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Wozny v. Grams

August 21, 2008

PAUL C. WOZNY, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
GREGORY GRAMS, WARDEN, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 05-C-739-Rudolph T. Randa, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coffey, Circuit Judge

ARGUED MAY 8, 2008

Before COFFEY, RIPPLE, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

On March 6, 2002, Paul Wozny was charged with and entered a plea of no contest to three sexual offenses involving children and was sentenced to a term of 25 years' imprisonment and 45 years' extended supervision in a state court proceeding. After exhausting his state remedies, Wozny petitioned the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, arguing that his pleas should have been vacated because they were not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelli-gently entered. Because the district court correctly determined that the state court reasonably applied federal law, we affirm.

Background

In September 2001, three young children (all age 12) told detectives from the Walworth County, Wisconsin, police department that Wozny had sexually assaulted them on multiple occasions during camping trips. As a result, Wozny was arrested and charged with nine sexual offenses in Walworth county. In March 2002, Wozny pleaded no contest to one count of having sexual contact with a person under thirteen, one count of causing a child to expose a sex organ, and one count of having sexual contact with a person under age thirteen on at least three occasions. Wozny's plea agreement provided that seven uncharged offenses from Jefferson county would be dismissed and the matters barred from further prosecution provided that the offenses were read into the court record and considered at sentencing. Wozny entered pleas of no contest and, as heretofore stated, was sentenced to twenty-five years' imprisonment. The remaining charges were read into the record, considered by the court, and later dismissed.

At Wozny's plea hearing, the court reviewed the crimes charged and explained to him the rights he was giving up. The judge then asked Wozny's trial counsel whether the charges from Jefferson county were to be read in. Counsel replied, "They are to be dismissed and read-in, correct." The judge then asked Wozny if that was his understanding, to which he replied, "Yes, sir." The judge also asked the defendant if he understood that "I am not bound by any promises or threats anyone may have made to you?" the defendant replied, "I understand." The judge then read the charges into the record and Wozny entered a plea of no contest. Judge Gibbs then stated:

By entering your pleas, you're giving up certain Constitutional rights; these include your right to a trial, the right to remain silent and understand that your silence cannot be used against you at trial, the right to testify and present evidence at trial, the right to use subpoenas and require witnesses to come to court and testify for you, the right to a jury trial where all twelve jurors would have to agree unanimously, the right to confront the witnesses against you and the right to make the State prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; do you understand that you're giving up those rights?

To this question Wozny replied, "I do." The judge then asked the defendant, "Did you sign [the plea agreement] after you read and understood everything in this form?" Wozny answered, "Yes, sir." The judge asked, "Do you have any questions of me," to which Wozny answered, "No." The judge then asked Mr. De La Rosa, Wozny's attorney, "Are you satisfied your client freely, willingly, and voluntarily enters his plea?" Mr. De La Rosa responded, "Yes." The judge asked, " Will your [sic] stipulate that the complaint sets forth a sufficient factual basis for findings of guilt?" Mr. De La Rosa answered, "So stipulated." The judge then stated

On this record, I will find that the defendant freely, willingly, and voluntarily enters his plea. I'll find that a factual bases [sic] exists, and I'll adjudge the defendant guilty of counts 2, 4 and 7. I'll dismiss and read-in the remaining counts in 01-CF-394 [state court case number], and await a read-in list or whatever charges were to be read-in.

To determine the exact sequence of events that took place at the sentencing hearing of April 25, 2002, we review the official court transcript from Wozny's sentencing hearing. During the hearing, Judge Gibbs, referring to the crimes before him, stated "[d]ismissed and read-in are two counts of First-Degree Sexual Assault of a Child, four counts of Causing a Child to Expose a Sex Organ. There were other sexual assaults which took place in Jefferson County, and those, ah, are to be considered here today. I think they've been dismissed in Jefferson County." He noted that Wozny had "assaulted several boys several times." Judge Gibbs also considered the fact that these assaults had taken place over a two year period and that Wozny got the children not to tell anybody by "taking them places and buying them things." The judge noted that Wozny had used his position of trust as a Boy Scout leader to "manipulate the boys and satisfy his own desires." The judge also noted that Wozny failed to take responsibility for his actions following his arrest. The judge specifically noted that Wozny had lied throughout the entire process and that the defendant claimed that the boys fabricated the story. Judge Gibbs also took notice that this was ongoing, serial (multiple) conduct. The judge was deeply troubled by the way Wozny had wormed his way into the victims' families and how he had taken advantage of that relationship.

On February 11, 2003, nearly ten months after sentencing, Wozny, represented by substitute counsel, moved to withdraw his pleas of no contest. He then claimed, contrary to the court record, that at the time of sentencing he did not understand the elements of the offenses and that his pleas were, therefore, not knowingly and voluntarily made. Wozny also alleged that the trial court failed to inform him that it was not bound by the plea agreement. Additionally, Wozny attacked the reading-in of the remaining charges.

The trial court held a hearing on Wozny's post-conviction motion. During that hearing, Wozny testified that his trial counsel urged him to plead because he felt he had a "hopeless case . . . and would go to prison for a very long time." According to the defendant's version of the plea questions, he now states that he did not read the plea agreement before signing it and counsel never discussed the elements of the offenses with him in spite of his statements to the contrary at the plea hearing. Wozny also claimed ignorance of the consequences of pleading no contest.

During cross-examination at the post-conviction motion hearing, the district attorney read from the transcript of Wozny's plea hearing. At that hearing the judge asked Wozny, "Do you understand that I am not bound by any promises or threats anyone may have made to you," to which Wozny replied, "I understand." Wozny acknowledged that he made the statement, but maintained that he did not understand that this meant the judge was not bound by the plea agreement. During the plea hearing the judge also asked, "Did [counsel] explain to you all the elements of each of these offenses . . . [and] are you satisfied that the state could prove those beyond a reasonable doubt?" Wozny replied, "Yes, sir." But during the post-conviction hearing Wozny contradicted that plea hearing testimony, stating instead that he really had not understood and that his lawyer instructed him to simply agree with anything the court asked. Wozny also acknowledged that he had not proclaimed his ...


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