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Fox v. State

Supreme Court of Minnesota

June 13, 2018

Thomas James Fox, Appellant,
v.
State of Minnesota, Respondent.

         Office of Appellate Courts, Washington County

          Thomas James Fox, Stillwater, Minnesota, pro se.

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Pete Orput, Washington County Attorney, Nicholas A. Hydukovich, Assistant County Attorney, Stillwater, Minnesota, for respondent.

         SYLLABUS

         The district court did not err in denying petitioner's claim for postconviction relief without an evidentiary hearing because the record conclusively shows that he is not entitled to relief.

         Affirmed.

         Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.

          OPINION

          MCKEIG, JUSTICE.

         A Washington County jury found petitioner Thomas Fox guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder for the December 2011 stabbing death of Lori Baker. The district court sentenced Fox to life imprisonment without the possibility of release on the first-degree premeditated murder conviction. Fox appealed, and on June 15, 2015, we affirmed his convictions. State v. Fox, 868 N.W.2d 206 (Minn. 2015). On November 28, 2016, Fox filed a petition for postconviction relief, which the postconviction court summarily denied without an evidentiary hearing. Because the record conclusively shows that Fox is not entitled to relief, we affirm.

         FACTS

         The State charged Fox with first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder for stabbing his girlfriend, Lori Baker, 48 times and stealing her debit card. Fox, 868 N.W.2d at 211-12. On May 31, 2013, a jury found Fox guilty on both counts. Id. at 213. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.[1]

         On direct appeal, Fox's counsel briefed four arguments: (1) Fox's Miranda rights were violated; (2) his statements to police should have been suppressed; (3) the district court provided an erroneous jury instruction regarding circumstantial evidence; and (4) the State did not present sufficient evidence to support his convictions. Fox, 868 N.W.2d at 213-26. Fox submitted a supplemental pro se brief, in which he alleged that: (5) "his statements to police were unconstitutionally obtained;" (6) the State had committed prosecutorial misconduct; (7) it was error to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of release; (8) the trial court erred by not giving a lesser-included-offense instruction to the jury; (9) the date of the offense was incorrect on the indictment; (10) his indictment was not supported by probable cause; (11) the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct during the grand jury proceedings; and (12) his trial counsel was ineffective. Id. at 226 n.5. We rejected all of the arguments raised by Fox's counseled brief and his pro se brief, and affirmed his convictions on June 15, 2015. Id. at 226.

         On November 28, 2016, Fox filed a pro se postconviction petition, alleging six grounds for postconviction relief: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction; (2) Fox received ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel; (3) the State's alleged failure to preserve exculpatory evidence violated his due process rights; (4) the search warrant for a DNA sample and fingernail samples was constitutionally defective, violated his Fourth Amendment rights, and was not addressed though raised in his direct appeal; (5) that Brady violations infringed his due process rights and Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses; and (6) that his trial counsel's failure to challenge an order for restitution constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel. Fox also requested relief based on any other grounds the court may deem appropriate, "even though not specifically raised by the petitioner." The postconviction court concluded that the petition and the record conclusively showed that Fox was not entitled to any relief and rejected the petition without holding an evidentiary hearing. Fox appealed from this order.

         ANALYSIS

         We review a court's postconviction decisions for an abuse of discretion. Moua v. State, 778 N.W.2d 286, 288 (Minn. 2010). The postconviction court's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. Id. We construe Fox's petition liberally, as we do generally with pro se petitions. See Wallace v. State, 820 N.W.2d 843, 849 (Minn. 2012); see also Minn. Stat. § 590.03 (2016) ("The court shall liberally construe the petition . . . ."). If, taking the facts alleged in the light most favorable to the petitioner, the "petition and the files and records of the proceeding conclusively show that the petitioner is entitled to no relief, " the postconviction court may dismiss the petition without an evidentiary hearing. Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd. 1 (2016); see also Taylor v. State, 910 N.W.2d 35, 38 (Minn. 2018).

         We will not consider claims that are "based on grounds that could have been raised on direct appeal of the conviction or sentence." Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 1 (2016); see State v. Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (Minn. 1976) (barring postconviction review of all claims raised "and all claims known but not raised, " on direct appeal); see also White v. State, 711 N.W.2d 106, 109 (Minn. 2006) (barring all ...


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