United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division
L. Christensen, United States District Court Chief Judge
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).
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).
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.)
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.
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.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,  the Montana
Supreme Court understood and responded to this claim.