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Johnson v. Nooth

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 25, 2015

STRESSLA LYNN JOHNSON, Petitioner,
v.
MARK NOOTH, Superintendent, Snake River Correctional Institution, Respondent.

Stressla Lynn Johnson, Salem, Oregon, Petitioner Pro Se.

Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, Nick M. Kallstrom, Assistant Attorney General Department of Justice, Salem, Oregon, Attorneys for Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT E. JONES, District Judge.

Petitioner brings this habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in which he purports to challenge the administration of his sentence on two counts of murder. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [2] is denied, and Judgment is entered dismissing this action with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

On April 8, 1993, petitioner entered an "Alford Plea" (No Contest) to two counts of Murder in case numbers C-87-10-35653 and C-88-04-31573. Respondent's Exhibit 103. The court sentenced him in accordance with this written plea agreement as follows: "life imprisonment with a minimum sentence of 22-and-a-half years. That's to be the sentence on each case. Those sentences are to run concurrently." Respondent's Exhibit 104 at 25.

Petitioner did not pursue a direct appeal, but did file for post-conviction relief ("PCR") in state court. The PCR trial court denied the petition as untimely. On appeal, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed without written opinion, and the Oregon Supreme Court denied review. Johnson v. Armenakis, 153 Or.App. 124, rev. den., 327 Or. 553 (1998); Respondent's Exhibit 112.

Petitioner previously filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court challenging the validity of his underlying convictions and sentence. See Johnson v. Palmateer, USDC Civil No. procedurally defaulted and denied relief on the Petition. The Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision. Johnson v. Palmateer, 9 Fed.Appx. 631 (9th Cir. 2001); Respondent's Exhibits 113-15.

Thereafter, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court. Johnson v. Nooth, Malheur County Circuit Court Case No. 10078210H; Respondent's Exhibit 116. The Circuit Court dismissed the petition, concluding that the petition failed to state a claim for relief. Respondent's Exhibits 116-142. The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed without written opinion, and the Oregon Supreme Court denied review. Johnson v. Nooth, 248 Or.App. 755, rev. den., 352 Or. 341 (2012).

On October 29, 2012, petitioner filed this action. In his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, he raises the following grounds for relief:

Ground One: Petitioner was and is being denied due process and equal protection of the law secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, when the State of Oregon failed to abide[] by and fulfill the Plea agreement conditions that induced Petitioner to waive a myriad of Constitutional Rights;
Ground Two: The Oregon Court's ruling, the last reasoned State Court opinion in this case, resulted in a decision that violates Petitioner's rights to due process and equal protection [] as mandated by the United States Constitution Due Process Clause.
The State court's ruling [is]: (1) contrary to clearly established Federal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court on the issue of fulfilling plea bargain agreements; (2) [i]nvolved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court on the issue of fulfilling plea bargain agreements; and (3) [w]as based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State Court proceeding. 28 USC § 2254 (d).
Ground Three: Petitioner was denied the right to due process and equal protection of the law in violation of the United States Constitution Fourteenth Amendment, when the Oregon Courts used a standard of review that is in conflict with the ruling of the United States Supreme Court. Petitioner is entitled to relief as a matter of law.
Ground Four: Petitioner was denied the right to due process and equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution when the Court applied an improper standard to Petitioner's claimed violation of Petitioner's Constitutional right to have the conditions of his Plea Agreement fulfilled. Petitioner is entitled to relief as a matter of law.[1]

At core, petitioner argues that based on the parties' and the court's understanding of his plea agreement, such agreement included a term or condition that he not physically serve more than 22-1/2 years in prison.[2] Accordingly, petitioner maintains that his Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection entitle him to release because under "the very terms of the plea agreement [he] is entitled to fulfillment of the conditions upon which [he] relied upon to waive a myriad of Federal Due Process Rights."

Respondent asks the Court to deny relief on the Petition because: (1) the Petition is a second or successive one and petitioner has not obtained permission from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to file such a petition; (2) the Petition is untimely; (3) petitioner waived his right to collateral relief, including federal habeas corpus relief, in his state court plea agreement; and (4) all claims are without merit.

DISCUSSION

I. Second or Successive Petition

A. Standards

A habeas petitioner may not file a second or successive petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 without first obtaining authorization from a three-judge panel of the court of appeals. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244 (b) (3) (A) & (B).

B. Analysis.

To the extent petitioner alleges in this Petition that he entered a plea that was not knowingly, intelligently or voluntary made because he was misled by counsel, the prosecution or the court, he does, in fact, challenge the validity of his underlying conviction and sentence. Petitioner already brought claims challenging the validity of his conviction and sentence in his 1999 federal habeas action. I note that he was aware at that time that the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision ("Board") had exercised its discretion to impose what amounts to a "true life" sentence.[3] Accordingly, any claims alleging he did not knowingly, intelligently or voluntarily enter into the plea agreement would indeed render this Petition a second or successive one. Given petitioner has not obtained permission from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to file such a Petition, it would be subject to dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. Moreover, to the extent petitioner seeks to challenge the validity of his convictions and sentence based on the Board's 1993 action, the State's alternative argument that his claims are untimely, is also well taken.[4]

Nevertheless, even assuming: (1) that the Petition is not a second or successive one in that petitioner purports to challenge the administration of his sentence, rather than its validity; and (2) that his claims are timely filed, for the reasons set forth below, I conclude that petitioner is not entitled to relief.

II. Merits

A. Standards.

An application for writ of habeas corpus shall not be granted unless adjudication of the claim in state court resulted in a decision that was: (1) "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, " or (2) "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). A state court's findings of fact are presumed correct and ...


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