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Wilson v. Brown

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

September 23, 2016

NATALIA LESCHENKO WILSON, Petitioner,
v.
TAMMY BROWN, Warden of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          M. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Natalia Leschenko Wilson, a Virginia state inmate, brings, through counsel, this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254[1] ("§ 2254 Petition"). (ECF No. 1.) Brown filed a Supplemental Motion to Dismiss ("Supplemental Motion") and Rule 5 Answer. (ECF Nos. 18, 19.) Wilson responded to the Supplemental Motion. (ECF No. 21.) Wilson also filed a Motion to Supplement the Record. (ECF No. 22.) Brown responded. (ECF No. 24.) Neither party filed a reply, and the time to do so has expired. The matters are ripe for disposition. The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before it adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Wilson's Motion to Supplement the Record. The Court will grant the Supplemental Motion to Dismiss and dismiss the § 2254 Petition.

         I. Procedural History

         In 2010, the Commonwealth of Virginia ("Commonwealth") charged Wilson with three counts of capital murder, in violation of Virginia Code §§ 18.2-31(7)[2] and (12), [3] four counts of first degree murder, in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-32, [4] and two counts of statutory burglary, in violation of Virginia Code §§ 18.2-90, -91.[5] The capital murder counts carried the possibility of the death penalty. Va. Code § 18.2-10(a). Wilson's three counsel filed multiple motions on her behalf, including five motions to suppress her two confessions to the murders.

         The Circuit Court of Prince William County, Virginia, ("Circuit Court") heard evidence on the motions for nine days, accepting the testimony of numerous witnesses and entering many exhibits into evidence. Counsel then argued the motions for three days. On March 29, 2012, the Circuit Court issued a lengthy ruling from the bench, finding that Wilson's confessions were obtained within the bounds of the United States and Virginia constitutions, and denying the motions to suppress.

         On September 4, 2012, Wilson, represented by counsel, pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court to two counts of capital murder. On September 18, 2012, the Circuit Court sentenced Wilson to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. Wilson sought no direct appeal of her convictions or her sentence in the Court of Appeals of Virginia, the Supreme Court of Virginia, or the Supreme Court of the United States. Wilson did not file a habeas petition in the Circuit Court. Instead, she filed a habeas petition in the Supreme Court of Virginia, raising some of the same claims that she raises in the instant Petition. On July 31, 2014, the Supreme Court of Virginia granted the respondent's motion to dismiss and dismissed Wilson's petition on the merits. Wilson v. Baskerville, No. 131631, at 5 (Va. July 31, 2014). On November 7, 2014, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied Wilson's petition for rehearing. (Pet. Writ of Habeas Corpus ("§2254 Pet") 3, ECF No. 1.)

         On November 10, 2014, Wilson, by counsel, filed her § 2254 Petition in this Court, raising six grounds for relief. Respondent Tammy Brown filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)[6] contending that all of Wilson's claims were procedurally defaulted or not exhausted. Following briefing, the Court denied in part and granted in part the Motion to Dismiss, dismissing Claims IV, V, and VI[7] of the § 2254 Petition. The Court ordered supplemental briefing.[8] Three of Wilson's claims remain:

I. "The state court committed an error of Constitutional magnitude when it refused to exclude Ms. Wilson's confession on the ground that it was the product of an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment[9] (§ 2254 Pet. 10.)
II. "The Circuit Court of Prince William County erred in not excluding Ms. Wilson's confession as the product of the Commonwealth's violation of her Fifth Amendment[10] right against self-incrimination." (§ 2254 Pet. 17.)
III. "Ms. Wilson was prejudiced by the ineffective assistance of her trial attorneys that prevailed on her to plead guilty and receive a sentence of life imprisonment, opting out of going to trail [sic] for the adjudication of guilt or innocence." (§ 2254 Pet. 30.)

         Brown filed the Supplemental Motion and Rule 5 Answer. Wilson responded to the Supplemental Motion. Wilson also filed a Motion to Supplement the Record. Brown responded. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Wilson's Motion to Supplement the Record. The Court will grant the Supplemental Motion to Dismiss and dismiss the § 2254 Petition.

         II. Applicable Constraints Upon Federal Habeas Review

         In order to obtain federal habeas relief, at a minimum, a petitioner must demonstrate that he or she is "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") of 1996 further circumscribed this Court's authority to grant relief by way of a writ of habeas corpus. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), a federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus based on any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudicated claim:

(1) resulted in 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
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). The Supreme Court has emphasized that the question "is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (citing Wilson v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000)). Any "[s]tate court factual determinations are presumed to be correct and may be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence." Gray v. Branker, 529 F.3d 220, 228 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).

         III. Analysis: Motion to Supplement the Record The Supreme Court has held that "[i]f a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, a federal habeas petition must overcome the limitation of § 2254(d)(1) on the record that was before that state court." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 185 (2011); see Williams v. Stanley, 581 F.App'x 295, 296 (4th Cir. 2014). Thus, "evidence introduced in federal court has no bearing on § 2254(d)(1) review." Pinholster, 563 U.S. at 185.[11] Here, the Supreme Court of Virginia adjudicated Wilson's Sixth Amendment[12] claim on the merits when it ruled on the habeas petition she filed in that court, finding that Wilson failed to demonstrate that her counsel rendered ineffective assistance. Accordingly, this Court may not consider any new evidence that Wilson has provided for the first time with her § 2254 Petition.[13] See id; Williams, 581 F.App'x at 296-97.

