United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Rafael Ballesteros, Pro Se, No. 218629, 1101 Linden Lane, Faribault, Minnesota 55021.
Johnathan R. Judd, Esq., Clay County Attorney's Office, 807 11th Street North, P.O. Box 280, Moorhead, Minnesota 56560, for Respondent.
Matthew Frank and James B. Early, Esqs., Minnesota Attorney General's Office, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1800, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101, for Respondent.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
STEVEN E. RAU, Magistrate Judge.
The above-captioned case comes before the undersigned on Petitioner Rafael Ballesteros's ("Ballesteros") Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Amended Petition") [Doc. No. 5]. Ballesteros pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct, and pursuant to the plea agreement, was sentenced to 117 months in prison. State v. Ballesteros, No. A12-0125, 2013 WL 216326, at *1 (Minn.Ct.App. Jan. 22, 2013). Ballesteros seeks relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and argues that his plea was involuntary and unintelligent because he is illiterate, does not understand English, and trial counsel did not fully explain the consequences of a guilty plea. (Am. Pet. at 1). For these reasons, Ballesteros argues that his conviction is in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution. ( Id. ). Ballesteros requests an evidentiary hearing, appointment of counsel, and reversal of his conviction. ( Id. at 2). Respondent Tom Roy ("Respondent") argues that the record reflects Ballesteros is literate and speaks English. See generally (Resp't's Answer) [Doc. No. 9 at 8-9]. Respondent also argues that to the extent Ballesteros's claim regarding trial counsel's failure to explain the consequences of a guilty plea is a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, that argument is waived because Ballesteros did not raise it during his direct appeals. ( Id. at 2, 9-10).
This matter has been referred for the resolution of pretrial matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C) and District of Minnesota Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons stated below, the Court recommends denying Ballesteros's Amended Petition and dismissing the action.
On March 25, 2011, the State of Minnesota (the "State") charged Ballesteros with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct following a law enforcement report that Ballesteros sexually assaulted a young girl. Ballesteros, 2013 WL 216326, at *1. A probation officer drafted a sentencing worksheet that showed Ballesteros had a criminal history score of four, and would therefore have a presumptive sentence of 234 months. Id. This worksheet appears to have been the basis of plea negotiations. Id. On September 29, 2011, the State amended its complaint to include one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Id. The parties reached a plea agreement that stated the first-degree charge would be dismissed and Ballesteros would be sentenced to 117 months of imprisonment. Id. Pursuant to this agreement, Ballesteros entered-and the district court accepted-an Alford-Goulette plea to third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Id. Before sentencing, Ballesteros moved for withdrawal of his guilty plea. Id. Ballesteros argued he had a reading disability, did not understand the plea agreement, did not speak English, and was "tricked" into entering the plea. Id. The district court denied the motion and sentenced Ballesteros to 117 months pursuant to the plea agreement. Id.
Ballesteros appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Id. Ballesteros argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea because the factual basis of his plea was inaccurate (implicating the "manifest injustice" standard), and because the district court erred in rejecting his arguments (implicating the "fair-and-just" standard). Id. at *2; see also (Resp't's Answer at 59-70). The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed. Ballesteros, 2013 WL 216326, at *1, 7.
First, the appellate court found that there was no manifest injustice because the factual basis for Ballesteros's claim was adequate. Id. at *2-5. Ballesteros argued that his plea did not establish that the girl was "physically helpless" as described in the Minnesota Statutes for third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Id. at *3 (citing Minn. Stat. §§ 609.341, subdiv. 9; 609.344, subdiv. 1(d)). The appellate court found that caselaw required an Alford-Goulette plea must have "a sufficient factual basis if the [S]tate's evidence is likely to lead to a conviction on the offense to which the defendant has pleaded guilty or another, more serious offense that was charged." Ballesteros, 2013 WL 216326, at *4 (emphasis in original). Therefore, the appellate court did not find it necessary to resolve whether the girl was "physically helpless" as the third-degree criminal sexual conduct statute required. Id. Instead, the appellate court found that Ballesteros acknowledged that a jury was likely to convict him of first-degree criminal sexual conduct based on the State's evidence. Id. at *4-5. The appellate court determined that "the district court had an independent basis to conclude that there [was] a strong probability that a jury would find [Ballesteros] guilty..." of first-degree criminal sexual conduct because the girl's young age was not disputed and because of the State's evidence. Id. at *5 (citation omitted). Therefore, the appellate court concluded that because there was a strong probability that Ballesteros would have been convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a crime "at least as great" as that to which he pleaded guilty, there was "a sufficient factual basis for Ballesteros's Alford-Goulette plea to third-degree criminal sexual conduct." Id.
