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Reneau v. Medina

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 24, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on the Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. # 1) (“Application”) filed pro se by Applicant Chester Lee Reneau. Mr. Reneau challenges the validity of his conviction and sentence in the District Court for Larimer County, Colorado, Case No. 2010CR1651. Respondents filed an Answer (Doc. # 31), and Mr. Reneau filed a Reply (Doc. # 32). After reviewing the record before the Court, including the Application, Answer, Reply, and the state court record, the Court denies the Application and dismisses this case with prejudice.


         The Colorado Court of Appeals described the relevant factual and procedural background of Case No. 2010CR1651 as follows:

Defendant pleaded guilty to identity theft [a class 4 felony] and was sentenced to probation for two years. While on probation, defendant was charged with criminal mischief in Larimer County - Loveland case number 11M1019 (misdemeanor case) and first degree assault in Larimer County case number 11CR1024 (felony assault case). The probation department subsequently filed a motion to revoke defendant's probation, alleging he had violated the terms by: (1) committing criminal mischief, as reflected in the misdemeanor case; (2) committing first degree assault, as reflected in the felony assault case; and (3) failing to submit to substance tests and testing positive for THC and alcohol.
A public defender (revocation counsel) was appointed to represent defendant in the probation revocation proceedings and the felony assault case, but defendant represented himself in the misdemeanor case. While the motion to revoke probation was pending, defendant pleaded guilty in the misdemeanor case and was acquitted at trial in the felony assault case. At a later hearing, defendant admitted to violating probation by pleading guilty in the misdemeanor case. The sentencing court revoked defendant's probation and, after reviewing a presentence investigation report, sentenced him to three years in the custody of the Department of Corrections.
Defendant later filed a pro se motion for postconviction relief under Crim. P. 35(c). The district court appointed a new attorney to represent him and, after additional briefing and a hearing on the merits, denied defendant's motion for postconviction relief.

(Doc. #12-7 at 2-3). The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of the postconviction motion. (Id. at 13). Mr. Reneau petitioned for a writ of certiorari from the Colorado Supreme Court, which was denied on November 23, 2015. (Doc # 12-10).

         Mr. Reneau commenced this § 2254 proceeding on July 26, 2016. (Doc. # 1). He requests unconditional release. (Id. at 14). In support of this request, he alleges two claims with subparts:

Claim One: “Conviction Obtained in Violation of Sixth Amendment” 1(a): Mr. Reneau would not have pleaded guilty to the Loveland misdemeanor case but for ineffective assistance of trial/revocation counsel; he was unaware, and counsel did not inform him, that a basis for revoking parole in Case No. 10CR1651 was the pending misdemeanor charge (Id. at 7);
1(b): trial/revocation counsel provided misleading advice which led to Mr. Reneau having to plead guilty in Case No. 10CR1651 due to pleading guilty and accepting the plea offer in the Loveland misdemeanor case; Mr. Reneau contends counsel should have advised him that he should not plead guilty and should argue violations of due process as a defense in Case No. 10CR1651 (Id. at 8); and
1(c): trial/revocation counsel did not file an appeal in Case No. 10CR1651, despite Mr. Reneau's request that he do so and his agreement to do so (Id. at 9). Claim Two: “Conviction Obtained in Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment”
2(a): Mr. Reneau pleaded guilty to the Loveland misdemeanor charge due to false statements from the prosecutor; the prosecutor pushed for parole revocation in Case No. 10CR1651 because Mr. Reneau was found not guilty by a jury of felony assault in Case No. 11CR1024 (Id. at 10); and
2(b): the Larimer County District Court judge and prosecutor did not advise Mr. Reneau that probation revocation would be sought in Case No. 10CR1651 and he would be sentenced to imprisonment, if he pleaded guilty in the Loveland misdemeanor case; the prosecutor allegedly advised him that probation would not be revoked based on a guilty plea (Id. at 10-11).

         On May 25, 2017, the Court entered an Order (Doc. # 19) dismissing Claims 1(c), 2(a), and 2(b) with prejudice as procedurally defaulted. Claims 1(a) and 1(b) remain for adjudication on the merits.

