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Gates v. Crowe

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 7, 2018

TODD JEFFREY GATES, AIS 275350, Petitioner,
v.
JOHN CROWE, Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Todd Jeffrey Gates, a state prisoner presently in the custody of the respondent, has petitioned this Court for federal habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This cause is before the Magistrate Judge for issuance of a report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(a)(2)(R), on Gates' petition (Doc. 1), the answer of Respondent John Crowe, with attachments (Doc. 9), and the response of Petitioner (Doc. 15). Because the state procedural history preceding the filing of this action is a bit unconventional, the undersigned does not take the opportunity in this introduction to summarize that history; instead, the undersigned directs immediate attention to the procedural history and facts in this case.[1]

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In March of 2006, Petitioner Todd Jeffrey Gates was indicted on one count of first-degree receipt of stolen property and one count of first-degree theft of property. (Doc. 9, Exhibit D, at 1 (citing to No. CC-06-413)). Pursuant to a plea agreement reached with the Baldwin County District Attorney's Office, the indictment was amended, on February 16, 2007, to charge second-degree receipt of stolen property (see id.); Gates pled guilty to the amended charge and the theft of property charge was nol-prossed (compare Id. at 2 with Doc. 9, Exhibit A, ORDER dated February 16, 2007). “In accordance with the agreement, the trial court withheld adjudication and sentencing so that Gates could enter a pretrial intervention program.” (Doc. 9, Exhibit D, at 2; see also Doc. 9, Exhibit A, ORDER (recognizing that in exchange for Gates' entry of a guilty plea to receiving stolen property in the second-degree, the parties agreed to the court withholding adjudication of the admission of guilty for a minimum of 3 years, during which time Gates would be “released on bond, the terms of which are set forth on a separate bond order, and during the period in which adjudication is withheld, the defendant must comply with all conditions and terms of the bond and must participate and complete his[] pre-trial intervention program.”)).[2]

In September 2009, Gates was indicted for second-degree rape (No. CC-09-2292). In December 2009, Gates was indicted for first-degree unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance (No. CC-09-2580). Gates was subsequently convicted in August 2010 of the manufacturing charge and sentenced in November 2010 to 25 years' imprisonment for that conviction.[3]
On August [6], 2010, the State filed in No. CC-06-413 a motion to terminate Gates's participation in the pretrial intervention program on the ground that he had been arrested and indicted for second-degree rape.[4] On December 16, 2010, Gates appeared in court and pleaded guilty to second-degree rape in No. CC-09-2292 and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. In the same proceeding, the trial court adjudicated Gates guilty of first-degree receiving stolen property in No. CC 06-413 (not second-degree receiving stolen property, the crime to which Gates had pleaded guilty) and sentenced him to 20 years' imprisonment. The trial court ordered the sentences to run concurrently with each other and with the sentence in No. CC-09-2580. Gates did not appeal his convictions and sentences in No. CC-06-413 and CC-09-2292.
In August 2015, Gates, acting pro se, filed a Rule 32 petition. Although he listed only No. CC-09-2292 on the Rule 32 form, in the petition, Gates challenged both his conviction and sentence for rape in No. CC-09-2292, and his conviction and sentence for receiving stolen property in No. CC-06-413. The circuit court summarily dismissed the petition in November 2015, and Gates appealed. By order dated July 12, 2016, this Court reversed the circuit court's judgment and remanded the cause for the circuit court to set aside its order summarily dismissing the petition and to dismiss the petition without prejudice on the ground that the petition challenged multiple judgments entered in more than a single proceeding (No. CR-15-0302). See Rule 32.1(f), Ala.R.Crim.P. The circuit court complied with this Court's instructions and dismissed the petition without prejudice on July 12, 2016.
On December 27, 2016, Gates, again acting pro se, filed the Rule 32 petition that is the subject of this appeal. On the Rule 32 form, Gates listed both No. CC-06-413 and No. CC-09-2292 and, in an attachment to the form, he challenged both his conviction and sentence for receiving stolen property in No. CC-06-413 and his conviction and sentence for rape in No. CC-09-2292. With respect to his receiving-stolen-property conviction and sentence, Gates argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction in No. CC-06-413 to adjudicate him guilty and sentence him in December 2010 for first-degree receiving stolen property when the indictment had been amended to charge, and he had pleaded guilty to, second-degree receiving stolen property in that case in February 2007. With respect to his second-degree rape conviction and sentence, Gates argued that because it was “joined in the same proceeding” as his adjudication and sentence for first-degree receiving stolen property, the trial court also lacked jurisdiction to accept his plea on the rape charge. []
The circuit court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on Gates' petition and, the day of the hearing, Gates, through counsel, filed an amendment to his Rule 32 petition. In the amendment, Gates raised an additional claim that was not raised in his original petition and pleaded additional facts to clarify his claim regarding his rape conviction.
In the new claim, Gates alleged that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate him guilty and to sentence him for any degree of receiving stolen property in No. CC-06-413 because, he said, the State's motion to terminate him from the pretrial intervention program was untimely filed. Specifically, Gates alleged that, as part of the February 2007 plea agreement with the State in No. CC-06-0413, he pleaded guilty to second-degree receiving stolen property “in exchange for a sentence of three (3) years in the District Attorney's Pre-Trial Intervention Program.” [] Gates argued that his sentence commenced on February 16, 2007, the date he entered his plea, and expired on February 16, 2010, and that the State did not file its motion to terminate his participation in the program until August 10, 2010, six months after his sentence had expired.[5]
With respect to his rape conviction, Gates clarified [during the evidentiary hearing][6] that his challenge was to the voluntariness of his guilty plea to that charge, not to the trial court's jurisdiction.[7] Specifically, Gates argued that after he was sentenced for his first-degree manufacturing conviction in No. CC-09-2850, the State “made a plea offer to resolve all outstanding charges, which included CC-06-413 . . . and CC-09-2292.” [] However, because that plea offer resulted in his being erroneously adjudicated and sentenced for first-degree receiving stolen property instead of second-degree receiving stolen property, Gates argued, he was not properly advised of the sentencing ranges he faced. Gates concluded: “[A]s [he] was not properly advised in a portion of the plea agreement [relating to the receiving charge], he could not have been properly advised on the whole. In other words, he would not have been able to appreciate the sentence he would receive as a portion of it is not correct.” []

