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Spangler v. Pugh

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 26, 2018

CHARLES E. SPANGLER, Petitioner,
v.
JEFF PUGH, [1] Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se petitioner Charles E. Spangler is a state prisoner incarcerated at the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment Facility, located in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. He is serving his sentence for a seventh offense of drunken driving, and he seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting two claims: the government breached a plea agreement it had with Spangler by recommending five years of initial confinement at sentencing, as opposed to three years of initial confinement as agreed under the plea agreement; and he had ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to object to the state's breach of the plea agreement. Spangler's petition is now fully briefed.

         Spangler cannot obtain habeas relief if he suffered no prejudice due to the state's breach of the plea agreement or the attorney's failure to object to the breach. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded that he suffered no prejudice, reasoning that the sentencing court would not have imposed three years of initial confinement, which was the mandatory minimum, even if the parties had jointly recommended that sentence. The sentencing court noted that Spangler had received three years of initial confinement for a prior offense of drunken driving, which had not deterred Spangler from driving drunk, so the court needed to impose a harsher sentence. In light of these remarks from the sentencing court, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision is not so lacking in justification that it warrants habeas relief. Accordingly, I will deny Spangler's petition.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2011, Spangler was arrested for his seventh offense for operating while intoxicated (OWI). Spangler entered into a plea agreement with the state, and the parties agreed that Spangler would be on probation for five years, and if he were to violate the terms of his probation, the state would recommend three years of initial confinement and five years of extended supervision. Dkt. 1-6, at 3 (plea questionnaire); Dkt. 11-7, at 9 (plea hearing transcript). The circuit court for Jackson County withheld sentencing Spangler and placed him on probation for five years. Spangler later violated the terms of his probation by committing his eighth OWI offense, which resulted in revocation of his probation.

         At the sentencing for Spangler's seventh OWI offense, the state recommended that Spangler be sentenced to five years-not three years-of initial confinement and five years of extended supervision. Dkt. 11-9, at 4. Spangler's counsel did not explicitly object to the state's recommendation on the basis that it violated the plea agreement, even though he mentioned that there was an agreement for “three years in and the three years out.” Id. at 7. The circuit court sentenced Spangler to four years of initial confinement and four years of extended supervision. Dkt. 11-1.

         Spangler then filed a postconviction motion challenging his sentence. He argued that the state had breached the plea agreement and that his attorney had provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the state's breach of the plea agreement. Dkt. 7-2, at 4 and Dkt. 7-3, at 20. The circuit court denied Spangler's motion, reasoning that despite the state's breach of the plea agreement, the sentence imposed was appropriate. Dkt. 1-3, at 5-7. Spangler appealed, Dkt. 7-3, at 8-9, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's decision, explaining that Spangler suffered no prejudice because the circuit court would not have adopted the agreed-upon recommendation of three years of initial confinement, a mandatory minimum for Spangler's offense, given the sentencing judge's remarks at the sentencing about Spangler's extensive history of drunken driving and the need for a harsher sentence. Dkt. 7-2, at 5-6. Spangler filed a petition for review with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Dkt. 1-2, at 4-5, and his petition was denied, Dkt. 1-1.

         ANALYSIS

         Under Section 2254, a federal district court may grant habeas relief only when the petitioner demonstrates that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Spangler is in custody because of a state judgment, so Section 2254(d), as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, governs his petition. Section 2254(d) provides:

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 presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Conner v. McBride, 375 F.3d 643, 648-49 (7th Cir. 2004). To obtain habeas relief, the petitioner must show that the state court's decision “was so lacking in justification that there was error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for ...


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