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Conley v. Smith

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

September 10, 2013

Daniel Lynn Conley, Petitioner,
v.
Warden Michelle Smith, and The Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, Respondent.

Daniel Lynn Conley, 153504, Stillwater Prison, 970 Pickett St. N., Bayport, MN 55003, pro se.

Matthew Frank, Esq., Jennifer R. Coates, Esq., Minnesota Attorney General's Office, and Peter R. Marker, Esq., Ramsey County Attorney's Office, counsel for Respondents.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JEFFREY J. KEYES, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In this case Petitioner Daniel Lynn Conley seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and asks this Court to overturn his 2003 Minnesota state court convictions for first degree criminal sexual conduct, promotion of prostitution, and second degree assault in Ramsey County District Court. Conley is currently serving consecutive terms of imprisonment on these convictions in the Minnesota Correction Facility in Stillwater. In his Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (Doc. No. 1, Pet.), Conley asserts that he is entitled to the writ because his convictions and the imposition of his sentence were marred by a host of errors. Respondents have moved to dismiss the Petition (Doc. No. 11), and the District Court has referred this matter to this Court for a Report and Recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons discussed below, this Court recommends that Respondent's motion to dismiss be granted, Conley's Petition be denied, and this action be dismissed with prejudice.

FACTS

Conley is an inmate at Stillwater Prison in Minnesota. (Pet. 1.) In 2003, a jury in Ramsey County, Minnesota, convicted Conley of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, third-degree criminal sexual conduct, second-degree assault, and solicitation to practice prostitution. The Ramsey County District Court sentenced Conley on all but the third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge. The facts of the case are detailed in four Minnesota Court of Appeals opinions that occurred as a result of Conley's conviction. State v. Conley, No. A03-1669, 2004 WL 2283421 (Minn.Ct.App. Oct. 12, 2004) ( Conley I ); State v. Conley, No. A07-1990, 2009 WL 233649 (Minn.Ct.App. Feb. 3, 2009) ( Conley II ); State v. Conley, No. A07-1990, 2009 WL 3172123 (Minn.Ct.App. Oct. 6, 2009) ( Conley III ); State v. Conley, No. A11-278, 2012 WL 360385 (Minn.Ct.App. Feb. 6, 2012) ( Conley IV ).

On March 22, 2003, Conley was living with his girlfriend, C.M.J., and her two young daughters in C.M.J.'s St. Paul apartment. When the children were outside, Conley forced C.M.J. to take off her clothes. While she was in the process of doing this, her children came in and saw her partially undressed. Conley forced C.M.J. to continue undressing and told the children that they would hear their mother cry out but that she would be alright. By the time C.M.J.'s children went upstairs she was naked and crying.

Conley proceeded to sexually assault C.M.J. for approximately one hour as she cried out and asked him to stop. Over the course of the next day, Conley held C.M.J. hostage, threatened to kill her and her family members, attempted to force her into prostitution, and abused her repeatedly. On the evening of March 23, 2013, C.M.J. was able to leave the home long enough to notify the police. Her children were at home with Conley at this time.

As a result of his jury trial, Conley was convicted of all four charges against him. The Ramsey County District Court sentenced Conley to 300 months in prison for first-degree sexual conduct and consecutive sentences of 18 and 36 months for the respective prostitution and assault convictions. The 300-month sentence involved an upward durational departure from the presumptive guideline sentence at the time, which was 158 months.

Conley appealed his convictions to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. On appeal, Conley's counsel asserted that the district court had committed error by admitting evidence that had been obtained by an unconstitutional search, and the trial court abused its discretion by nearly doubling Conley's sentence for first-degree criminal sexual conduct in departing upward from the guideline range. (Doc. No. 13, Resp't's App., Ex. 1.) Conley also filed a pro se brief in which he argued that the timing of the probable-cause determination violated Minnesota law and that the prosecution failed to make timely disclosures as required by Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.01. (Resp't's App., Ex. 2.) The court of appeals affirmed Conley's convictions but remanded his case on the sentencing issue. Since Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), had just been decided, the court of appeals remanded the case to the district court to decide "the applicability of Blakely, the relief it affords, and any further sentencing determination...." Conley I, 2004 WL 2283421 at *2. The court of appeals also determined that the issues Conley raised in his pro se brief lacked merit. Id.

Conley petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court for further review. Conley's counsel again argued that the court of appeals erred in upholding the admission of evidence against Conley that was allegedly obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. (Resp't's App., Ex. 5.) Conley also submitted a motion to the Minnesota Supreme Court seeking permission to file a pro se supplemental petition for review. (Resp't's App., Ex. 6.) On December 22, 2004, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied the petition for review. And on January 5, 2005, the court denied Conley's motion to file a pro se supplemental petition for review on grounds that Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 29.04 does not permit a defendant represented by counsel to file a pro se petition for review. (Resp't's App., Ex. 8.) As a result, the Minnesota Court of Appeals entered judgment and remanded the case to the Ramsey County District Court. (Resp't's App., Ex. 9.)

