Hill v. Mason, 5:19-cv-00597

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
Writing for the CourtDavid A. Ruiz, United States Magistrate Judge
PartiesCHRISTOPHER HILL, pro se, Petitioner, v. BERNADETTE MASON, Respondent.
Docket Number5:19-cv-00597
Decision Date18 January 2022

CHRISTOPHER HILL, pro se, Petitioner,


No. 5:19-cv-00597

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 18, 2022



David A. Ruiz, United States Magistrate Judge

Petitioner, Christopher Hill (“Petitioner” or “Hill”), /?ro se, challenges the constitutionality of his conviction in the case of State v. Hill, Stark County Court of Common Pleas Case No. 2014-CR-0778. Petitioner filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (R. 1). Respondent Bernadette Mason (“Respondent”) filed her Return of Writ (R. 15). Petitioner filed a traverse (R. 17), and Respondent filed a response. (R. 18). This matter is before the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to Local Rule 72.2. For the reasons provided herein, the undersigned recommends that the Petition be dismissed.

I. Federal Habeas Petition

Hill's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was docketed as filed on March 18, 2019.[1] (R. 1). Hill sets forth his grounds for relief as follows:

GROUND ONE: Trial/plea counsel was ineffective for inadequately advising petitioner to plead guilty (albeit innocent) to having a weapon while under disability rendering his guilty pleas void
Supporting Facts: Petitioner was denied his 5th 6th, and 14th Amendment rights to the effective assistance of counsel, where counsel, Mr. Kenneth Frame inadequately advised him to plead guilty to having a weapon while under disability, where counsel was aware that the prosecutor possessed evidence which alleged that Petitioner possessed and threatened the alleged victim with a hammer, instead of a firearm, and that “hammers” are not included in weapons under disability R.C.2923.13(A)
GROUND TWO: Petitioner was convicted of a felony and DNA testing established his actual innocence, and he was denied due process of law by way of prosecutorial misconduct rendering his guilty pleas void.
Supporting Facts: Petitioner was denied his 14th Amendment Rights to due process and the equal protection of the law where, the prosecutor conceded the Petitioner's DNA evidence was not present on the firearm in question, which prompted the prosecutor to reveal new evidence/facts where the prosecutor conceded that Petitioner possessed and threatened the alleged victim with a hammer, instead of a firearm as he was indicted for, and as the prosecutor elected to prosecute/negotiate a guilty plea for. See Exhibit-A, pg. 7 where the prosecutor essentially contends that Petitioner is innocent of the crimes he pleaded guilty, however, he is not actually innocent because the prosecutor believes he threatened the alleged victim with a hammer. (Exhibit-A, pg. 7).
GROUND THREE: Trial/plea counsel was ineffective for inadequately advising Petitioner to plead guilty (albeit innocent) to having a weapon while under disability rendering his guilty pleas void.
Supporting Facts: Petitioner was denied his 5th, 6th and 14th Amendment rights to the effective assistance of counsel, where counsel, Mr. Kenneth Frame inadequately advised him to plead guilty to having a weapon while under disability, where the disability is a prior attempted murder conviction in Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas, which he does not have. Counsel failed to explain the nature of the offense in sufficient detail to give the Petitioner notice of what he was being asked to admit.

(R. 1, PageID# 6, 10 & 11-12).

II. Summary of Facts

In a habeas corpus proceeding instituted by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court, factual determinations made by state courts are presumed correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Franklin v. Bradshaw, 695 F.3d 439, 447 (6th Cir. 2012) (“State-court


factual findings are presumed correct unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.”). The Fifth District Court of Appeals (“state appellate court”) summarized the facts underlying Hill's guilty plea as follows:

