondent’s answer as Exhibit C. (Docket #13-3.)
Woods’ “manifest injustice” claim may involve only a question of state law –
namely, whether Woods satisfied Wisconsin’s criteria for withdrawing a guilty plea after
sentencing – and federal courts cannot review questions of state law in a habeas
proceeding. Perruquet v. Briley, 390 F.3d 505, 511 (7th Cir. 2004). However, the gist of
the claim seems to be that Woods should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because
he received erroneous advice from Ritter and therefore did not knowingly waive his right
this issue on the merits, I may grant Woods’ habeas petition only if the courts rendered a
decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, or was
based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in
state court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
A decision is “contrary to” established federal law as determined by the Supreme
Court if “the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme
Court] on a question of law,” or “if the state court confronts facts that are materially
indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result
opposite” to that reached by the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405
(2000). A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of Supreme Court
precedent when the court “correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it
unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case.” Id. at 407-08.
The Supreme Court precedent relevant to the present case is Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and related cases governing claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel. To prevail on an ineffective-assistance claim, Woods must show
that his trial counsel’s performance was deficient and that the deficient performance
prejudiced his defense. Id. at 689-92. To show that counsel’s deficient performance
prejudiced his defense, Woods must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but
for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.
Id. at 694. To satisfy Strickland in the context of a guilty plea, a petitioner must show that
to a trial when pleading guilty. Thus, this claim may have a federal element, but to the
extent it does it is no different than Woods’ ineffective-assistance claim. Therefore, I will
not separately discuss the manifest-injustice claim.
counsel’s advice regarding the plea was objectively unreasonable and that there is a
reasonable probability that but for counsel’s error, the petitioner would not have pleaded
guilty, but would have insisted upon a trial. Ward v. Jenkins, 613 F.3d 692, 698 (7th Cir.
As discussed, the state court identified Strickland as the governing legal rule. It also
conducted an evidentiary hearing and found as a matter of fact that Ritter did not advise
Woods that possession of 7.6 grams of cocaine raised an automatic inference of intent to
distribute. This finding was not unreasonable in light of the evidence presented during the
Machner hearing. Further, the court determined that the advice Ritter actually gave to
Woods about pleading guilty rather than going to trial on the issue of intent to distribute
was reasonable and therefore did not amount to deficient performance. I cannot see any
way in which this determination could be said to be erroneous, much less contrary to or an
unreasonable application of Strickland or any other Supreme Court case involving
ineffective assistance of counsel. Therefore, Woods is not entitled to habeas relief.
For the reasons stated, IT IS ORDERED that the petition for writ of habeas corpus
is DENIED. The Clerk of Court shall enter final judgment. Pursuant to Rule 11 of the
Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, I find that petitioner has not made the showing required
by 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), and therefore I will not issue a certificate of appealability.
Dated at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this 27th day of October 2011.