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Lawrence v. Salmonsen

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

September 6, 2018




         On July 23, 2018, [1] Petitioner Joseph E. Lawrence filed this action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) Lawrence is a state prisoner proceeding pro se. For the reasons set forth below, Lawrence's petition should be dismissed.

         I. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition

         The Court is required to screen all actions brought by prisoners who seek relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). The Court must dismiss a habeas petition or portion thereof if the prisoner raises claims that are legally frivolous or fails to state a basis upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). The Court must dismiss a habeas petition “[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief.” Rule 4 Governing Section 2254 Cases. Because Lawrence's claims are unexhausted, his petition should be dismissed without prejudice.

         II. Lawrence's Claims

         Lawrence was convicted of sexual assault and solicitation in Montana's Twenty-First Judicial District, Ravalli County. Lawrence appealed his convictions and argued that his conditional guilty plea, which reserved his right to appeal the district court's ruling on his motion to sever, was invalid because the district court did not rule on the pending motion before accepting Lawrence's plea. On appeal, the State conceded the argument and agreed the underlying plea and sentence should be vacated due to the invalid plea. The Montana Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter and instructed the district court to vacate the entry of Lawrence's guilty plea and sentence. See, State v. Lawrence, 2016 MT 209N, Or. (Mont. Aug. 23, 2016).[2]

         According to Lawrence, he was resentenced on June 28, 2017, and an Amended Judgment was entered on August 9, 2017. (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶. 2.)[3] Lawrence entered Alford[4]pleas to both Sexual Assault and Solicitation of Sexual Assault. Id. at 3, ¶.¶. 3-5. Lawrence contends that it was unlawful for the district court to accept Alford pleas upon remand/resentence, based upon a recent Montana state case, State v. Hansen, 2017 MT 280. Id. at 4, ⁋ 13 (A)(i). Lawrence also alleges judicial bias, prejudice, and corruption have permeated his underlying criminal case and the subsequent remand proceedings. Id. at 5, ¶. 13 (B)(i).[5]

         On the same day that Lawrence filed his petition in this Court, he also filed a petition for state habeas relief. Id. at 4, ¶. 12. Lawrence asserts the only issue raised in his state habeas petition is the illegal/unlawful nature of the plea agreement. Id. at 6, ¶. 14. But, a review of Lawrence's initial filing in the Montana Supreme Court indicates that Lawrence references due process and constitutional violations during his remand proceedings, as well as judicial bias and malice on the part of the district court. See, Lawrence v. Salmonsen, OP 18-0440, Pet. at 3 (filed July 30, 2018). There, Lawrence also advances Brady violations, civil and constitutional rights violations, and commission of unlawful acts by the Ravalli County judiciary, prosecution, and law enforcement officers. Id. at 3-4.

         Lawrence asks this Court to order his immediate release from prison, remand the matter to the state district court for further proceedings, and dismiss all charges based upon judicial bias, prosecutorial misconduct, and malice. Id. at 7, ¶.

         III. Analysis

         A state prisoner must exhaust his state court remedies before petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004). 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-of-state-remedies doctrine, now codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(b) and (c), reflects a policy of federal-state comity, an accommodation of our federal system designed to give the State an initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         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. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 162-63 (1996). A petitioner must meet all three prongs of the test in one proceeding. “Mere ‘general appeals to broad constitutional principles, such as due process, equal protection, and the right to a fair trial,' do not establish exhaustion.” Castillo v. McFadden, 399 F.3d 993, 999, cert. denied, 546 U.S. 818 (2005).

         In the present case, the Montana Supreme Court has not yet considered or ruled upon the claims that Lawrence seeks to advance in this Court. Before Lawrence can file a federal habeas petition he must give the state courts one full opportunity to review his constitutional claims. O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845. Because Lawrence has not yet exhausted his available state court remedies, as evidenced by his pending state habeas petition, this Court cannot review the claims. See Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509 (1982). Dismissal should be without prejudice, allowing Lawrence to return to this Court if and when he fully exhausts the claims relative to his current custody.

         IV. Certificate ...

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