{¶ 3} On June 25, 2014, appellant was indicted on one count of felonious assault with a repeat violent offender specification (R .C. 2903.11(A)(2) and R.C. 2941.149), a felony of the second degree, having a weapon under a disability (R.C. 2923.13(A)(2)), a felony of the third degree, domestic violence (R.C. 2919.25(A)), a misdemeanor of the first degree, and intimidation of a witness or victim (R.C. 2921.04(A)), a misdemeanor of the first degree.
{¶ 4} On July 29, 2014, appellant, with the assistance of counsel, entered into a negotiated guilty plea to the latter three charges, with the State dismissing the felonious assault charge and RVO specification.
{¶ 5} Appellant was thereupon sentenced to twenty-four months in prison on the count of having a weapon under disability, as well as six months concurrent on each of the counts of domestic violence and intimidation of a victim or witness. A plea and sentencing judgment entry was issued on August 14, 2014.
{¶ 6} On or about August 27, 2014, appellant filed a direct appeal to this Court. However, the appeal was subsequently dismissed by the Court for want of prosecution.
{¶ 12} In his sole Assignment of Error, appellant contends the trial court erred in denying his post-sentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea. We disagree.
{¶ 13} Crim.R. 32.1 states as follows: “A motion to withdraw a plea of guilty or no contest may be made only before sentence is imposed; but to correct manifest injustice the court after sentence may set aside the judgment of conviction and permit the defendant to withdraw his or her plea.”
{¶ 14} Our review of a trial court's decision under Crim.R. 32.1 is limited to a determination of whether the trial court abused its discretion. State v. Caraballo (1985), 17 Ohio St.3d 66, 477 N.E.2d 627. In order to find an abuse of that discretion, we must determine the trial court's decision was unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable and not merely an error of law or judgment.Blakemore v. Blakemore (1983), 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 450 N.E.2d 1140. “ * * * [T]he good faith, credibility and weight of the movant's assertions in support of the [Crim.R. 32.1] motion are matters to be resolved by [the trial] court.” State v. Smith (1977), 49 Ohio St.2d 261, 361 N.E.2d 1324, paragraph two of the syllabus.
{¶ 15} Ineffective assistance of counsel can form the basis for a claim of manifest injustice to support withdrawal of a guilty plea pursuant to Crim.R. 32.1. See State v. Dalton, 153 Ohio App.3d 286, 292, 2003-Ohio-3813, ¶ 18. However, under the “manifest injustice” standard, a post-sentence withdrawal motion is allowable only in extraordinary cases. State v. Aleshire, Licking App.No. 09-CA-132, 2010-Ohio-2566, ¶ 60, citing Smith, supra, at 264. Furthermore, “ * * * if a plea of guilty could be retracted with ease after sentence, the accused might be encouraged to plead guilty to test the weight of potential punishment, and withdraw the plea if the sentence were unexpectedly severe. * * * ” State v. Peterseim (1980), 68 Ohio App.2d 211, 213, 428 N.E.2d 863, quoting Kadwell v. United States (C.A. 9, 1963), 315 F.2d 667.
{¶ 16} In the case sub judice, appellant now contends he was innocent of the charges against him and “reluctantly” pled guilty upon the advice of his trial counsel. See Appellant's Brief at 4. Focusing on the weapons under disability conviction, he asserts he did not have a gun on his person during the events in question and did not use a gun to threaten the victim. He further maintains the investigatory documents in the case would show that the victim accused him of threatening her or her property with a hammer, not a firearm, and then asking her about the whereabouts of his gun. He also provided the trial court with an unverified photocopy of a police report indicating no fingerprints were found on the gun taken at the scene, as well as a copy of an affidavit dated June 20, 2014, purportedly from the victim, in which she indicates that she was intoxicated during the events of May 9, 2014 and could not recollect what happened. He urges that his trial counsel failed to properly investigate these matters.
{¶ 17} A Crim.R. 32.1 motion is not a challenge to the validity of a conviction or sentence, and instead only focuses on the plea. See State v. Bush, 96 Ohio St.3d 235, 773 N.E.2d 522, 2002-Ohio-3993, ¶ 13. As the State aptly responds in its appellee's brief, appellant's trial counsel in this instance successfully negotiated a dismissal of the most serious count against appellant, a second-degree felonious assault, in exchange for an aggregate term of two years in prison on the remaining counts. In State v. Pepper, 5th Dist. Ashland No. 13 COA 019, 2014-Ohio-364, this Court emphasized: “In the review of an attempt to withdraw any such negotiated plea after the fact, we must weigh any imperfections in the process against the possibility that the defendant is avoiding a much harsher result by resolving the case. We also bear in mind that the trial court is under a duty pursuant to Crim.R.11 to ensure that the plea comports with constitutional standards.” Id. at ¶ 40, citing State v. Stowers, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 48572, 1985 WL 7495 (additional citations omitted).
{¶ 18} Upon review of the entirety of appellant's claims in support of his motion to withdraw plea, we are unpersuaded the trial court abused its discretion in declining to find a manifest injustice warranting the extraordinary step of negating
appellant's plea, and we further find the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in denying appellant's motion to withdraw plea without conducting an evidentiary hearing.

State v. Hill, 2015 WL 4899056, 2015-Ohio-3312 at ¶¶3-6, 12-18 (Ohio Ct. App. Aug. 17,...

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