Ramos v. Weber

Citation2000 SD 111,616 N.W.2d 88
Decision Date16 August 2000
Docket NumberNo. 21141.,21141.
PartiesJoaquin RAMOS, Petitioner and Appellant, v. Douglas WEBER, Warden South Dakota State Penitentiary, Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota

Steven R. Binger, Sioux Falls, Attorney for petitioner and appellant.

Mark Barnett, Attorney General, Gary Campbell Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, Attorneys for appellee. KONENKAMP, Justice.

[¶ 1.] In this habeas appeal the applicant contends that (1) the sentencing court denied him due process of law in concluding that his prospects for rehabilitation were remote, and (2) his attorneys rendered ineffective assistance in not seeking psychological assessments before sentencing. We find both claims unsupported and affirm.


[¶ 2.] Joaquin Jack Ramos shot his girlfriend to death during a domestic conflict and later pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to life in prison. He twice moved for reconsideration of the sentence and then sought to withdraw his guilty plea. The sentencing court denied all his motions. He appealed, contending that his life sentence was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that he was entitled to withdraw his guilty plea because the State violated its agreement by commenting at sentencing that the death was nonaccidental. We affirmed. State v. Ramos, 1996 SD 37, 545 N.W.2d 817 [Ramos I].

[¶ 3.] Ramos then sought habeas corpus relief, claiming that the sentencing court's decision was based on the false assumption he could not be rehabilitated, that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, and that his sentence violated due process because he had no criminal intent. His habeas application was denied. He now appeals, alleging that (1) due process was violated when he was sentenced to life in prison because there was an insufficient basis for the court's belief that he could not be rehabilitated, and (2) he had ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorneys did not request a psychological examination for sentencing purposes or offer other evidence of his prospects for rehabilitation.


[¶ 4.] Habeas corpus is no substitute for direct review. Because a habeas action is a collateral attack on a final judgment, our scope of review is limited:

On habeas review, the petitioner has the initial burden of proof. We review the habeas court's factual findings under the clearly erroneous standard.
Habeas corpus can be used only to review (1) whether the court had jurisdiction of the crime and the person of the defendant; (2) whether the sentence was authorized by law; and (3) in certain cases whether an incarcerated defendant has been deprived of basic constitutional rights.

Lodermeier v. Class, 1996 SD 134, ¶ 3, 555 N.W.2d 618, 621-22 (quoting Loop v. Class, 1996 SD 107, ¶ 11, 554 N.W.2d 189, 191). Habeas applicants bear the initial burden of proof "to establish a colorable claim for relief." Jenner v. Dooley, 1999 SD 20, ¶ 11, 590 N.W.2d 463, 468.


[¶ 5.] In his direct appeal, Ramos unsuccessfully attacked his life sentence as cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment. In this habeas action he argues that his sentence violates due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. He cites Wabasha v. Leapley, 492 N.W.2d 610 (S.D.1992), where we stated that "[q]uestions of constitutional magnitude involving due process are reached when a defendant is sentenced on the basis of assumptions concerning his criminal record which are materially untrue. Sentences based upon material misinformation or erroneous assumptions violate due process." Id. at 611 (internal and other citations omitted).

[¶ 6.] The erroneous assumption made at his sentencing, Ramos alleges, was the judge's belief that he could not be rehabilitated. At sentencing Judge Jeff Davis remarked:

I think the danger that you represent to society is epitomized by the manner in which you handle your relationships with people[.]
* * *
This is the first time you have been charged and convicted of a felony. Your other instances with the law are misdemeanors. I will be the first to admit that.
When one looks at the nature of the offenses, however, they all have some degree of violence associated with them, Mr. Ramos, violence largely centered around those individuals that you supposedly held near and dear and, with the exception of Barry Webb, at the Blue Lantern, involve women. It appears that your argument with Mr. Webb in some manner focused on your relationship with Miss Martines.
The instances in which you lose control have become more frequent. The timewise shows that.
* * *
That night, in my mind, is a control issue, Mr. Ramos. You got home. Debbie was not there. You inquired about her presence. As you began to lose your temper more and more, not just to strangers, attempted to remove the children. John and Cindy Jibben were there. You had been with Mr. Jibben. Not taking at even full value Mr. Jibben's comments because he also could only see what he saw and relate from his perspective what they were.
The control issue only had to rise to a certain point with you in your relationships with a spouse or a loved one because you had power and authority over them. You didn't have that related to Mr. Melendez or Mr. Jibben and you thought you needed to get a gun, and that, Mr. Ramos, in my mind, is the distinction in this area.
* * *
I think, until it reaches a point in time that you are able to control those emotions, control your desire to control those people around you, that the interest of rehabilitation cannot be addressed, and it appears to me that the goal of rehabilitation in this case cannot be achieved for a very, very long time, and that you must forfeit your right to be free in society for a substantial period of time in order to protect society.

