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People v. Huggins

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

August 1, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Chester L. Huggins, Defendant-Appellant.

          Arapahoe County District Court No. 93CR1584 Honorable F. Stephen Collins, Judge

          Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Matthew S. Holman, First Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Robin M. Lerg, Alternate Defense Counsel, Montrose, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant



         ¶ 1 Defendant, Chester L. Huggins, appeals the denial of his motions for postconviction relief under Crim. P. 35(c). He contends that the delay in resolution of his motions violated his "due process right to a speedy and meaningful postconviction review." Huggins further contends that the postconviction court erred in denying his ineffective assistance of counsel claim because the attorney who represented him both at trial and in his direct appeal labored under a conflict of interest.

         ¶ 2 We affirm because the application of Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335 (1980), to ineffective assistance of counsel cases premised on a purported conflict of interest involving the lawyer's self-interest would undermine the uniformity and simplicity of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).

         I. Background

         ¶ 3 We address only the relevant portion of the lengthy history of this case.

         ¶ 4 Huggins was convicted of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and being an accessory to a crime. Forrest Lewis represented Huggins both at his trial and in the direct appeal. Before trial, Huggins filed a pro se motion for appointment of new counsel on various grounds, including Lewis's alleged failure to assist Huggins in preparing for trial, lack of legal knowledge, failure to communicate, and bias. The trial court denied the motion. In addition, Lewis filed two separate motions for leave to withdraw on the grounds that Huggins believed that he and Lewis could no longer work together after they had discussed a possible plea agreement. The trial court also denied Lewis's motions.

         ¶ 5 After the trial, the court granted Lewis's motion for appointment as Huggins's appellate counsel. A division of this court affirmed the judgment of conviction. People v. Huggins, (Colo.App. No. 94CA1159, May 23, 1996) (not published pursuant to C.A.R. 35(f)).

         ¶ 6 In February 1998, Huggins filed a pro se motion to vacate his judgment of conviction under Crim. P. 35(c) (First Motion). In the First Motion, he alleged that Lewis had been ineffective for several reasons, including because Lewis had "failed to raise conflict of interest issues between himself and his client at trial" and had not interviewed three potential witnesses.

         ¶ 7 Later that year, Huggins filed a second motion to vacate his judgment of conviction, also under Crim. P. 35(c) (Second Motion). In the Second Motion, Huggins again argued that Lewis had been ineffective. Concurrently, he filed a motion for the appointment of counsel to assist with his postconviction motions. The court appointed Steven Katzman to represent Huggins in connection with the Second Motion.

         ¶ 8 The First and Second Motions remained pending on the postconviction court's docket for the next eleven years. During that time, Huggins filed a pro se motion for the appointment of new counsel (New Counsel Motion), in which he expressed his displeasure with Katzman's performance. The court took no action on the New Counsel Motion, however. More than two years later, Katzman moved to withdraw on the basis of irreconcilable differences with Huggins. The court granted Katzman leave to withdraw.

         ¶ 9 In February 2010, Huggins filed a third pro se motion for postconviction relief, again under Crim. P. 35(c) (Third Motion), which also included an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The postconviction court denied the Third Motion in an order entered in July 2010. That order made no reference to the First or Second Motions, however.

         ¶ 10 In March 2013, Huggins filed a "Request for a Status Report," in which he sought information regarding the status of the First and Second Motions (Status Request). The postconviction court responded that it would not take action on the Status Request because Huggins had not served it on the People.

         ¶ 11 More than two years later, Huggins sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court (Letter), in which he alleged a "gross violation of [his] due process rights by the delay" in adjudication of his First and Second Motions.

         ¶ 12 The postconviction court appointed Evan Zuckerman as new counsel for Huggins in March 2015. Zuckerman filed a status report in which she requested additional time to investigate the grounds for Huggins's postconviction motions and a supplement (Supplement) to the Third Motion. The Supplement restated Huggins's ineffective assistance of counsel claim and argued that Lewis had been "ineffective in advising and raising as a possible appellate issue the trial court's denial of the two motions to withdraw resulting in abandonment of a possible appellate claim for relief." Additionally, Huggins argued in the Supplement that he had been deprived of his statutory right to postconviction review because the postconviction court could not "properly and meaningfully review a complete record of proceedings." The record reflects that Lewis had not ordered transcripts of certain of the proceedings in the trial court.

         ¶ 13 Following an evidentiary hearing at which Lewis, Huggins, and other witnesses testified, the postconviction court denied all three of Huggins's postconviction motions (collectively, the Crim. P. 35(c) Motions). (The court inexplicably denied the Third Motion twice.)

         ¶ 14 Huggins appeals the denial of the Crim. P. 35(c) Motions.

         II. Huggins's Due Process Claims

         ¶ 15 Huggins contends that his due process right to a "speedy and meaningful postconviction review" was violated because of the delay in adjudication of the Crim. P. 35(c) Motions. The parties dispute whether Huggins preserved this due process argument.

         ¶ 16 We conclude that Huggins did not preserve the argument and, thus, we cannot consider it.

         A. The Law on Preservation of Arguments

         ¶ 17 When a defendant does not raise an issue in a postconviction motion or during the hearing on that motion, and the postconviction court therefore does not have an opportunity to rule on the issue, as a general rule, the issue is not properly preserved for appeal and we will not consider it. DePineda v. Price, 915 P.2d 1278, 1280 (Colo. 1996) ("Issues not raised before the district court in a motion for postconviction relief will not be considered on appeal of the denial of that motion."); People v. Golden, 923 P.2d 374, 375 (Colo.App. 1996) (holding that, in an appeal of a Crim. P. 35(c) motion, the court of appeals will not consider allegations not raised in the motion and thus not ruled on by the trial court).

         ¶ 18 This rule applies to both constitutional and nonconstitutional arguments presented for the first time in an appeal of a ruling on a Crim. P. 35(c) motion. See People v. Jackson, 109 P.3d 1017, 1019 (Colo.App. 2004) (declining to consider due process and other constitutional arguments not presented to the trial court in Crim. P. 35(c) motion).

         ¶ 19 Despite the broad language of cases such as DePineda and Golden, we have the discretion to consider an unpreserved argument, but only in rare cases. See Hagos v. People, 2012 CO 63, ¶ 23, 288 P.3d 116, 122 (holding that reversal for unpreserved error "must be rare to maintain adequate motivation among trial participants to seek a fair and accurate trial the first time"). More specifically, this court may consider unpreserved constitutional arguments, "but only where doing so would clearly further judicial economy." See People v. Houser, 2013 COA 11, ¶ 35, 337 P.3d 1238, 1248. Without such a limitation, a defendant might intentionally "withhold a meritorious objection, permit error to occur, and then, in the event of a conviction, raise the error for the first time on appeal." Id., ¶ 45, 337 P.3d at 1249 (quoting People v. Smith, 121 P.3d 243, 253 (Colo.App. 2005) (Webb, J., specially concurring)).

         B. Huggins Failed to Preserve His Due Process Argument

         ¶ 20 Huggins contends that he preserved his argument regarding the alleged violation of his due process right "to a speedy and meaningful" postconviction review "by filing pleadings complaining about the delay in resolving [the Crim. P. 35(c) Motions]." Huggins's argument misses the mark.

         ¶ 21 He cites four documents through which he allegedly preserved the due process argument: the New Counsel Motion, a one-page attachment to the ...

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