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Wells v. Falk

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 8, 2019

JAMES FALK and PHIL WEISER, Attorney General of the State of Colorado, [1] Respondents.



         Applicant, David Charles Wells, is a prisoner in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Mr. Wells has filed pro se an Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“the Application”) [Docket No. 1] challenging the validity of his conviction in Arapahoe County District Court, Case Number 2007CR2598. On December 18, 2018, Respondents filed an Answer (“the Answer”) [Docket No. 19]. On January 18, 2019, Mr. Jones filed a reply captioned “(Traverse) Response to Respondents' Answer” (“the Traverse”) [Docket No. 20] and a Motion for Appointment of Counsel [Docket No. 21]. The Motion for Appointment of Counsel will be denied.

         After reviewing the record, including the Application, the Answer, the Traverse, and the state court record, the Court concludes Mr. Wells is not entitled to relief on his remaining claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Wells was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The following background information describing the offense is taken from the opinion of the Colorado Court of Appeals on direct appeal.

The night before defendant's live-in girlfriend was going to move out of his home, he fatally stabbed her, and then stabbed himself twice in the chest. Police discovered a letter describing defendant's anger with the victim underneath a calendar on the dining room table.
Upon learning that defendant and the victim did not arrive at work that morning, the victim's brother went to the home and discovered defendant lying on the bed, covered in blood. The brother called police, who arrived at the scene and discovered the deceased victim on the floor. Defendant was transported to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to treat one of his stab wounds. At the hospital, defendant confessed to stabbing the victim and himself to a social worker and police officers.
At trial, he maintained that he had killed the victim in self-defense.

         Docket No. 11-4 at 2. In affirming the denial of a postconviction motion, the Colorado Court of Appeals noted there was “overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt” that included the following:

• The victim had stated that she was “so tired of this whole situation” and “dread[ed] even going home, ” and that defendant was “bitter.”
• The victim had eight stab wounds.
• The surgeon who treated defendant testified that his wounds were consistent with having been self-inflicted.
• On the night of the stabbing, defendant left his estranged wife a voicemail directing her to find a letter he had written which stated in part:
Over the past eight months [the victim] has crushed my heart and my world so horribly and wickedly . . . .
. . . .
Knowing [the victim] will continue to disrespect and disregaurd [sic] my intelligence by becoming the dumb innocent blonde and not know what I'm talking about. My last recourse is to . . . [ellipses in original]
I love her enough not to tell the story in its entirety. But for me to come to this point [sic]. She fucked up pretty badly. My crime is loving her her's [sic] is killing me with cruelty & hatred!
• Defendant confessed on three occasions, first to the social worker and then to police officers, that he stabbed the victim. He also confessed to the police that he had stabbed himself. Though the social worker's notes did not reflect a confession that defendant had stabbed himself, the social worker testified that defendant told her that he had stabbed himself.

Docket No. 11-8 at 8-9 (brackets in original).

         Mr. Wells asserts four claims in the Application. He claims he was denied a speedy trial (claim one), his right to conflict-free counsel was violated (claim two), the prosecutor knowingly presented false testimony (claim three), and counsel was ineffective in various ways (claim four). The Court previously entered an Order [Docket No. 15] dismissing claims one and three as procedurally barred. Additional facts pertinent to the remaining claims are set forth below.


         The Court must construe the Application and other papers filed by Mr. Wells 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. Wells bears the burden of proof under § 2254(d). See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         The threshold question the Court must answer under § 2254(d)(1) is whether Mr. Wells 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 pursuant to § 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 an objective inquiry. 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 exercising their independent judgment would conclude the state court misapplied Supreme Court law.” Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671. Furthermore,

[E]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations. [I]t is not an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by [the Supreme] Court.

Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In conducting this analysis, the Court “must determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could have supported[] the state court's decision” and then “ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of [the Supreme] Court.” Id. at 102. In addition, “review under § 2254(d)(1) is ...

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