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Richard Runquist v. Randy Grounds*Fn1

February 2, 2011

RICHARD RUNQUIST, PETITIONER,
v.
RANDY GROUNDS*FN1 , RESPONDENT.



FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges a sentence imposed on him by the Tehama County Superior Court following his plea of guilty to robbery in violation of California Penal Code § 211. He seeks relief on the grounds that:

(1) his plea was involuntary, unknowing, and unlawfully induced;

(2) the state breached the terms of the plea agreement;

(3) the trial court erroneously denied his motion to withdraw the plea; and

(4) the trial court deprived petitioner of his right to have certain factual findings used to determine his sentence found by a jury.

Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned recommends that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.

BACKGROUND

On August 2, 2001, petitioner was charged in a two-count indictment with violating California Penal Code §§ 211 (second-degree robbery) and 487(a) (grand theft), stemming from the robbery of the Tehama Bank on June 30, 1999. Doc. No. 17 of Docs. Lodged In Supp. of Resp.'s Answer ("Lodg. Doc."), Clerk's Transcript (hereinafter "CT") at 2-4. The indictment included special, sentence-enhancing allegations for each count, charging petitioner with two prior strikes under California's "Three Strikes Law" (California Penal Code §§ 667.5(b)-(i) and 1170.12(a)-(d)) and with two prior violent felonies (California Penal Code § 667.5(a)). CT at 2-4. On September 23, 2002, petitioner pleaded guilty to the charge of second-degree robbery, contained in Count I of the indictment. Lodg. Doc. 18, Reporter's Transcript (hereinafter "RT") at 121-26; CT at 449-52. The written plea agreement signed by petitioner mentioned only the charges of second-degree robbery and the charges contained in Count II of the indictment (which included the grand theft and related enhancement allegations), indicating that petitioner was pleading guilty to the former in exchange for the dismissal of the latter. CT 449-50. It did not include any information regarding the special allegations alleged in connection with the second-degree robbery in Count I.*fn2 Id. At the plea colloquy, petitioner's counsel informed the court that the parties had agreed that a court trial would be had on the special allegations. RT 121; CT 451-52.

Petitioner was sentenced on October 24, 2002 to a state prison term of twenty-five years-to-life under the Three Strikes Law following a court trial on the special allegations. CT at 509-10. The state trial court found true all enhancement allegations, but struck the 3-year enhancement called for by § 667.5(a). RT at 147, 157-58. Because it found that petitioner had committed two prior strikes under the Three Strikes Law, the court sentenced petitioner to 25 years-to-life in prison. RT at 147, 153.

On petitioner's direct appeal, the California Court of Appeal provided the last reasoned decision on petitioner's claim that the state trial court breached the plea agreement by imposing the 25-to-life sentence. People v. Runquist, No. C042584, 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4754, *7-12 (Cal. Ct. App. May 18, 2004). The state appellate court made the following factual findings relevant to the instant petition and entitled to deference under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), as the court finds them reasonable in light of the record (Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 999-1000 (9th Cir. 2004); see Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 545-46 (1981)):

Defendant . . . moved to represent himself, and the trial court conducted a Faretta canvass on August 20, 2001. (Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806 [45 L. Ed. 2d 562].) The court warned defendant that he was "looking at 25-to-life" in this case. Defendant indicated he understood but suggested the prior convictions were "not as severe as they would like to say," in part because he claimed they supported a single prior prison term. The court noted that defendant's prior offenses might still be separate strikes and reiterated that he could be sentenced to 25 years to life. The court then noted the sentence could be even longer, explaining: "It looks like maybe 28-years-to-life. In any case, life would be the maximum term." Defendant acknowledged that he understood.

The trial court granted defendant's motion for self-representation, and he represented himself at hearings in 2001 and early 2002. At a hearing in November 2001, defendant briefly commented that he would have no grounds for appeals if certain motions were not made and he were "looking at 58 years[.]" In February 2002, defendant asked to have counsel appointed, and the court granted his request.

On September 23, 2002, the parties entered a negotiated plea agreement and executed a plea form that was signed and filed with the court. The plea form provided that defendant was entering a plea of guilty to robbery (count 1) and that count 2 (grand theft) would be dismissed. In the plea form, defendant acknowledged: "I understand that the maximum sentence for the offense(s) to which I am pleading guilty is/are: 5 yrs. prison." There is no reference in the plea form to the enhancement allegations. However, at the plea canvass, defense counsel explained there would be a court trial on "the special allegations" attached to the robbery count, and defendant subsequently waived his right to a jury trial on the allegations.

In canvassing defendant about the consequences of a conviction for the robbery offense, the court stated he "could be committed to State Prison for five years and ordered to pay two fines totaling $20,000, plus penalty assessments." Defendant acknowledged that he understood. He indicated no promises had been made to induce his plea besides what had been discussed in court or in the plea form. After accepting the plea, the court set the trial for the special allegations.

On September 25, 2002, the People presented evidence of defendant's prior convictions. The prosecutor and the trial court both referred to the Three Strikes law, and the prosecutor asked the court to sustain the strike allegations. Defendant was present and did not object at any point or indicate any confusion about the proceedings. The court deferred its ruling on the matter to allow briefing, and it took under submission the question of whether certain evidence was admissible.

Defendant prepared a letter that was received by the trial court on October 17, 2002. Defendant asked the court to consider giving him "the middle term of the base sentence for the crime [he] pled guilty to." In the meantime, a probation report was prepared. The probation officer reported that defendant "said he did not wish to discuss the particulars of the robbery" in part "because the matter of the 'strikes' had not been resolved . . . ."

On October 21, 2002, the People were allowed to reopen the trial of the prior convictions and present additional evidence. The trial court continued to defer a final ruling. At that time, the parties also referred to a motion to withdraw the plea that defendant had previously indicated he intended to file. The motion was filed with the court on October 24, 2002. One of defendant's claims that counsel cited was "that at the time he entered his guilty plea to count one, he believed that the court would find the special allegations not to be true, . . . " Counsel attached a supporting declaration by defendant. Defendant explained, "The plea I signed for stated 211, second degree robbery, 5 years. It did not mention plus special allegations or strikes, only the five years." But defendant also noted that his attorney had told him the district attorney would not agree to a plea to grand theft "since it was believed the court would not allow [the] priors to be used as strikes" and "the district attorney would only agree to a deal of second degree robbery, so that they could convict [him] of more time if the priors were found not to be true." Defendant nevertheless claimed that "fraud" by the district attorney "influenced the defendant by the plea agreement, in stating only five years for pleading guilty to second degree robbery, as stated in the plea agreement the defendant signed." Defendant emphasized the punishment restrictions under section 1192.5 and reiterated, "My plea terms were five years only."

At the hearing on October 24, 2002, defense counsel asked the trial court to rule on the special allegations before resolving the motion to withdraw the plea. The court sustained the strike allegations and then denied the motion. The court rejected defendant's claims about promises that were not kept, citing the fact that he had acknowledged there were no promises other than those discussed in court or cited in the plea form. The court further commented that ...


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