         The Motion to Supplement the Record will be denied. Further, as discussed below, even if the Court were to consider the evidence Wilson submits in her Motion to Supplement, the Court's analysis would not change.

         IV. Analysis: Claims I, II, and III

         A guilty plea normally forecloses challenges to "antecedent constitutional deprivations." Vines v. Johnson, 569 F.Supp.2d 579, 584-85 (E.D. Va. 2008) (citing Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 266-67, 273 (1973); Fields v. Attorney Gen. of Md, 956 F.2d 1290, 1294 (4th Cir. 1992)). "[O]nce judgment on a plea is final, collateral inquiry for constitutional claims that occurred prior to its entry is generally limited to whether the plea itself was knowing and voluntary." Id. at 585 (citing Slavek v. Hinkle, 359 F.Supp.2d 473, 481 (E.D. Va. 2005)). However, a guilty plea does not preclude an ineffective assistance of counsel claim when the claim asserts that the plea itself was obtained as a result of the ineffective assistance. Id.

         Because Wilson pleaded guilty, unless the Court finds that Wilson's guilty plea was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel, it cannot consider Claim I, alleging a Fourth Amendment violation, or Claim II, alleging a Fifth Amendment violation, because those claims constitute challenges to "antecedent constitutional deprivations." See Vines, 569 F.Supp.2d at 584-85. Thus, the Court will first consider Wilson's Claim III, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel in advising her to plead guilty.

         A. Wilson's Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim Fails Because She Has Shown Neither Prejudice Nor Deficient Performance

         Wilson argues that she received ineffective assistance of counsel because insufficient evidence existed to convict her, or, if such evidence did exist, she faced no realistic possibility of receiving the death penalty upon conviction. Her arguments founder. First, this record is replete with overwhelming evidence of Wilson's guilt and reasons to believe she would have received the death penalty. Second, Wilson does not provide clear and convincing evidence that she should not be bound by her representations to the Circuit Court that her counsel's performance was adequate and that she pleaded guilty because she was, in fact, guilty. Finally, Wilson does not demonstrate deficient performance by her counsel.

         1. Legal Standard for Ineffective Assistance Claims During a Guilty Plea

         To demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel, a convicted defendant must show, first, that counsel's representation was deficient and, second, that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To satisfy the deficient performance prong of Strickland, the convicted defendant must overcome the '"strong presumption' that counsel's strategy and tactics fall 'within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'" Burch v. Corcoran, 273 F.3d 577, 588 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). The prejudice component requires a convicted defendant to "show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. In analyzing ineffective assistance of counsel claims, it is not necessary to determine whether counsel performed deficiently if the claim is readily dismissed for lack of prejudice. Id. at 697.

         Because Wilson pleaded guilty, in order to establish prejudice, she must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, [she] would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Slavek v. Hinkle, 359 F.Supp.2d 473, 491 (E.D. Va. 2005) (quoting Burket v. Angelone, 208 F.3d 172, 194 (4th Cir. 2000)). Assertions by Wilson that she would not have pleaded guilty if she had received better assistance from counsel are not dispositive of the issue. See United States v. Mora-Gomez, 875 F.Supp. 1208, 1214 (E.D. Va. 1995). Rather, "[t]his is an objective inquiry and [highly] dependent on the likely outcome of a trial had the defendant not pleaded guilty." Meyer v. Br anker, 506 F.3d 358, 369 (4th Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted) (citing Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59-60 (1985)). The Court looks to all the facts and circumstances surrounding a petitioner's plea, including the likelihood of conviction and any potential sentencing benefit to pleading guilty. See Id. at 369-70. "[W]hat matters is whether proceeding to trial would have been objectively reasonable in light of all of the facts." United States v. Fugit, 703 F.3d 248, 260 (4th Cir. 2012).

         In conducting the foregoing inquiry, the representations of the defendant, her lawyer, and the prosecutor during the plea proceedings, "as well as any findings made by the judge accepting the plea, constitute a formidable barrier in any subsequent collateral proceedings." Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 73-74 (1977). "Absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, a defendant is bound by the representations she makes under oath during a plea colloquy." Fields v. Att'y Gen. of Md, 956 F.2d 1290, 1299 (4th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).

         2. Wilson Does Not Show Prejudice From Pleading Guilty

         Wilson contends that counsel erred when they "vigorously promoted to ... Wilson and her daughter the prosecution's deal of pleading guilty to the two capital murders as the only opportunity for escaping execution by lethal injection."[14] (ยง 2254 Pet. 30.) She avers that such promotion of the plea constituted ineffective assistance because her likelihood of actually receiving the death penalty was low. In contrast, looking at all the facts and circumstances of Wilson's plea, it is clear that the likelihood of Wilson being convicted of capital murder and being sentenced to death was high. By pleading guilty, Wilson received the sentencing benefit- albeit one within a harsh reality-of two life sentences rather than a possible death ...


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