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Sproles v. Kreuger

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

November 28, 2017

CLINTON SPROLES, Petitioner,
v.
KURT KREUGER, KELLI FIVEY, GEORGE SKULETICH, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MONTANA, Respondents.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge.

         On November 27, 2017, Petitioner Clinton Sproles, filed a petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Sproles is a state prisoner proceeding pro se.

         I. Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Sproles has moved this Court to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2). Although Sproles has not yet provided a copy of his inmate trust account statement, there is no reason to delay this matter further. Sproles' motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

         II. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition

         On April 6, 2017, Sproles pled guilty to felony Driving Under the Influence. (Doc. 1 at 4 ¶ 13(A)(i)); see also, (Doc. 1-1). Sproles' plea was accepted by the trial court. That evening, the prosecuting attorney, Kelli Fivey, apparently filed a notice seeking Sproles' treatment as a Persistent Felony Offender. (Doc. 1-1). Sproles' attorney then filed a motion to dismiss the Persistent Felony Offender designation; the trial court has not yet ruled on the defense motion.

         In July of this year, Sproles filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Montana Supreme Court, arguing his right to due process was violated by the unreasonable amount of time that had passed following his change of plea hearing and by the delinquent filing of the Persistent Felony Offender enhancement. The Montana Supreme Court held a writ of habeas corpus was not the proper vehicle to make such a challenge. Sproles v. BSB Detention Center, OP 17-0569, Or. at 2 (Mont. Oct. 17, 2017).[1] The Court noted that once the trial court ruled on Sproles' motion to dismiss the PFO enhancement and subsequently sentenced Sproles, he would then have the ability to file a direct appeal and that habeas relief was not a substitute for appeal. Id. Further, because Sproles was represented by counsel, it was inappropriate for him to file the writ pro se. Sproles' petition was denied.

         As of the filing of Sproles' petition in this Court, he has not yet been sentenced and the trial court has not ruled on his motion to dismiss the Persistent Felony Offender designation. (Doc. 1 at 3 ¶ 4). Sproles asks this Court to dismiss all pending state charges. Id. at 7 ¶16.

         A. Exhaustion

         Federal courts may not grant a writ of habeas corpus brought by an individual in custody pursuant to a state court judgment unless "the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State." 28 U.S.C. §2254(b)(1)(A). The exhaustion requirement is grounded in the principles of comity and gives states the first opportunity to correct alleged violations of a prisoner's federal rights. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731 (1991).

         To meet the exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must (1) use the "remedies available, " § 2254(b)(1)(A), through the state's established procedures for appellate review, O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999); (2) describe "the federal legal theory on which his claim is based, " Davis v. Silva, 511 F.3d 1005, 1009 (9th Cir. 2008); and (3) describe "the operative facts . .. necessary to give application to the constitutional principle upon which the petitioner relies." Id. See also Gray v. Netherlands 518 U.S. 152, 162-63 (1996) (discussing Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270 (1971) and Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4 (1982)). A petitioner must meet all three prongs of the test in one proceeding.

         A review of Sproles' petition and the corresponding state court record reveals Sproles has not yet been sentenced nor has the trial court ruled on his motion to dismiss. Following resolution of these matters at the trial court level, Sproles still may pursue direct appeal and/or collateral review. Because there are still state remedies available to Sproles, he has not yet exhausted his claims. Consequently, this Court cannot review them. See, Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509 (1982). Dismissal is without prejudice and Sproles may return to this Court if and when he fully exhausts the claims relative to his current custody in the state courts.

         B. Younger Abstention

         Federal courts generally do not intervene in ongoing state proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances where the risk of irreparable harm is both great and immediate. Younger v. Harris,401 U.S. 37, 45-46 (1971). Courts have "long recognized that in some circumstances considerations of comity and concerns for the orderly administration of criminal justice require a federal court to forego the exercise of its habeas corpus power." Francis v. Henderson,435 U.S. 536, 539 (1976). Younger abstention is required if the state proceedings are: (1) ongoing; (2) implicate important state interests; and (3) provide an adequate opportunity to litigate federal claims. See, Middlesex County ...


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