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Gonzales v. Manis

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

February 14, 2017

Francis M. Gonzales, Petitioner,
v.
Carl Manis, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This Matter comes before the Court on respondent's Motion to Dismiss this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which was filed pro se by Francis M. Gonzales, a Virginia inmate. Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of his conviction of abduction entered upon a plea of guilty pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970) in the Circuit Court of Arlington County.

         I. Background

         On May 21, 2012, Gonzales was indicted for abduction with intent to defile, subsequent offense. Case No. CR-740. He entered a plea of not guilty and requested a jury trial. After a two-day trial, the jury notified the judge during deliberations that it was unable to reach a verdict. Following a lunch recess, the parties informed the court that they had reached a plea agreement. The Commonwealth amended the indictment to the lesser-included offense of simple abduction, and petitioner entered an Alford plea to the reduced charge. The judge ordered a presentence report and set a date for sentencing.

         At sentencing, during his right to allocution, petitioner stated that his counsel had failed adequately to cross-examine the victim and a detective, that the plea agreement was unexpected, and that his decision to accept the plea was improper. He then requested to withdraw the Alford plea and to have a new trial. The judge asked, "Is that everything, Mr. Gonzales?" and petitioner replied, "Yes." Defense counsel stated that he was unaware that petitioner was going to seek to withdraw the plea and requested a continuance, and the judge responded, "I'm certainly willing to consider the motion." After the trial judge reviewed the events of the trial and the plea hearing, petitioner's motion to withdraw his Alford plea was denied. The court noted that the defense had been ready for trial, that defense counsel's cross-examination of the victim was "superlative, " and that the case went exceptionally well for petitioner. The judge also stated that petitioner was not "shortchanged" in any way and that she had questioned petitioner at length about his decision to change his not guilty plea to an Alford plea. Lastly, the judge noted that petitioner had heard all of the prosecutions's evidence and thus had all necessary information when he decided to change his plea, and that he had received exceptional representation at trial. The court then denied both the motion to withdraw the plea and the motion for a continuance. See Gonzales v. Commonwealth. R. No. 0793-13-4 (Va. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2013), slip op. at 1-2. Petitioner was sentenced to ten years incarceration. Pet. at 1.

         Petitioner took a direct appeal, raising the following claims:

1. The trial court erred in denying his request to withdraw the guilty plea because the request was made in good faith and premised upon a reasonable basis for a substantive defense.
2. The trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a continuance because it prejudiced his ability to prepare a proper motion to withdraw the plea and ensured he would not have a trial.

         The Court of Appeals denied the petition for appeal on December 20, 2013. Id. Petitioner sought second-tier review by the Supreme Court of Virginia, and his petition was refused on November 14, 2014. Gonzales v. Commonwealth, R. No. 140554 (Va. Nov. 14, 2014). The Court denied petitioner's motion for rehearing on January 15, 2015.

         Petitioner filed no application for state habeas corpus relief.

         Instead, petitioner turned to the federal forum and timely filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to § 2254 on November 5, 2015.[1]Petitioner raises the following claims:

1. The state courts erred in rejecting his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
2. His right to the assistance of counsel at sentencing was violated because he was not allowed to confer with his attorney.
3. The state courts erred in denying his motion for continuance at sentencing and in finding that he did not suffer prejudice as a result.
4. The Court of Appeals erred in making the factual determination that his motion to withdraw the plea was not made in good faith when the trial ...

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