On remand, the district court convened a sentencing jury to determine whether certain aggravating factors were present for purposes of sentencing. Conley II, 2009 WL 233649, at *1. Based on the evidence presented during this sentencing trial, the jury found that the only aggravating factor present in Conley's case was that the victim's children were present in the home during the assault. Id. More specifically, when asked, "Were [the victim's] children present in the home during the sexual assault?" the sentencing jury concluded that they were. Id. at *2. Based on this finding, the district court again sentenced Conley to 300 months in prison for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Id. at *1.

Conley filed a second appeal, challenging the sentencing jury's finding and the district court's determination to impose the 300-month sentence, among other issues. Conley's counsel asserted that the form of the special verdict question was improper and that the district court abused its discretion in imposing the sentence. (Resp't's App., Ex. 10.) Once again, Conley filed a pro se supplemental brief asserting that his constitutional right to due process had been violated by inconsistent verdicts and that he had ineffective assistance of counsel. (Resp't's App., Ex. 11.) The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed Conley's sentence, determining that the form of the special verdict question was proper and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sentence. The court of appeals also found the arguments raised in Conley's pro se brief "unavailing." Conley II, 2009 WL233649, at *6.

Conley again petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court for review of the court of appeals' decision. The supreme court granted the petition for review and stayed proceedings pending its final decision in State v. Vance, 765 N.W.2d 390 (Minn. 2009). (Resp. App., Ex. 16.) In Vance, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that "[t]he mere presence of children in the home, absent any evidence that they saw or heard the offense, is not a substantial and compelling circumstance demonstrating that a defendant's conduct was significantly more serious than that typically involved in the commission of the offense." Vance, 765 N.W.2d at 394. On June 30, 2009, as a result of that holding, the Minnesota Supreme Court remanded Conley's case to the court of appeals to decide, consistent with Vance, whether the district court erred when it imposed an upward departure based on the sentencing jury's finding that children were present in the home. (Resp't's App., Ex. 17.)

On remand, the court of appeals concluded that "the special verdict interrogatory, which only required a determination of whether or not the children were in the home, was not specific enough to support an upward departure." Conley III, 2009 WL 3172123, at *2. The court also determined that the sentencing jury was not instructed according to the new requirements of Vance. Id. As a result, the court of appeals remanded the case to the district court for another sentencing trial. Id. at *3.

Both C.M.J. and Conley testified at the second sentencing trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the sentencing jury determined that C.M.J.'s children actually witnessed the assault and that the presence of her children limited C.M.J.'s ability to escape or resist the assault. (Resp't's App. 286-88, Ex. 22.) Based on these findings, the district court sentenced Conley to 300 months in prison for the third time. Conley again appealed this conviction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which affirmed Conley's conviction on February 6, 2012. Conley IV, 2012 WL 360385, at *6. In that appeal, Conley argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the Blakely jury's findings, that the 300-month sentence for his first-degree criminal sexual assault conviction was unsupported by the evidence, and that his sentence unduly exaggerated the criminality of his conduct. Id. at *1. The court of appeals rejected each of these arguments. Id. at *3-5. And it again rejected the arguments that Conley raised in a pro se supplemental brief, noting that they had all been waived because Conley failed to raise them before the district court. Id. at *6.

Conley filed a petition for review with the Minnesota Supreme Court on March 6, 2012. (Resp't's App., Ex. 26.) The following day, the Minnesota Supreme Court Commissioner rejected Conley's petition for review because it improperly included a pro se supplemental petition in its appendix, but the Commissioner gave Conley seven days to submit a corrected petition. (Resp't's App., Ex. 27.) Conley submitted a corrected petition for review on March 13, 2012. (Resp't's App., Ex. 28.) In the corrected petition for further review, Conley raised the following issues: (1) the admissible evidence was not sufficient to support the Blakely jury's findings; and (2) the aggravated 300-month sentence Conley received unfairly exaggerated the criminality of his conduct. ( Id. ) The Minnesota Supreme Court denied Conley's corrected petition for review on April 25, 2012. (Resp't's App., Ex. 29.) And on May 2, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals entered judgment against Conley. (Resp't's App., Ex. 30.)

On May 7, 2013, Conley filed his Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.[1] (Doc. No. 1, Pet.) In his Petition, Conley raises the following eight grounds for overturning his conviction, asserting that each demonstrates he is in state custody in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States:

• First, Conley argues that his conviction was marred by the introduction of evidence against him that was obtained during a warrantless and ...

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