(Doc. 9, Exhibit D, at 2-3 & 4-5 (footnotes added)).

         At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the trial court determined that Gates was entitled to Rule 32 relief because he was improperly sentenced in CC-06-413 for first-degree receipt of stolen property, as opposed to the (amended) indictment charge of receiving stolen property in the second-degree; therefore, Gates was determined to be entitled to resentencing within the appropriate range of punishment for a Class C felony and was resentenced for second-degree receipt of stolen property to a term of 10 years, with that term to run concurrently with all other sentences. (Doc. 9, Exhibit A, April 20, 2017 Evidentiary Hearing Transcript, at 35-36.)[8] The trial court, however, found no merit to Gates' challenge to the rape charge based on the “grounds . . . listed in [the State's] response [to] the petition.” (Id. at 37.)

The DEFENDANT'S RULE 32 PETITION WAS HEARD IN OPEN COURT. . . . AFTER HEARING THE TESTIMONY FROM THE DEFENDANT AND AFTER A REVIEW OF ALL EXHIBITS ADMITTED INTO EVIDENCE, THE COURT HEREBY DENIES THE DEFENDANT'S RULE 32 PETITION BASED ON RULE 32.1 ARCrP. THE DEFENDANT IS CHALLENGING MULTIPLE JUDGMENTS FROM SEPARATE PROCEEDINGS IN ONE PETITION FOR POST-CONVICTION RELIEF[.]
THE COURT ALSO DENIES THE PETITION BASED ON RULE 32.2(c) ARCrP AS PETITIONER'S CLAIM REGARDING HIS CONVICTION FOR RAPE IN THE 2ND DEGREE IS PRECLUDED FOR BEING FILED OUTSIDE THE TIME LIMITATIONS PERIOD.
THE COURT ALSO DENIES THE PETITION BASED ON PRECLUSION UNDER RULES 32.2(a)(3) and 32.2(a)(5) ARCrP.
THE COURT DOES GRANT THE PETITIONER[‘]S MOTION TO RESENTENCE HIM IN CASE NUMBER CC-2006-413 AS THE PETITIONER WAS IMPROPERLY SENTENCED IN THAT CASE.

