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Rogers v. State

Supreme Court of North Dakota

November 27, 2017

Ronald William Rogers, Jr., Petitioner and Appellant
v.
State of North Dakota, Respondent and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas R. Olson, Judge. AFFIRMED.

          Samuel A. Gereszek (argued) and Anna Dearth (appeared), third-year law student, under the Rule on Limited Practice of Law by Law Students, East Grand Forks, MN, for petitioner and appellant.

          Tristan J. Van de Streek, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for respondent and appellee.

          OPINION

          Jensen, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Ronald Rogers, Jr., appeals from a judgment denying his application for post-conviction relief and orders denying his post-hearing motions to amend the findings of fact and for a new trial. Because the district court did not err in ruling that Rogers received effective assistance of trial counsel or abuse its discretion in denying the post-hearing motions, we affirm the district court's judgment denying the request for post-conviction relief.

         I

         [¶ 2] Rogers conditionally pled guilty to murdering his wife and to willful disturbance of a dead body, reserving the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress his confession to police based on a lack of Miranda warnings and involuntariness. In State v. Rogers, 2014 ND 134, ¶ 30, 848 N.W.2d 257, this Court affirmed the conviction, concluding "Rogers was not in police custody when he confessed to the crimes and his confession was voluntary." Pertinent to this proceeding, this Court explained:

Looking at the totality of the facts, we conclude Rogers' confession was voluntary. Applying the first prong, the characteristics and condition of the accused at the time of the confession, the district court found, "[Rogers] had taken a sleep aid, but was not otherwise under the influence of drugs or alcohol. [Rogers] indicated that he felt good or fine on more than one occasion." The court also found "[Rogers] denied being suicidal, and any mental health issues he may have been experiencing at the time were not significant enough to delay his release." The court additionally noted Rogers' medical assessments appeared to be in the normal ranges. The court determined there was no indication that the sleep aid Trazadone affected his cognitive abilities. The district court's findings are supported by sufficient competent evidence, as indicated by the testimony of the detectives and [Rogers' hospital RN].

Id. at ¶ 28.

         [¶ 3] Rogers filed an application for post-conviction relief contending he received ineffective assistance of counsel in the district court because his attorney did not adequately attack the validity of his confession by pointing out his altered mental state caused by the combination of his excessive blood alcohol level and contemporaneous use of Trazadone. Following a hearing, the district court denied the application because Rogers failed to demonstrate his trial attorney's representation was deficient. The court also denied his motions to amend the findings and for a new trial. Subsequent to filing the notice of appeal Rogers filed a motion to correct the record which was also denied by the district court.

         II

         [¶ 4] Rogers argues the district court erred in ruling he received effective assistance of counsel from his trial attorney.

         [¶ 5] To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, Rogers must show: 1) his counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and 2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. See, e.g., Booth v. State, 2017 ND 97, ¶ 7, 893 N.W.2d 186. The second prong is satisfied in the context of a guilty plea if the defendant shows there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Id. at ¶ 9. Whether a defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel is a mixed question of fact and law fully reviewable on appeal. Id. at ¶ 7.

         [¶ 6] Rogers' arguments focus on his trial attorney's failure to stress Rogers' extreme intoxication, coupled with the effects of Trazadone, at the time he was questioned by police and confessed. In particular, Rogers focuses on our prior decision that quoted the district court's determination that Rogers "was not otherwise under the influence of drugs or alcohol." Rogers, 2014 ND 134, ¶ 28, 848 N.W.2d 257. Rogers argues that this is contrary to the record which clearly establishes that he was under the influence of both alcohol and drugs at the time of ...


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