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Petersen v. State

Supreme Court of Montana

May 21, 2019

RONALD LON PETERSEN, Petitioner and Appellant,
STATE OF MONTANA, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: March 21, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, In and For the County of Lake, Cause No. DV 18-55 Honorable James A. Manley, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Ronald Petersen, self-represented, Shelby, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          Steven N. Eschenbacher, Lake County Attorney, Polson, Montana


         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its 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 Ronald Lon Petersen, pro se, appeals from the judgment of the Montana Twentieth Judicial District Court, Lake County, denying his second petition for postconviction relief. We affirm.

         ¶3 As referenced in State v. Petersen, 2011 MT 22, ¶ 1, 359 Mont. 200, 247 P.3d 731 (Petersen I), and Petersen v. State, No. DA 11-0403, 2012 MT 138N, ¶ 2, 2012 Mont. LEXIS 185 (Petersen II), Petersen is serving a 100-year commitment to the Montana State Prison (MSP) on the offense of deliberate homicide for the shooting death of Clyde Wilson in December 2007. Petersen was convicted and sentenced under a plea agreement after turning himself in to a U.S. Army investigator at his active duty station in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Petersen admitted that, after breaking into Wilson's home, he shot and killed Wilson to settle a score based on an allegation that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl. Wilson was asleep next to his girlfriend and five-month-old baby at the time of the shooting. In addition to imposing the jointly recommended 100-year base sentence, the District Court sua sponte tacked on an additional 10-year weapons enhancement pursuant to § 46-18-221, MCA.

         ¶4 On direct appeal, Petersen alleged that the District Court erroneously imposed the additional weapons enhancement and then further erred by sua sponte amending the sentence to correct the error rather than allowing him to withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to § 46-12-211(4), MCA (option to withdraw guilty plea on court deviation from binding plea agreement). We agreed with Petersen that the court had no authority to tack on a 10-year weapons enhancement under the circumstances and that the proper remedy to cure an illegal sentence was direct appeal. We thus vacated the District Court's amended judgment and remanded for entry of a judgment imposing a 100-year prison sentence in accordance with the binding plea agreement accepted by court. Petersen I, ¶¶ 13-18. Having addressed the erroneous imposition of an illegal weapons enhancement on an accepted plea agreement, we affirmed the District Court's denial of Petersen's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Petersen I, ¶¶ 14-18.

         ¶5 Two months later, in April 2011, Petersen filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief alleging that he did not voluntarily plead guilty and that Wilson's killing was a justifiable use of force under Montana law. He also filed an accompanying motion to suppress his confession on the asserted ground that the confession was not voluntary. The District Court denied postconviction relief on the asserted grounds that Petersen failed to provide evidentiary support for his claims, he waived those claims by pleading guilty, and his claims were procedurally barred. The Court similarly denied Petersen's motion to suppress on the stated ground that it was untimely and further waived by his guilty plea. Petersen II, ¶ 6. Petersen appealed those rulings and then later filed a pro se "Amendment to Direct Appeal of Postconviction Relief" further alleging that his initial arrest warrant was invalid due to procedural irregularity (falsified arrest warrant date/lack of motion and order for leave to file Information), that his brother was illegally interrogated, and that his half-brother was not a credible State's witness. Petersen II, ¶ 7.

         ¶6 By memorandum opinion filed July 2, 2012, we found seven distinct postconviction claims and related assertions of error-all procedurally barred. Petersen II, ¶¶ 7-13. We first held that Petersen's claimed right to withdraw his guilty plea based on a purported rejection of a binding plea agreement was barred by § 46-21-105(2), MCA (barring subsequent assertion of claims "raised on direct appeal"), and "the doctrine of res judicata." Petersen II, ¶ 9 (citing Gollehon v. State, 1999 MT 210, ¶ 51, 296 Mont. 6, 986 P.2d 395). We then held that he waived all other asserted claims and errors based on his guilty plea, a clear and unequivocal plea waiver, and § 46-21-105(2), MCA (barring subsequent assertion of claims that "could reasonably have been raised on direct appeal"). Petersen II, ¶¶ 10-11.

         ¶7 Nine days later, on July 11, 2012, Petersen filed a federal habeas petition, amended October 31, 2014, asserting three separate claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Petersen v. Frink, No. CV 12-125-M-DLC-JCL, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176557, at *1-2 (D. Mont. Aug. 10, 2015) (Petersen F1). He claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective based on: (1) failure to challenge the procedural validity of the 2008 arrest warrant and resultingly tainted evidence; (2) failure to challenge the voluntariness of Petersen's incriminating statements to state law enforcement agents; and (3) alleged misrepresentation of facts and law by counsel that allegedly induced Petersen to plead guilty. Petersen F1, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176557, at *1-2.

         ¶8 Despite the "State's probable violation of state law in relation to the issuance of the [2008 arrest] warrant," the United States Magistrate recommended denial of the first IAC claim on the ground that the procedural irregularity would not have been a "basis for" Fourth Amendment "suppression of [Petersen's] post-arrest statements." Petersen F1, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176557 at *17-24. The Magistrate recommended denial of the second IAC claim based on Petersen's failure to make a sufficient evidentiary showing that his incriminating statements to state investigators were involuntary. Petersen v. Frink, No. CV 12-125-M-DLC-JCL, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175366, at *3-6 (D. Mont. Aug. 10, 2015) (Petersen F2). The Magistrate further recommended denial of the third IAC claim based on a similar lack of evidentiary support. Petersen F2, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175366 at *6-18. In separate written orders filed January 26 and February 29, 2016, the United States District Court concurred in the Magistrate's recommendations and ultimately denied Petersen's claims for federal habeas relief. Petersen v. Frink, No. CV 12-125-M-DLC-JCL, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25576 (D. Mont. Feb. 29, 2016) (Petersen F1-A); Petersen v. Frink, No. CV 12-125-M-DLC-JCL, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8945 (D. Mont. Jan. 26, 2016) (Petersen F2-A). On December 9, 2016, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Petersen's petition for a ...

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