(Doc. 9, Exhibit A, April 20, 2017 ORDER.) Gates' application for rehearing regarding the judgment (see id., Application Seeking Re-hearing of Judgment) was denied (see id., June 20, 2017 ORDER). Thereafter, Gates filed written notice of appeal. (See id., Written Notice of Appeal.)

         In his brief on appeal, Gates' almost exclusive focus was upon the trial court's lack of jurisdiction (see Doc. 9, Exhibit B, at 5-16 & 20-22), although he did attack the performance of Rule 32 counsel in one respect[9] (see Id. at 17-19). Indeed, as reflected in Gates' Statement of the Case, his primary argument on appeal was that the pleas of guilty accepted by the Baldwin County Circuit Court on December 16, 2010 in CC-06-413 and CC-09-2292 “were invalid on their face as the Circuit Court of Baldwin County had no jurisdiction or authority as the charge contained in CC-06-413 was never a legal charge for adjudication. Therefore[, ] the convictions and resulting sentences which arose from the proceeding on December 16, 2010 are null and void on their face.” (Id. at 6; see also Id. at 12 (“The Circuit Court of Baldwin County Alabama was in err[or] for not granting relief in it[]s entirety in this case as the Circuit Court consolidated case numbers CC-06-413 and CC-09-2292 therefore the cases became a joint proceeding in which both guilty pleas were integrated together and that as one proceeding any fault, lack of jurisdiction, or authority resulted in the guilty pleas being void in their entirety.”); see Id. at 13 (“Whereas regardless of why the Court had no authority or jurisdiction to accept the plea, it does not change the fact the plea was void at its inception and both convictions and sentences are due to be vacated and remanded back to the Circuit Court.”)). The appellate court summarized Gates' principle argument on appeal in the following manner: “In his brief on appeal, Gates contends that the circuit court erred in denying his Rule 32 petition because, he says, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate and sentence him for first-degree receiving stolen property and to accept his guilty plea and sentence him for second-degree rape.” (Doc. 9, Exhibit D, at 9.)[10] The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Gates received the relief he was entitled to with respect to his receiving stolen property conviction and sentence and that he was entitled to no relief on his second-degree rape conviction and sentence. (Id. at 9-11.)

With respect to his adjudication and sentence for first-degree receiving stolen property, Gates argues, as he did in his original petition, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate and sentence him for first-degree receiving stolen property after he had pleaded guilty to second-degree receiving stolen property.[11] As noted above, the State conceded that Gates had been improperly sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for first-degree receiving stolen property, and the circuit court granted Gates relief on this claim and resentenced Gates to 10 years' imprisonment for second-degree receiving stolen property in accordance with the February 2007 plea agreement. Because Gates received the relief he requested, this issue is moot.
With respect to his conviction and sentence for second-degree rape, Gates argues, as he did in his original petition, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to accept his plea and sentence him because, he says, his plea was entered in the same proceeding as, and was part of the same plea agreement encompassing, his erroneous adjudication and sentence for first-degree receiving stolen property. However, Gates abandoned this claim during the Rule 32 proceedings. Although Gates raised this claim in his original petition, in his first amendment, Gates clarified that the claim was a challenge to the voluntariness of his guilty plea and not to the trial court's jurisdiction to accept the plea. More importantly, at the evidentiary hearing, Gates presented evidence and argument only on the claim that his guilty plea to rape was involuntary; Gates did not argue, and presented no evidence, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to accept the plea. See, e.g., Brooks v. State, 929 So.2d 491, 497 (Ala.Crim.App. 2005) (“A petitioner is deemed to have abandoned a claim if he fails to present any evidence to support the claim at the evidentiary hearing.”). Because Gates abandoned during the Rule 32 proceedings his claim that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to accept his plea to second-degree rape, this claim is not properly before this court for review.[12]
Moreover, even if Gates had not abandoned this claim during the Rule 32 proceedings, it is meritless on its face. In Ex parte Seymour, 946 So.2d 536 (Ala. 2006), the Alabama Supreme Court explained:
“Jurisdiction is ‘[a] court's power to decide a case or issue a decree.' Black's Law Dictionary 867 (8th ed. 2004). Subject-matter jurisdiction concerns a court's power to decide certain types of cases. Woolf v. McGaugh, 175 Ala. 299, 303, 57 So. 754, 755 (1911) (“'By jurisdiction over the subject-matter is meant the nature of the cause of action and of the relief sought.'” (quoting Cooper v. Reynolds, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 308, 316, 19 L.Ed. 931 (1870)). That power is derived from the Alabama Constitution and the Alabama Code. See United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630-31, 122 S.Ct. 1781, 152 L.Ed.2d 860 (2002) (subject-matter jurisdiction refers to a court's ‘statutory or constitutional power' to adjudicate a case). In deciding whether Seymour's claim properly challenges the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction, we ask only whether the trial court had the constitutional and statutory authority to try the offense with which Seymour was charged and as to which he has filed his petition for certiorari review.
“Under the Alabama Constitution, a circuit court ‘shall exercise general jurisdiction in all cases except as may be otherwise provided by law.' Amend. No. 328, § 6.04(b), Ala. Const. 1901. The Alabama Code provides that ‘[t]he circuit court shall have exclusive original jurisdiction of all felony prosecutions . . . .' § 12-11-30, Ala. Code 1975.”
946 So.2d at 538. Second-degree rape is a Class B felony. § 13A-6-62(b), Ala. Code 1975. Therefore, the State's prosecution of Gates for that offense was within the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction and Gates's argument that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to accept his guilty plea is meritless.