         In the Answer addressing the merits of the remaining claims, Respondents argue that § 2254(d) bars federal habeas corpus relief. (Doc. # 31 at 14). They state that the Colorado Court of Appeals' factual determinations were supported by the record and not unreasonable. (Id.). They contend the Colorado Court of Appeals reasonably applied the federal legal standard for considering effectiveness of counsel and correctly determined revocation counsel “reviewed the complaint to revoke probation with [Mr. Reneau]”, “fulfilled his professional duty in the identity theft case by explaining that the separate misdemeanor was one basis on which probation could be revoked”, and “had good reason at the time to believe that admitting to the [probation] violation would result in, at worst, a reinstatement of probation.” (Id. at 15-17). Respondents assert “the Supreme Court has not held that counsel renders deficient performance by failing to advise on how to plead in a case in which counsel is not even representing a defendant simply because a conviction in the case might result in a probation revocation in a case in which counsel is representing the defendant.” (Id. at 16).

         In the Reply, with regard to Claim 1(a), Mr. Reneau alleges revocation counsel committed perjury during the postconviction motion hearing. (Doc. # 32 at 4). More specifically, he asserts it is inconsistent that revocation counsel testified that he went over the bases for the motion to revoke probation with him, yet never gave him a copy of the motion. (Id.). Mr. Reneau alleges revocation counsel owed him a duty to advise him as to whether he should enter a guilty plea in the misdemeanor case. (Id. at 5). He claims he was “not guilty” of the misdemeanor and would have requested trial by jury in that matter. (Id. at 6).

         As for Claim 1(b), Mr. Reneau alleges his guilty plea in the misdemeanor case was not knowing and voluntary because the court presiding over that matter did not inform him that it could cause his probation to be revoked. (Id. at 7). Further, he alleges the prosecution in the misdemeanor case induced him to plead guilty by promising a certain sentence. (Id.). Thus, he claims revocation counsel should have argued that the misdemeanor guilty plea should not constitute a probation violation because the plea agreement was breached. (Id. at 7-8). He states he would not have waived his right to counsel in the misdemeanor case had he reviewed the motion to revoke probation beforehand. (Id. at 10). He asserts that the sentencing court unfairly relied on the presentence report to find him dangerous. (Id. at 12). He alleges he has a medical condition that affects his voice, and he did not say he intended to kill Americans in Mexico but, instead, he intended to deal cocaine to Americans in Mexico. (Id.). He claims misconduct by the prosecution in the misdemeanor case. (See Id. at 13).


         The Court must construe Mr. Reneau's filings liberally because he is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court should not be an advocate for a pro se litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that a writ of habeas corpus may not be issued with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Mr. Reneau bears the burden of proof under § 2254(d). See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002) (per curiam).

         The Court reviews claims of legal error and mixed questions of law and fact pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). See Cook v. McKune, 323 F.3d 825, 829-30 (10th Cir. 2003). The threshold question the Court must answer under § 2254(d)(1) is whether the applicant seeks to apply a rule of law that was clearly established by the Supreme Court at the time his conviction became final. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000). Clearly established federal law “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state court decision.” Id. at 412. Furthermore,

clearly established law consists of Supreme Court holdings in cases where the facts are at least closely-related or similar to the case sub judice. Although the legal rule at issue need not have had its genesis in the closely-related or similar factual context, the Supreme Court must have expressly extended the legal rule to that context.

House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1016 (10th Cir. 2008). If there is no clearly established federal law, that is the end of the Court's inquiry under § 2254(d)(1). See id. at 1018.

         If a clearly established rule of federal law is implicated, the Court must determine whether the state court's decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of that clearly established rule of federal law. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 404-05.

A state-court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if: (a) “the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases”; or (b) “the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [that] precedent.” Maynard [v. Boone], 468 F.3d [665, ] 669 [(10th Cir. 2006)] (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). “The word ‘contrary' is commonly understood to mean ‘diametrically different, ' ‘opposite in character or nature, ' or ‘mutually opposed.'” Williams, 529 U.S. at 405 (citation omitted).
A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law when it identifies the correct governing legal rule from Supreme Court cases, but unreasonably applies it to the facts. Id. at 407 08.

House, 527 F.3d at 1018.

         The Court's inquiry pursuant to the “unreasonable application” clause is objective. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-10. “[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather that application must also be unreasonable.” Id. at 411. “[A] decision is ‘objectively unreasonable' when most reasonable jurists ...

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