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Wilson v. State

United States District Court, D. North Dakota, Southwestern Division

September 26, 2014

Scott Robert Wilson, Plaintiff,
State of North Dakota, County of Mercer; Honorable Cynthia Feland; Jessica J. Binder, State's Attorney individually and in their official capacities, Defendants.


CHARLES S. MILLER, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Scott Robert Wilson ("Wilson") is an inmate at the James River Correctional Center in Jamestown, North Dakota. He initiated this action on September 12, 2014, with the submission of an application to proceed in forma pauperis and proposed complaint. (Docket Nos. 1-3). He subsequently filed notice of his consent to the undersigned s exercise of jurisdiction. (Docket No.

5). This matter is now before the court for an initial review as mandated by 28 U.S.C. §1915A. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned orders that the above-entitled action be dismissed without prejudice.


The events giving rise to this action were summarized as follows by the North Dakota Supreme Court in Wilson v. State:

[¶2] Wilson was charged with four counts of issuing a check with insufficient funds or credit on July 27, 2010. Wilson requested court-appointed counsel, which the district court denied, finding he was not indigent. A trial was set for January 27, 2011, but Wilson later requested a change of plea, and the trial was rescheduled for February 15. The court instructed Wilson he could re-apply for court-appointed counsel or retain a private attorney.
[¶3] Before the jury trial began, Wilson told the court he had tried to retain an attorney three weeks earlier, calling "five or six of them, " and had offered to pay five hundred to a thousand dollars above the retainer, but each attorney declined. Wilson provided no evidence other than his statement that he had made efforts to retain an attorney. He stated he had again applied for court-appointed counsel, but he said his application was denied because he was not indigent. This application and denial do not appear in the record before us. The court told Wilson:
Here's the problem with the Court. We were set for a jury trial already once in this case on January 24th.... You were not ready to go at that point and indicated you would be doing a change of plea. Then you changed your mind, which you have every right to do, and you wanted your jury trial reinstated. So approximately three weeks later we now have that jury trial. This has been charged out since August. So you have known since August that you have been facing these charges, yet you haven't done anything about it. The fact that you waited until the last minute and couldn't get someone to handle it, unfortunately is not something the Court can look at.
Wilson told the court he understood what a pretrial hearing is. Representing himself, Wilson questioned a potential juror about her relationship with his wife, and the court removed that juror for cause. When asked by the court whether he needed to review the jury instructions, Wilson replied, "I mean, it's pretty simple-or not simple, but black and white and to the point." The court explained to Wilson when the instructions would be read, and educated him about his choosing whether or not to testify. Wilson questioned witnesses and gave a closing statement. After the trial, he told the court he thought a pre-sentence investigation would be appropriate before his sentencing hearing.
[¶4] On February 15, 2011, a jury found Wilson guilty of all counts of issuing checks without sufficient funds. After a pre-sentence investigation, the district court sentenced him to two consecutive five-year terms of imprisonment with two years suspended and two consecutive terms of 30 days in jail with 20 days suspended and required he pay restitution. Wilson was not advised of his right to appeal at the time of sentencing. Wilson appealed to this Court, which dismissed his appeal as untimely. On May 24, 2012, representing himself, Wilson petitioned for post-conviction relief, alleging he should have been appointed counsel. Wilson again requested court-appointed counsel, which the district court granted. Through his court-appointed counsel, Wilson filed a supplement to his application, alleging the district court erred in denying him counsel at all stages of the proceeding in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He also argued that, under Peguero v. United States , 526 U.S. 23 (1999), the district court had a duty to inform him of his right to appeal and his sentence was cruel and unusual.
[¶5] At his post-conviction hearing, Wilson testified he requested court-appointed counsel, but the court, finding he was not indigent, had denied his request. Wilson continued to represent himself and claimed to have made efforts to hire private counsel. He testified he contacted three attorneys, all of whom declined because of the limited time available before trial. He testified that he said many times he did not know what he was doing and that he never once said he waived his right to counsel.
He testified that after he reviewed the transcript of his sentencing hearing, he was not informed of his right to appeal. Wilson applied for court-appointed counsel for his first appeal to this Court, and the district court denied his request. [¶6] The district court denied Wilson's application for post-conviction relief. The court found, under Peguero, the trial court's failure to inform Wilson of his right to appeal was harmless error. The court found Wilson knew he was not entitled to court-appointed counsel, because he was not indigent and he showed no evidence other than his testimony that he had tried to retain counsel. The court concluded Wilson failed to take responsibility for his situation, and his conduct at trial constituted the functional equivalent of a voluntary waiver of his right to counsel. Finally, the court found Wilson's sentence was lengthy, but not grossly disproportionate, because of Wilson's substantial criminal history.

ND 124, 833 N.W.2d 492 (affirming the state district court's dismissal of Wilson's application for post-conviction relief).

In the complaint now before the court, Wilson asserts that Judge Feland violated his rights under the sixth amendment to the extent that she denied his request for court-appointed counsel in his state criminal proceedings. Additionally, he asserts that Judge Feland and Mercer County State's Attorney Jessica Binder negligently failed to advise him of his right to directly appeal his state court conviction. In his prayer for relief, Wilson seeks, inter alia, "[a] remand ...

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