Sexton v. Cozner

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 05-13-2012
  • Case #: 10-35055
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Circuit Judges Ikuta and Tashima
  • Full Text Opinion

Where a petitioner fails to prove that his trial counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient, the petitioner’s post-conviction relief counsel is not ineffective for failing to raise an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim in state court. Thus, the petitioner does not meet the requirements under Martinez to excuse his procedurally defaulted claims of ineffective assistance of counsel not raised in state court.

Matthew Ryan Sexton was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison after pleading guilty to intentional murder of his mother and father. The state post-conviction relief (“PCR”) court denied Sexton’s claim that his trial counsel was constitutionally deficient because he failed to inform Sexton that his family would likely oppose concurrent sentencing, and that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary as a result. Sexton appealed the district court’s denial of his habeas petition, and, in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Martinez v. Ryan, sought limited remand to the district court for review of two new ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims not raised in state court. Sexton was represented by Kenneth Hadley on direct appeal and David Kuhns in the state PCR hearing. The Ninth Circuit found that Sexton failed to show that Hadley’s failure to inform Sexton of the possibility of his family supporting consecutive sentences fell below “an objective standard of reasonableness.” Sexton acknowledged in open court that his guilty plea did not result from promises not included in the plea agreement, and that the court would decide his ultimate sentence. The Court also found that, based on Sexton’s acknowledgments at the plea hearing, Hadley’s prediction regarding concurrent or consecutive sentencing did not prejudice Sexton. Further, the Court denied limited remand under Martinez, because: (1) Sexton failed to show “that the underlying ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim [was] a substantial one;” (2) Kuhns was not ineffective in failing to raise a meritless ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim; and (3) Hadley’s performance did not prejudice Sexton, because Sexton failed to show that, but for Hadley’s errors, the outcome of the case would have been different. Motion for limited remand DENIED. Dismissal of federal habeas petition AFFIRMED.

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