In sum, then, the judge observed only that rehabilitation was a long-term prospect.

[¶ 7.] Because the sentencing judge did not firmly assess how long it might take for rehabilitation and instead assumed it would take a long time, Ramos argues, the imposition of a life sentence violated due process. The habeas court ruled that Ramos was making the same argument in his habeas application under the Fourteenth Amendment (due process) that he made on appeal under the Eighth Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment).

[¶ 8.] The doctrine of res judicata disallows reconsidering an issue that was actually litigated or that could have been raised and decided in a prior action. SDDS, Inc. v. State, 1997 SD 114, ¶ 16, 569 N.W.2d 289, 295 (quoting Hogg v. Siebrecht, 464 N.W.2d 209, 211 (S.D.1990)). "The purpose behind the doctrine is to protect parties `from being subjected twice to the same cause of action, since public policy is best served when litigation has a finality.'" Id. (quoting Moe v. Moe, 496 N.W.2d 593, 595 (S.D.1993)). This due process challenge could have been raised in the direct appeal along with the Eighth Amendment challenge. Under the doctrine of res judicata, we will not review successive attacks on a sentence, especially when all the grounds could have been raised in the earlier proceeding. Davi v. Class, 2000 SD 30, ¶ 50, 609 N.W.2d 107, 118; Lodermeier, 1996 SD 134, ¶ 24,555 N.W.2d at 626; Miller v. Leapley, 472 N.W.2d 517, 519 (S.D.1991). We affirm the habeas court's ruling.


[¶ 9.] Ramos argues that his attorneys were ineffective in not obtaining psychological evaluations before sentencing to show that his rehabilitative prospects were not "so unlikely" that rehabilitation should "be removed from consideration in sentencing." Bult v. Leapley, 507 N.W.2d 325, 328 (S.D.1993). In Ramos I we wrote that amenability to rehabilitation was a fact question to be decided by the sentencing court. At sentencing, the judge found that Ramos was unprepared for rehabilitation "until he could control his desire to control the people around him." In upholding the sentence, we also commented that "[t]here was no expert testimony or solid evidence that Ramos was capable of rehabilitation." Ramos I, 1996 SD 37, ¶ 19, 545 N.W.2d at 821 (emphasis omitted). Accordingly, as part of this habeas proceeding, Ramos obtained psychological evaluations from Michael J. McGrath, Ph.D. and William P. Ferguson, Ph.D.

[¶ 10.] Ferguson assessed rehabilitation potential as "fair." His diagnosis: Axis I, Intermittent Explosive Disorder; Axis II, Mixed Personality Disorder with narcissistic, antisocial, and paranoid features. He cautioned that Ramos "has much work to do insofar as coming to terms with his narcissism, anger and relationships with women."

[¶ 11.] McGrath's assessment was somewhat more optimistic. He did not diagnose an Axis I disorder, although he found an Axis II, Antisocial Personality Disorder. He acknowledged that "Clearly Mr. Ramos has a long history of acting out behaviors, as well as behaving in irresponsible ways." McGrath thought Ramos could, "more likely than not," be rehabilitated. With "extended and stringent" parole conditions, McGrath concluded, Ramos "may well have the potential for rehabilitation, i.e., altering the previously maladaptively acting out behaviors."

[¶ 12.] We follow the test for ineffective assistance of counsel prescribed in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674, reh'g denied, 467 U.S. 1267, 104 S.Ct. 3562, 82 L.Ed.2d 864 (1984). See Jones v. State, 353 N.W.2d 781, 784-86 (S.D.1984)

. In Strickland, the United States Supreme Court stated:

A convicted defendant's claim that counsel's assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a conviction ... has two components. First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced

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