Second, the appellate court found that the district court did not err when it denied Ballesteros's motion to withdraw his guilty plea because it would be fair and just to do so. Id. at *5-7. In his brief submitted by counsel, Ballesteros made essentially the same arguments he made at the district court level: that he did not understand the plea agreement, and that he has deficient communication skills. Id. at *6; see also (Resp't's Answer at 68-70). Ballesteros also argued that the statements made by his trial counsel show that it would have been "fair and just" for the district judge to permit Ballesteros to withdraw his plea. (Resp't's Answer at 68-69). These statements include Ballesteros's attorney telling him that Ballesteros would be convicted because the victim is white and Ballesteros is Hispanic, and that he would not get a jury of his peers. ( Id. at 68). In his pro se supplemental brief, Ballesteros again argued that his attorney pressured him to take the plea and that he would not get a fair trial. ( Id. at 91-92). Ballesteros also argued that he "felt very confused[.]" ( Id. at 92).
The appellate court found that the record in the district court supported the district court's decision that Ballesteros did not have any trouble understanding the proceedings against him, and that he understood English. Ballesteros, 2013 WL 216326, at *6-7. Additionally, the appellate court noted that the district court questioned Ballesteros and answered Ballesteros's questions about the evidence against him, including his past convictions. Id. at *7. The district court found that Ballesteros's plea was voluntary because he "knew what he was doing at the plea hearing[, ] intelligently gave up his rights voluntarily[, ] and... failed to introduce any evidence to show otherwise." Id. at *7. The appellate court found that this supported the district court's rejection of Ballesteros's motion to withdraw his guilty plea based on involuntariness due to a jury's potential racial attitudes. Id.
Ballesteros filed a Petition for Review at the Minnesota Supreme Court through counsel. (Pet. for Review of Decision of Court of Appeals, "Pet. for Review, " Ex. 1, Attached to Letter to Clerk's Office Dated Mar. 19, 2013) [Doc. No. 14-1]. In his Petition for Review, Ballesteros sought review of the Minnesota Court of Appeals's decision affirming the validity of his plea by holding that "the factual basis for the plea would have supported a conviction for the... more serious crime of first-degree criminal sexual conduct." ( Id. at 3). Ballesteros made no other arguments through counsel, and the record does not reflect that Ballesteros filed a pro se supplemental Petition for Further Review advancing any additional arguments. See Case Management System, Minn. Appellate Cts., macsnc.courts.state.mn.us/ctrack/publicLogin.jsp (click "Accept" and search for case number A12-0125) (last visited Apr. 30, 2013). The Minnesota Supreme Court denied review. (Resp't's Answer at 112).
Ballesteros filed his first habeas petition on June 5, 2013. (Pet. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody, the "Original Pet.") [Doc. No.1]. This Court ordered him to submit an amended, signed petition, which he filed on July 11, 2013. (Order Dated June 20, 2013) [Doc. No. 4]; (Am. Pet.). Ballesteros now argues he is entitled to habeas relief because his guilty plea was involuntary and unintelligent for two reasons: First, he argues he is illiterate, and therefore his plea violated the Fourteenth Amendment. (Am. Pet. at 1). Second, he argues he has a limited understanding of English, and his trial counsel "did not fully explain" what pleading guilty meant or "what the punishment would be." ( Id. ). Ballesteros argues that these claims violate the Sixth and Fourteenth amendments. ( Id. ). Ballesteros asks for an evidentiary hearing, appointment of counsel, and for his conviction to be overturned. ( Id. at 2). Respondent filed an answer, memorandum in support of the answer, and state court records. (Resp't's Answer). Ballesteros filed a response and an accompanying exhibit. (Pet'r's Resp. to Resp't's Br. Dated 12/10/2013, "Ballesteros's Resp.") [Doc. No. 10]; (Ex.) [Doc. No. 11].
A. Standard of Review
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") prescribes the standards that govern substantive review of Ballesteros's habeas claims. The relevant portion of AEDPA, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), provides that:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence ...