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Jurjens v. Dittman

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 27, 2018

RALPH H. JURJENS, III, Petitioner,
MIKE DITTMAN, Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER


         Petitioner Ralph H. Jurjens, III is currently in the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections at the Columbia Correctional Institution. He seeks a writ of habeas corpus under § 28 U.S.C. 2254, challenging his state-court conviction following an incident in which he broke into the home of a woman with whom he had been in a relationship and beat her in front of two children. Jurjens's petition is now fully briefed and ready for a decision.

         I reviewed Jurjens's petition and allow him to proceed on five claims: (1) he did not make a knowing and intelligent plea; (2) his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the trial court did not allow him to proceed pro se; (3) his original trial-court counsel was ineffective; (4) his third trial-court counsel was ineffective; and (5) he was given an unconstitutionally excessive sentence. Almost all of his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel-claims are interrelated with his claim that he did not make a knowing and intelligent plea. Jurjens also presents what he calls new evidence showing that he was actually innocent of the burglary-to-commit-battery charge, and he seeks to have the court either consider the evidence as part of a new claim.

         After considering the parties' submissions, I conclude that none of Jurjens's claims merit habeas relief, including his claim relating to new evidence. Accordingly, I will deny the petition.


         I draw the following facts from the petition, briefs, and state-court records. Jurjens's habeas petition concerns his conviction in La Crosse County Case No. 2010-CF-188. As recounted by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, see State v. Jurjens, No. 2012AP562-CRNM, 2013 WL 12183508 (Wis. Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2013), the criminal complaint stated that Jurjens broke a window to enter the home of Kimberly Maass, a woman with whom he had a prior relationship. He beat and threatened to stab Maass in front of her two children, one of whom was his child as well. He beat his teenage niece and broke her cell phone when she attempted to call 911. Jurjens later wrote to Maass, attempting to influence her testimony.[1]

         Jurjens was charged with ten counts. After a plea deal, he was convicted of five: child abuse, damage to property in a domestic-abuse situation, intimidation of a victim in a domestic-abuse situation, intimidation of a witness, and burglary to commit a battery, all as a habitual criminal. The other five charges-recklessly endangering safety, battery, criminal trespass, causing mental harm to a child, and intimidating a witness-were dismissed and read in as part of the plea agreement. The trial court imposed consecutive sentences totaling 27 years of initial confinement in prison, followed by 18 years of extended supervision. Dkt. 15-1.

         Jurjens moved to withdraw his guilty plea and the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion. Jurjens focused on challenging the effectiveness of Attorney Thomas Huh, his first of three attorneys in the trial court, on the ground that he failed to convey an earlier plea offer to Jurjens. The court rejected this challenge and reaffirmed the conviction. Dkt. 15-5.

         On direct appeal, Jurjens's appointed counsel filed a no-merit appeal, which Jurjens contested. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals addressed Jurjens's request to withdraw his plea, reviewed the transcript of the plea hearing, and concluded that there was no arguable basis for withdrawal. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals also concluded that “no other arguable basis for reversing the judgment of conviction” existed, and “any further appellate proceedings would be wholly frivolous.” Jurjens, 2013 WL 12183508, at *3. Jurjens filed a motion for reconsideration that was denied by the court of appeals. Dkt. 15-3. The Wisconsin Supreme Court summarily denied Jurjens's petition for review. Dkt. 15-4.

         Jurjens seeks federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. During the pendency of his petition, Jurjens obtained an affidavit from Maass, stating that the Jurjens lived in her home at the time of incident. Jurjens asks the court to consider this new evidence in deciding his habeas petition, contending that it shows that he did not commit burglary.


