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Torres v. State

Supreme Court of Montana

April 3, 2018

FRANCO LEO TORRES, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MONTANA, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 29, 2017

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DV 16-0192 Honorable Gregory R. Todd, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Franco Leo Torres, self-represented, Helena, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Billings, Montana.

          OPINION

          Dirk Sandefur Justice.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c) of our Internal Operating Rules, we decide this case by memorandum opinion, which shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. In the opinion of the Court, the case presents a question controlled by settled law or by the clear application of applicable standards of review. The case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Franco Leo Torres (Torres) appeals the judgment of the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court dismissing his petition for postconviction relief pursuant to § 46-21-201(1)(a), MCA, for failure to state a legally and factually sufficient claim. We affirm.

         ¶3 On February 17, 2015, Torres was convicted upon jury trial of the offense of Partner/Family Member Assault (PFMA), a felony in violation of § 45-5-209, MCA. Torres and the State subsequently entered into a written post-trial agreement pursuant to § 46-12-211(1)(b), MCA, designating Torres a persistent felony offender (PFO) and committing him to a five-year placement in the Department of Corrections Boot Camp program. In return for the State's binding sentencing recommendation, Torres agreed to waive his rights to appeal and to challenge the validity of prior criminal convictions as predicates for his felony PFMA conviction and PFO designation. The District Court ultimately sentenced Torres in accordance with the parties' agreement. Torres did not appeal.

         ¶4 On February 8, 2016, Torres filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Title 46, chapter 21, MCA. As grounds for the petition, Torres asserted numerous ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claims and alleged that an eleven-month post-trial sentencing delay violated his right to due process of law under the United States and Montana constitutions.[1] On May 3, 2016, the District Court ordered the State to respond to the various IAC-related claims upon obtaining the responses of Torres' counsel pursuant to In re Gillham, 216 Mont. 279, 704 P.2d 1019 (1985). On June 29, 2016, the District Court denied and dismissed the due process and jurisdictional claims on the merits. In a July 7, 2016 motion for leave to amend his petition, Torres additionally claimed that the court lacked jurisdiction to proceed to conviction absent an initial grand jury indictment or probable cause determination upon a noticed preliminary hearing. Upon consideration of the State's supported response, the court dismissed Torres' IAC claims pursuant to § 46-21-201(1)(a), MCA, for failure to state a legally and factually sufficient claim. Torres timely appeals.

         ¶5 We review a district court denial of a petition for postconviction relief to determine whether applicable findings of fact are clearly erroneous and whether applicable conclusions of law are correct. Whitlow v. State, 2008 MT 140, ¶ 9, 343 Mont. 90, 183 P.3d 861. However, ineffective assistance claims present mixed questions of fact and law which we review de novo. Whitlow, ¶ 9. We review a district court decision to dismiss a postconviction petition without a hearing pursuant to § 46-21-201(1)(a), MCA, for an abuse of discretion. State v. Hanson, 1999 MT 226, ¶ 9, 296 Mont. 82, 988 P.2d 299 (citing State v. Sullivan, 285 Mont. 235, 239, 948 P.2d 215, 218 (1997)).

         ¶6 Torres first asserts that the District Court erroneously denied him the opportunity to amend his petition pursuant to § 46-21-105, MCA. The record reflects that Torres moved for leave to amend his petition to add a postconviction claim that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to proceed to conviction absent an initial grand jury indictment or probable cause determination on a noticed preliminary hearing. Though the District Court did not formally grant or deny leave to amend the petition, the record demonstrates that Torres' motion set forth substantive legal analysis on the issue and that the court in turn squarely addressed the claim on the merits. In essence, the court implicitly granted the motion by treating the substantive legal analysis therein as an amended postconviction claim and addressing it on the merits. To the extent that Torres further asserts that the District Court erroneously decided the issue on the merits, we conclude that the court correctly ruled that the State properly charged Torres by ex parte probable cause affidavit and court-endorsed Information pursuant to § 46-11-101, MCA, without statutory or constitutional requirement for a grand jury indictment or preliminary hearing.

         ¶7 Torres next asserts that the District Court erroneously denied him a hearing on his IAC-related claims. Whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a postconviction petition is a discretionary matter, required only in "unique circumstances" such as where necessary to develop and review non-record facts likely to be material to an asserted claim. Heath v. State, 2009 MT 7, ¶¶ 21-27, 348 Mont. 361, 202 P.3d 118; see also State v. Cobell, 2004 MT 46, ¶ 12, 320 Mont. 122, 86 P.3d 20; § 46-21-201(1)(a) and (5), MCA. However, a postconviction hearing may "not serve as a broad discovery device" with which to embark upon "a 'fishing expedition' in an attempt to establish" grounds for postconviction relief. Heath, ¶ 27. Torres has failed to demonstrate on appeal that a hearing was necessary to develop additional non-record facts or as a means to resolve genuine issues of material fact within the record following the State's supported response.

         ¶8 The District Court rejected Torres' assertion that an eleven-month post-trial sentencing delay violated his right to due process of law. Our review of the record indicates that the District Court engaged in a particularized due process analysis in accordance with State v. Betterman, 2015 MT 39, ¶¶ 26-32, 378 Mont. 182, 342 P.3d 971 (focusing on the reasons for the post-trial sentencing delay and the extent of resulting prejudice under the totality of the circumstances). The District Court essentially concluded that Torres failed to make a non-speculative showing that the delay unreasonably prejudiced him and, to the extent that the claim was IAC-related and not subsumed in his non-record IAC claims, the record did not support Torres' assertion that the delay resulted from the deficient performance of counsel. Our review of the record indicates that the District Court correctly analyzed Torres' due process claim under governing law to reach a factually and legally supported conclusion. Torres has failed to show otherwise on appeal.

         ¶9 Finally, Torres asserts numerous other IAC and IAC-related claims. A postconviction petitioner has the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the facts of record warrant the requested relief. Heath, ¶ 16; Ellenburg v. Chase, 2004 MT 66, ¶ 12, 320 Mont. 315, 87 P.3d 473; Cobell, ¶ 12. The performance of counsel is constitutionally ineffective only if (1) deficient and (2) the deficient performance resulted in actual prejudice to the defendant's right to a fair trial. Ariegwe v. State, 2012 MT 166, ¶ 15, 365 Mont. 505, 285 P.3d 424; Heath, ¶ 17; Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064 (1984). An IAC claimant has the heavy burden of demonstrating that counsel's performance was ineffective under both prongs of the Strickland analysis. Sartain v. State, 2012 MT 164, ¶¶ 9, 11, 365 Mont. 483, 285 P.3d 407; Whitlow, ¶¶ 10-14. The reviewing court may consider the Stri ...


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