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Ondre v. State

August 7, 2003

CARLOS ONDRE SESSIONS, PETITIONER, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant a hearing on his claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, violations of discovery rules, and denial of a fair trial, when those claims were barred by State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 252, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (1976), and did not fit within any of the exceptions to Knaffla.

The post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellant a hearing on his claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel because appellant had not met his burden of showing the alleged failures of his appellate counsel prejudiced the outcome of his direct appeal.

Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice.

Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.

OPINION

A jury convicted appellant Carlos Ondre Sessions of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. Sessions appeals from the post-conviction court's summary denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. Sessions argues that the post-conviction court abused its discretion by refusing him a hearing and denying his petition. We affirm the post-conviction court.

Lillian Enrooth was killed on December 11, 1998. State v. Sessions, 621 N.W.2d 751, 753 (Minn. 2001). A Hennepin County jury convicted Carlos Sessions of her murder. Id. at 754. The most critical evidence was DNA evidence of the victim's blood found on Sessions' shoes and in the car he was driving, and bloody shoeprints found at the victim's home that matched the prints of Sessions' shoes. See id. In addition, Sessions had enlisted acquaintances to help him cash checks on Enrooth's account on the day of her death. Id. at 753-54. Sessions was given the mandatory sentence of life in prison. Id. at 753.

On direct appeal, we affirmed Sessions' conviction. Id. at 752-53. We addressed three issues. First, we held that the trial court committed harmless error when it responded to a question from the jury outside Sessions' presence. Second, we held that Sessions was precluded from appealing the trial court's failure to instruct on a lesser-included offense. And third, we concluded that the evidence supported the conviction. Id. at 755-57.

Sessions petitioned the district court for post-conviction relief on April 29, 2002. He made four claims in his pro se petition. Sessions asserted that: (1) the prosecutor failed to disclose all the evidence that had been gathered; (2) his trial counsel was ineffective because counsel did not investigate potential alibis, breached his contract with Sessions by failing to follow through on an agreed-upon plan of representation, and failed to object to jury instructions regarding Sessions being at or near the scene of the crime; (3) the cumulative effects of these errors combined to deny him a fair trial; and (4) he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. He claimed his appellate counsel did not properly investigate his case by not following up on the alibi witnesses he suggested. Sessions also claimed that appellate counsel breached her contract with him by not bringing our attention to his two pro se issues in oral argument during the direct appeal.

The post-conviction court denied Sessions' petition without a hearing. The court's memorandum reasoned that three of Sessions' claims were known at the time of the direct appeal, and therefore were barred by Townsend v. State, 582 N.W.2d 225, 227-28 (Minn. 1998), which relies on our seminal ruling in State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 243 N.W.2d 737 (1976). The only remaining claim not barred by the Knaffla rule concerned the efforts of his appellate counsel. The post-conviction court found "[d]efendant's appellate counsel's decision not to argue issues raised in his [supplemental pro se] brief does not rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel."

The post-conviction court must grant a hearing on a post-conviction petition, unless the petition and the record "conclusively show that the petitioner is entitled to no relief." Minn. Stat. §á590.04, subd. 1 (2002); Ives v. State, 655 N.W.2d 633, 635 (Minn. 2003). After a post-conviction court summarily denies post-conviction relief, we review the evidence to determine whether the post-conviction court abused its discretion. Ives, 655 N.W.2d at 635. Only upon proof that the post-conviction court abused its discretion will we reverse the findings. Id.

We will address the following issues in turn: whether the post-conviction court abused its discretion by applying Knaffla to bar Sessions' claims about his trial without holding a hearing, and whether the post-conviction court abused its discretion by denying his claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel without holding a hearing.

We held in Knaffla that any issues that were raised on direct appeal, or known by the defendant and not raised on direct appeal, will not be considered in a post-conviction appeal. State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 252, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (1976). We have identified three exceptions to the Knaffla rule: if additional fact-finding is required to fairly address a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, if a novel legal issue is presented, or if the interests of justice require relief. Ives, 655 N.W.2d at 635-36. The third exception may be applied if fairness requires and the petitioner did not "'deliberately and ...


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