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Belnavis v. Clarke

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

August 29, 2016

JUSTIN BELNAVIS, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Justin Belnavis, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (§ 2254 Petition, " ECF No. 1) challenging his convictions in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond ("Circuit Court"). Respondent has moved to dismiss and the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court grant the Motions to Dismiss. Belnavis filed Objections. For the reasons that follow, Belnavis's Objections will be OVERRULED and Respondent's Motions to Dismiss will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Belnavis argues that counsel rendered ineffective assistance[1] on the following grounds:

Claim One: "Denied effective assistance of counsel when Michael Gunlicks lead Justin Belnavis to believe life was not a consequence of his plea." (§ 2254 Pet. A-l.)
Claim Two: "Mr. Belnavis was denied effective assistance of counsel when Mr. Gunlicks failed to inform him of, and object to the enhancement of the mandatory minimum." (Id. at A-4.)
Claim Three: "Denied effective assistance of counsel when Mr. Gunlicks failed to request that the trial court suspend imposition of the sentence." (Id. at A-7.)
Claim Four "Denied effective assistance of counsel when 2 days after Mr. Gunlicks, the prosecutor, and trial judge scheduled a hearing for the motion to vacate judgment and withdraw guilty pleas, the trial judge entered the 'Final Order' violating Mr. Belnavis['s] rights to due process ...." (Id. at A-10.)

         The Magistrate Judge made the following findings and recommendation:

         A. Factual and Procedural History

         Belnavis "was in a romantic relationship with Marquisha Carter Taylor, [Belnavis] shot Taylor in the chest, and Taylor sustained permanent disfiguring injuries to her chest. After [Belnavis] shot Taylor, Taylor ran to Sonya Blue's residence, [Belnavis] followed and [Belnavis] shot Blue. Blue sustained permanent nerve damage to an arm." (ECF No. 13-2, at 2.)

         Belnavis pled guilty to two counts of aggravated malicious wounding, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and possession of a firearm by felon. (ECF No. 13-2, at 1.) The evidence of Belnavis's guilt with respect to the above charges was overwhelming and undisputed. (See Jan. 11, 2012 Tr. 11-19.) In exchange for Belnavis's plea, the Commonwealth nolle prosequid six additional charges and agreed not to seek revocation of a suspended sentence for a 2006 unlawful wounding conviction. (ECF No. 13-2, at 1 & n.l.) The trial judge then sentenced Belnavis to two terms of life imprisonment to be followed by an additional fifteen years of imprisonment. (ECF No. 13-1, at 2.) Belnavis, through counsel, moved to withdraw his guilty pleas and moved the Circuit Court to reconsider his sentence. (ECF No. 13-2, at 3.) In his Motion to Vacate Judgment and Withdraw Guilty Plea, Belnavis stated, in pertinent part:

         The Defendant was also motivated to plead guilty before the Court in order to avoid a life sentence, as the statutory maximum offenses for two of the offenses to which he pleaded [that] carried life.

Although Defendant remained aware that the statutory maximum for the Aggravated Malicious Wounding ... charges was life imprisonment, and was aware the trial judge could exceed the recommended maximum under the Guidelines and that the Commonwealth was not agreeing to any pre-arranged sentence under the Guidelines, he did not think it likely, based partly on the opinion of his [c]ounsel, that his sentence would so far exceed the recommended high point of twenty-eight years and seven months.
At the time of bargaining over the terms of the plea agreement, the Commonwealth did not indicate at any point that it would still seek life sentences for the Defendant regardless of the fact that the Defendant was agreeing to plead guilty ....

         Motion to Vacate Judgment and Withdraw Guilty Plea at 2, Commonwealth v. Belnavis, Nos. CR11F-2093-94, CR11F-3183, -3185, -3188 (Va. Cir. Ct filed Feb. 16, 2012). The Circuit Court denied Belnavis's Motion to Vacate Judgment and Withdraw Guilty Plea as untimely. (ECF No. 13-4, at 4.)

         Belnavis unsuccessfully pursued appeals to the Court of Appeals of Virginia and the Supreme Court of Virginia. (ECF No. 13-2, at 1; ECF No. 13-3, at 1.) Thereafter, Belnavis filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed. (ECF No. 13-4, at 7.)

         B. Applicable Constraints Upon ...


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