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Treadwell v. Foster

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

June 22, 2017

BRIAN FOSTER, Respondent.


          HON. PAMELA PEPPER United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Alfonzo Treadwell, representing himself, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §2254, seeking relief from the sentence imposed as a result of his 2010 conviction for first-degree reckless homicide, party to a crime. Dkt. No. 1. The parties have briefed the petition. Below, the court considers the petitioner's challenge to the validity of his guilty plea and his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, concludes that the challenges are without merit, and dismisses the petition.


         A. State Proceedings

         The petitioner was charged in Milwaukee County with one count of first-degree reckless homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety with the use of a dangerous weapon, as a party to a crime. Dkt. No. 18-4 at 3. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals recounted the facts that gave rise to the charges:

Several days before the homicide, someone fired more than twenty shots into [Omar] Smith's home. Smith later learned the “Deuce Squad” was responsible. [The petitioner], a friend of Smith's, was angered by the shooting because he could have been at Smith's house when it happened. On the day of the homicide, [the petitioner] was at Smith's home when Smith came up to him and said, “Come on with the heat.” Smith intended to go scare the “Deuce Squad” members. [The petitioner] went willingly with Smith, arming himself with a .45-caliber handgun while Smith carried a 9mm semiautomatic handgun.
[The petitioner] and Smith got into the back seat of a car driven by a third person. As they traveled, [the petitioner] loaded eight bullets into his weapon and cocked it so that he could be ready to fire when he got out of the car. When they arrived at their destination, [the petitioner] immediately got out, firing the first shots in the incident toward a house where people were standing outside. [The petitioner] said he saw “Ricky” standing nearby and fired two or three shots at him, plus four or five shots at someone in a black car in front of the house. When his gun was empty, [the petitioner] heard two more gunshots but, now knowing their source, he fled the scene. Two bystanders were injured and a third was killed, evidently by one of Smith's 9mm bullets. Eight .45-caliber casings were recovered from the scene.

Dkt. No. 18-4 at 2.

         The petitioner and the state conducted plea negotiations, which resulted in the petitioner pleading guilty to the homicide charge, and the state dismissing the reckless-endangerment charges and agreeing to recommend no more than twenty-five years confinement. Dkt. No. 18-4 at 3. The plaintiff pled guilty, and on February 12, 2010, the Milwaukee County Circuit Court entered a judgment of conviction against the petitioner for first-degree reckless homicide by use of a dangerous weapon, as a party to the crime. Dkt. No. 18-1 at 1. The court sentenced the plaintiff to serve twenty-five years of initial confinement and fifteen years of extended supervision. Id.

         At the plea colloquy, the circuit “had the benefit of a plea questionnaire/waiver of rights form in which [the petitioner] indicated he had completed the ninth grade and lacked a high school diploma or equivalent.” Dkt. No. 18-4 at 5. The circuit court asked the petitioner whether he had reviewed this form with his counsel, understood it, and thought the answers were true-the petitioner answered each question in the affirmative. Id. The circuit court also asked the petitioner whether he had used any drugs or alcohol in the preceding twenty-four hours. Id. To establish that the petitioner understood his party-to-a-crime liability, the circuit court explained each element of the offense (including the elements of party-to-a-crime liability); the petitioner confirmed that he understood those elements. Id. at 5-6. The circuit court also referenced the fact that the petitioner's lawyer had attached to the plea questionnaire the jury instructions for the offenses, which bore the petitioner's signature. The court asked whether the petitioner had understood these documents when he'd gone over them with his lawyer, and the petitioner said that he had understood. Id. at 6. Finally, because the petitioner, his lawyer and the state all agreed that the criminal complaint supplied an accurate factual basis for the plea, the circuit court relied on the complaint to determine that the plea was factually supported. Id. at 6-7.

         After he was sentenced, the petitioner (now representing himself) filed a post-conviction motion seeking to withdraw his plea or, alternatively, asking to be resentenced. Id. at 3. He argued, in part, that the circuit court had not assessed his level of education and general comprehension to determine his ability to understand the plea process, “and that this somehow meant that he did not understand how he aided and abetted Smith in a reckless homicide.” Id. The circuit court denied the motion. Id. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's ruling. Id. at 1. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied the petition for review. Dkt. No. 18-7.

         2. Federal Proceedings

         The petitioner then filed this habeas petition. Dkt. No. 1. In the petition, he argued that the circuit court violated Wis.Stat. ¶971.08 when it took his plea, id. at 6; that the circuit court did not “[d]etermine the extent” of his education “and general comprehension so as to assess” his capacity to understand the issues at the plea hearing, id. at 7; that the circuit court did not alert him “to the possibility that an attorney may discover defense or mitigating circumstances that would not be apparent to a layman such as” the petitioner, id. at 8; and that the court did not ‘[e]nsure] his understanding “of the nature of the crime with which he [was] charged and the range of punishment to which he [was] subjecting himself to by entering a plea, ” id. at 9.

         At the screening stage, Judge Griesbach (then the judge assigned to the case) concluded that the petitioner's arguments boiled down to two claims: that he did not enter his plea knowingly and voluntarily, and that his attorney was ineffective. Dkt. No. 12 at 2. Judge Griesbach found, however, that the petitioner had not exhausted his state remedies as to an ineffective assistance claim. Id. at 3. Judge Griesbach gave the petitioner the opportunity to either ask him to stay the habeas proceeding so that he could go to state court to exhaust on the ineffective assistance claim, or go forward only on the claim that his plea was not voluntary. Id. at 4. The petitioner responded that he wanted to go forward only as to the claim he exhausted in state court: “whether the plea was made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily and whether the state chose to unconstitutionally apply liability for [the petitioner] being a party to the crime of 1st-degree reckless homicide.” Dkt. No. 13 at 2. The petitioner chose not to proceed on the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim.

         II. STANDARD

         To prevail on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner must show that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. §2254(d). If the state appellate court ruled on the merits of the claims, then the petitioner must go a step further, and show that his detention is the result of a state court decision that was (a) “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or (b) “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” Id.; see Gonzales v. Mize, 565 F.3d 373, 379 (7th Cir. 2009) (“We review the decision of the last state court that substantively adjudicated each claim.”). This standard is highly deferential to state courts. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011). In order for a petitioner to prevail on a habeas claim, the state appellate court's ruling must be “objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice.” White v. Woodall, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003)(internal quotations omitted)). The ruling must have been “so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103.


         A. The Petitioner's Arguments

         In his brief in support of the petition, the plaintiff first argues that the state conceded in its appellate brief in state court that the circuit court judge did not expressly ask the petitioner about his educational history. Dkt. No. 23 at 17. He indicates that instead, the judge relied on the plea questionnaire, which stated that the petitioner had a ninth-grade education. Id. The petitioner filed a copy of the plea questionnaire; in the field for age, someone has handwritten “20, ” and in the field for schooling, someone has handwritten “9th grade, ” and scratched through the word “years” before the words “of schooling.” Dkt. No. 2-4 at 1. The petitioner states in his brief that “it later turned ...

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