(Id.) Gates' petition for writ of certiorari was denied, without opinion, by the Alabama Supreme Court on May 11, 2018 (Doc. 9, Exhibit E), with the certificate of final judgment being entered that same date (id.).

         Gates filed his petition seeking habeas corpus relief in this Court on June 8, 2018 (Doc. 1, at 12), and therein raised but one issue, namely, the Baldwin County Circuit Court “lacked jurisdiction to accept guilty plea[.]” (Id. at 6.) By way of explanation, Gates states that the trial court “accepted a plea of guilty to a charge the defendant was not charged with[] and consolidated cases into one plea in which the Court had no jurisdiction.” (Id.)

         In his answer, the respondent contended that this Court should reject Gates' jurisdictional claim because: (1) it has been procedurally default (Doc. 9, at 4-5); (2) it not only lacks merit but it is also “barred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)[]” because “'[t]he federal courts hold no supervisory power over state courts and may act to correct only wrongs of a constitutional dimension[]'” (id. at 5, quoting Harris v. Rivera, 450 U.S. 339 (1981)); and (3) the petition is barred by the limitations period set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) (id. at 5-6). Within days of the filing of the Answer, the Court extended to Gates the opportunity to file a response (see Doc. 10). Gates filed a response on October 19, 2018 (Doc. 15), same reading, in relevant measure, as follows:

The P[etitioner] asserts the State and the Circuit Court of Baldwin County are in err[or] by not granting relief from the Fundamental Miscarriage of Justice involved in this case.
The Circuit Court amended an indictment to charge a greater charge not originally adjudicated in a pre-trial intervention.
The P[etitioner] exhausted all his State remedies as well as avers that the AEDPA does not apply when a Fundamental Miscarriage of Justice is involved in a criminal case.
On December 16, 2010 [t]he Circuit Court of Baldwin County accepted a joint guilty plea on the consolidated cases Case Numbers CC-06-413 and CC-09-2292.
CC-06-413 originally charged the P[etitioner] with Receiving Stolen Property in the Second Degree, however the Court amended the charge to Receiving Stolen Property First Degree which violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and the P[etitioner]'s right to Due Process of Law.
Further the P[etitioner] entered a single plea of guilty in both cases without the benefit of having an Ireland Agreement Form in case CC-09-2292 which resulted in both cases in which he entered the single guilty plea null and void at their inception as case CC-06[-]413 did not involve Receiving Stolen Property First degree.
The Plaintiff filed a Post[-]Conviction Rule 32 seeking relief and the Circuit Court of Baldwin County attempted to remedy the error by conducting a resentencing hearing on case number CC-06-413[;] however[, ] this resentencing could not remedy a guilty ...

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