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Enzler v. Fender

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

December 19, 2018

GARY LEE ENZLER, Petitioner,


          Dana L. Christensen, United States District Court Chief Judge

         United States Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston issued his Findings and Recommendation in this case on August 29, 2018, recommending that the Court dismiss Enzler's Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and deny a certificate of appealability. (Doc. 14.) Through counsel, Enzler timely filed objections to the Findings and Recommendation. (Doc. 17.) Consequently, Enzler is entitled to de novo review of those findings and recommendations to which he has specifically objected. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Absent objection, this Court reviews findings and recommendations for clear error. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985). Clear error exists if the Court is left with a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Syrax, 235 F.3d 422, 427 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).

         Filed by court-appointed counsel, Enzler's second amended habeas petition includes two claims. First, Enzler alleges ineffective assistance of trial counsel ("IAC") arising from his claim that trial counsel coerced Enzler's involuntary guilty plea. Enzler's second claim is grounded in several of a criminal defendant's constitutional rights-the right against compulsory self-incrimination, the right to trial by jury, and the right to confront one's accusers, Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243 (1969)-which cannot be waived unless the defendant's guilty plea is "voluntarily and intelligently made by [the] competent defendant[] with adequate advice of counsel," Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 757 (1970).

         Judge Johnston recommended denial of Enzler's habeas petition as to both claims. Regarding Enzler's IAC claim, Judge Johnston found the claim both procedurally defaulted and without merit. (Doc. 14 at 17-19 & n.5.) As to Enzler's claim of incompetence, Judge Johnston found it more efficient to deny it on the merits than to address procedural default. (Doc. 14 at 5.) He recommended denying the claim as unsupported by the record. (Doc. 14 at 5-17.)

         Enzler objects, primarily arguing that Judge Johnston failed to review his claims de novo and instead applied the deferential standard demanded under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"). As to Enzler's first claim for relief, Enzler contends that he is entitled to de novo review of the record because his post-conviction counsel was ineffective in failing to raise Enzler's claim for ineffective assistance of trial counsel, excusing Enzler's failure to raise his claims before the state court pursuant to Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413 (2013). Enzler argues that his second claim for relief should also be reviewed de novo because the state court's adjudication of that claim "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). Enzler asks the Court to reject the Findings and Recommendation and again refer this matter to Judge Johnston for de novo review and an evidentiary hearing as to both of Enzler's claims.

         The Court overrules Enzler's objections. Although Enzler is entitled to de novo review of the Findings and Recommendation, the state court must be given deference under AEDPA. Applying the appropriate standard, Enzler's petition must be denied. What is more, even if the Court were to review the state court record de novo, it would find the petition without merit.

         I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Enzler's IAC claim arises from Enzler's allegation that trial counsel coerced Enzler into involuntarily pleading guilty. Judge Johnston recommended denying this claim because "Enzler's allegations are contradicted by the record of the case." (Doc. 14 at 17.) Enzler objects, arguing that, although the claim is procedurally defaulted, the procedural default is excused and the claim must be reviewed de novo. (Doc. 17 at 3-4.) While Enzler concedes that Judge Johnstone apparently did, in fact, apply de novo review, Enzler argues that error arose from the refusal to order a response from the State and hold a hearing on this claim. (Id.)

         Because Enzler timely objected to the Findings and Recommendation, the Court reviews de novo whether "it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court." Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. The Court concludes that "it plainly appears" that Enzler cannot succeed on his IAC claim. Id.

         A petitioner "who is able to state facts showing a real possibility of constitutional error should survive Rule 4 review." Calderon v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 98 F.3d 1102, 1109 (9th Cir. 1996). Here, Enzler has no facts to support his claim, but only an assertion that trial counsel coerced him to plead guilty. This assertion is not only unsupported, it is plainly contradicted by the record. Further-and despite Enzler's claim to the contrary-the state court reached a legally and factually reasonable decision on the merits of this claim.

         A. Procedural Default

         A district court lacks jurisdiction to hear a habeas claim that is procedurally defaulted-that is, a claim that the petitioner did not bring before the state court in the first instance-unless the procedural default is excused. Davila v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 2058, 2064 (2017) ("[A] federal court may not review federal claims that were procedurally defaulted in state court-that is, claims that the state court denied based on an adequate and independent state procedural rule."). Here, Enzler admits procedural default. (Doc. 17 at 3.) However, he asserts that the default is excused under Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413 (2013). If, indeed, Enzler's claim were procedurally defaulted, the Court would disagree that such default was excused. This case does not involve "the default of a single claim-ineffective assistance of trial counsel- in [the] single context [excusing procedural default]-where the State effectively requires a defendant to bring that claim in state postconviction proceedings rather than on direct appeal." Davila, 137 S.Ct. at 2062-63.

         That said, Enzler's position on procedural default must be rejected for a separate reason. The Court need not determine whether Martinez and Trevino save Enzler's claim because even if the claim was procedurally defaulted, the Montana Supreme Court reached a decision on the merits. Enzler's state post-conviction appellate counsel fully briefed the issue before the Montana Supreme Court, arguing that counsel in the district court proceeding was ineffective because he failed to "attempt to present any evidence in support of Mr. Enzler's previous, pro se claims that his guilty pleas were the involuntary result of his attorneys' ineffective assistance and coercion." (Doc. 13-3 at 7; see generally Id. at 7-9.) Although appellate counsel couched this claim within a broader argument that the district court erred in adjudicating Enzler's post-conviction claims despite Enzler's incompetence during that time period, [1] the Montana Supreme Court understood and responded to this claim.

         B. ...

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