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Robles v. Faneuff

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 27, 2016

ROLANDO ROBLES, Petitioner,
v.
W. FANEUFF, et al., Respondents.

          RULING DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Rolando Robles has filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges his 2007 convictions for kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, and sexual assault. For the reasons set forth below, I will dismiss the petition on the ground that he has not fully exhausted available state remedies.

         Background

         On August 29, 2007, Robles pleaded guilty in state court under the Alford doctrine to one count of kidnapping in the first degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-92(a)(2)(A); one count of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-73a(a)(2); and one count of attempt to commit kidnapping in the first degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-92(a)(2)(A) and 53a-49. See Doc. #11 at 13-47. On October 17, 2007, the trial court judge sentenced Robles to fifteen years of imprisonment, execution suspended after time served, followed by twenty years of probation. See Id . at 48-78. Robles did not challenge his convictions on direct appeal. See Doc. #1 at 3. Robles did, however, eventually file several post-conviction motions for relief.

         On July 22, 2011, Robles filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence in state court. The motion was denied on November 10, 2011. See State v. Robles, 169 Conn.App. 127, 2016 WL 6081826 (2016) (reviewing history of filings). It does not appear that Robles appealed the denial of this first motion to correct.

         On January 11, 2012, Robles filed a habeas corpus petition in state court. See Robles v. Warden, State Prison, TSR-CV12-4004528-S (Conn. Super. Ct. 2012).[1] He argued that his convictions were obtained in violation of his right to due process, because he was convicted of kidnapping based on conduct that the Connecticut Supreme Court later determined did not constitute kidnapping. See State v. Salamon, 287 Conn. 509, 546-48 (2008) (holding that a defendant cannot be convicted of kidnapping, in conjunction with another crime, if the confinement or movement is merely incidental to the commission of the other crime). He also raised a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Following an evidentiary hearing, the habeas court dismissed his petition on December 16, 2014, concluding that his convictions were not invalid under Salamon and that his trial counsel had not rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. See Robles v. Warden, State Prison, 2014 WL 7647800 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2014).

         On February 9, 2015, Robles appealed the denial of his state habeas petition to the Connecticut Appellate Court. See Robles v. Comm'r of Corr., AC 37686 (Conn. App. Ct. 2015).[2] But instead of pursuing the same claims that he had pressed before the state habeas trial court, Robles argued instead that his Alford pleas were not made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. On December 20, 2016, the Appellate Court ruled that it could not review Robles' appeal, because the claim he raised in his appeal was not distinctly raised in the habeas trial court. See Robles v. Comm'r of Corr., 169 Conn.App. 751, 2016 WL 7211161 (2016). On December 27, 2016, Robles filed a motion for reconsideration en banc of the Appellate Court's decision, which is pending.

         In the meantime, apart from his effort to seek habeas corpus relief, Robles also pursued a renewed motion to correct an illegal sentence. On September 3, 2014, while his habeas petition was pending at the state trial court, Robles filed a second motion to vacate or correct an illegal sentence or, in the alternative, for a writ of error coram nobis. See State v. Robles, 169 Conn.App. 127, 2016 WL 6081826, at *2. He argued that the Salamon decision rendered his sentence unconstitutional. On March 19, 2015, the trial court dismissed Robles's motion to correct an illegal sentence, holding that because Robles was essentially challenging the validity of his conviction, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the motion, because the motion sought to challenge his convictions rather than his sentence. See id. The court also dismissed the petition for a writ of error coram nobis, due to the untimely filing of the petition. See id.

         On April 30, 2015, Robles appealed the dismissal of his motion to correct an illegal sentence to the Connecticut Appellate Court. See State v. Robles, AC 37881 (Conn. App. Ct. 2015).[3] On October 25, 2016, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment, ruling in relevant part that “a motion to correct an illegal sentence is not the proper procedural path for the defendant in this case to contest the validity of his guilty pleas following the change to our kidnapping laws.” See State v. Robles, 169 Conn.App. 127, 2016 WL 6081826, at *4. On November 23, 2016, Robles filed a petition for certification in the Connecticut Supreme Court, on which the Connecticut Supreme Court has not yet acted.

         On July 18, 2016, Robles filed the instant petition for federal habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. His petition seeks relief under Salamon and objects to what he claims is the state courts' refusal to consider his claim. Doc. #1 at 9-15.

         Discussion

         A federal court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). With certain exceptions, a prerequisite to habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is that a petitioner have previously presented and fully exhausted his federal claims in the state courts. Id., § 2254(b)(1)(A); Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). “This requires that the prisoner fairly present his constitutional claim to the state courts, which he accomplishes by presenting the essential factual and legal premises of his federal constitutional claim to the highest state court capable of reviewing it.” Jackson v. Conway, 763 F.3d 115, 133 (2d Cir. 2014). As the Second Circuit has explained, the exhaustion rule “ensur[es] that state courts receive a legitimate opportunity to pass on a petitioner's federal claims and that federal courts respect the state courts' ability to correct their own mistakes.” Galdamez v. Keane, 394 F.3d 68, 72-74 (2d Cir. 2005) (Sotomayor, J.).

         A failure to exhaust may be excused if “there is no opportunity to obtain redress in state court or if the corrective process is so clearly deficient to render futile any effort to obtain relief.” Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 3 (1981) (per curiam). A petitioner, however, may not simply wait until appellate remedies are no longer available and then argue that the claim is exhausted. See Galdamez, 394 F.3d at 73-74.

         Robles raises four grounds for relief in his federal habeas petition. The first two grounds relate to his argument that his convictions are invalid pursuant to the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in State v. Salamon. In ground three, Robles contends that he has been denied his right to access state court to challenge his convictions and sentence. In ground four, Robles alleges violations of ...


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