         A. Consent

         Before discussing the merits of the habeas petition, I will address a preliminary matter. The parties submitted a form in which they both consent to a magistrate judge hearing the case. Dkt. 14. Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), the district court may refer a case to a magistrate judge when all parties agree to do so. But the court retains discretion to retain jurisdiction over a case even when both sides consent to a magistrate judge's jurisdiction. I see no reason to transfer the case to Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker, particularly given that I have already reviewed materials in this case twice, in screening the petition under Rule 4 and in denying Jurjens's previous motion to expand the record with the Maass affidavit. So I will deny the parties' joint motion.

         B. Review under § 2254(d)

         This court's authority to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Section 2254(d) states:

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.

         This court may issue a writ under the “contrary to” clause of § 2254(d)(1) if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or if it decides a case differently than the Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). The court may grant relief under the “unreasonable application” clause if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from Supreme Court opinions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case. Id. at 407-08.

         This standard places a high burden on the petitioner. Metrish v. Lancaster, 133 S.Ct. 1781, 1786 (2013) (“This standard . . . is ‘difficult to meet.'” (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011))). “Clearly established law” must be set out in the holdings of Supreme Court decisions. White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014). “[A]n ‘unreasonable application of' those holdings must be ‘objectively unreasonable,' not merely wrong; even ‘clear error' will not suffice.” Id. (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003)). Rather, “[a] state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).

         The relevant state-court decision for this court's review is the opinion issued by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, because it was the last state court to review the merits of Jurjens's claims. Stevens v. McBride, 489 F.3d 883, 902 n.2 (7th Cir. 2007).

         1. Voluntary plea

         The main focus of Jurjens's claims is that his plea was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary because of a host of defects in his proceedings, including ineffective assistance of counsel and the court's failure to warn him that he was waiving his ability to appeal various non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings.

         As a starting point, I conclude that the court of appeals relied upon the correct constitutional standard when assessing the voluntariness of the plea. The court cited Wisconsin authorities discussing the voluntariness of pleas. Jurjens, 2013 WL 12183508, at *1 (citing Wis.Stat. § 971.08; State v. Hoppe, 2009 WI 41, ¶ 18, 317 Wis.2d 161, 765 N.W.2d 794; State v. Bangert, 131 Wis.2d 246, 266-74, 389 N.W.2d 12 (1986)). The state standards are sometimes stated in terms that sound more expansive than what is constitutionally required, but courts have acknowledged that “the Wisconsin standard that a plea must be knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered is the same as the constitutional due process standard.” Warren v. Baenen, 712 F.3d 1090, 1102 (7th Cir. 2013). Other courts have determined that this is sufficient to place a petitioner's claims under § 2254(d) review, see Collins v. Meisner, No. 11-C-620, 2012 WL 2814140, at *8 (E.D. Wis. July 9, 2012) (“the court of appeals identified the correct constitutional standard” by citing to Bangert); Tyler v. Berge, No. 04-C-525-C, 2004 WL 3091176, at *5 (W.D. Wis. Dec. 17, 2004) (“The state courts relied heavily on [Bangert], which adopted these constitutional standards in the context of a state court guilty plea.”); see also Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (noting that § 2254(d) does not require citation to United States Supreme Court cases, or even an awareness of them, “so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them”).

         To satisfy due process, a guilty plea must be knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered. See, e.g., Parke v. Raley, 506 U.S. 20, 28-29 (1992); Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 747-48 (1970); Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 242 (1969). To enter a voluntary and intelligent plea, a defendant must have: (1) full awareness of the plea's “direct consequences, ” Brady, 397 U.S. at 755; (2) “real notice of the true nature of the charge against him, ” Henderson v. Morgan, 426 U.S. 637, 645 (1976); and (3) an understanding of “the law in relation to the facts, ” McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466 (1969).

         Whether a plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily is determined from all of the relevant circumstances surrounding the plea. Brady, 397 U.S. at 749. Guilty pleas “are accorded a great measure of finality.” Blackledge v. Allison,431 U.S. 63, 71 (1977). As a result, the defendant bears the burden of proving that the plea he entered was involuntary or ...

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