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State v. Widi

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

June 22, 2017

THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
v.
DAVID J. WIDI, JR.

          Argued: January 26, 2017

         Rockingham

          Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (Kenneth A. Sansone, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.

          David M. Rothstein, deputy director public defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.

          BASSETT, J.

         The defendant, David J. Widi, Jr., appeals an order of the Superior Court (Wageling, J.) denying his petition for a writ of coram nobis. He argues that the trial court erred by denying his petition without holding an evidentiary hearing. We recently held that the common law writ of coram nobis continues to exist in New Hampshire. State v. Santamaria, 169 N.H.__, __ (decided March 10, 2017) (slip op. at 2-3). This case presents the distinct issue of whether a trial court may deny a defendant's petition for a writ of coram nobis without holding an evidentiary hearing. We hold that a trial court may deny a petition for a writ of coram nobis without holding an evidentiary hearing if the record clearly demonstrates that the defendant is not entitled to coram nobis relief. Here, because the record clearly demonstrates that no sound reason exists for the defendant's failure to seek earlier relief, see id. (slip op. at 4), we conclude that the trial court did not err when it denied the defendant's petition without an evidentiary hearing. Accordingly, we affirm.

         The following facts are found in the record. In 2003, the defendant was indicted on one count of felony reckless conduct. The indictment alleged that he committed that crime on April 18, 2003, by "plac[ing] a loaded .45 caliber gun in a box in Warner's Hallmark store . . . such .45 caliber gun constituting a deadly weapon."

         In February 2004, the defendant filed a notice of intent to plead guilty to a charge of misdemeanor reckless conduct in exchange for a negotiated sentence. A plea and sentencing hearing was scheduled. At that hearing, the parties submitted an agreement to the court, stating that the defendant withdrew his notice of intent to plead guilty and requested a trial.

         Thereafter, the defendant's counsel, Attorney Richard Foley, withdrew from the case. In July, the court notified the defendant that his trial was scheduled to proceed in August. The defendant then retained Attorney Ryan Russman to represent him, and the trial was continued. Subsequently, the State sent Russman a revised plea offer. The defendant subsequently filed a notice of intent to plead guilty and entered that plea in December 2004. The resulting sentencing order form and mittimus stated that, upon his plea of guilty, he was convicted of felony reckless conduct.

         Almost four years later, in November 2008, the defendant was charged with the federal offense of being a felon in possession of a firearm, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (2015), with his felony reckless conduct conviction serving as the predicate felony. He was subsequently convicted of that federal offense and sentenced to 108 months in prison. See United States v. Widi, 684 F.3d 216, 218-19, 224, 226 (1st Cir. 2012) (upholding this defendant's federal felon in possession conviction and noting that, during his federal trial, he stipulated to the 2004 felony reckless conduct conviction as the predicate felony).

         In 2010, the defendant filed in the trial court a "Motion to Correct the Record." In that motion, the defendant asserted that it "ha[d] recently come to [his] attention that the [m]ittimus" for his conviction reflected that he was convicted of felony reckless conduct. He further asserted that a felony indictment for reckless conduct - instead of a misdemeanor information for reckless conduct - "was erroneously submitted at sentencing . . . causing the misclassification of [his] conviction in the [m]ittimus." Consequently, he requested that the mittimus for his reckless conduct conviction be "correct[ed]" to reflect that he had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct, not felony reckless conduct. The trial court denied the defendant's motion in September 2010, and the defendant appealed to this court. We declined the defendant's request for a discretionary appeal, see State v. Widi, 2010-0727 (N.H. Feb. 23, 2011), as did the United States Supreme Court, see Widi v. New Hampshire, 133 S.Ct. 309 (2012).

         In November 2014, the defendant filed a petition for a writ of coram nobis in the trial court. In the petition, the defendant asserted that "an error caused the [reckless conduct] offense to be misclassified as a felony, " that he was actually innocent of felony reckless conduct, that his plea was not knowingly and intelligently entered, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. His petition requested that the trial court correct "the record to reflect a misdemeanor conviction or schedule an evidentiary hearing." The trial court denied the defendant's petition without holding an evidentiary hearing, reasoning that the petition merely reiterated arguments that previously had been raised by the defendant and dismissed by the court. The trial court also observed that the record before it refuted the defendant's claims of error. The defendant filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erred by denying his petition for a writ of coram nobis without holding an evidentiary hearing on his claims. He asserts that the court should have assumed the truth of the facts alleged in his petition and construed all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Lamb v. Shaker Reg'l Sch. Dist., 168 N.H. 47, 49 (2015) (observing that, when reviewing a civil motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court "assume[s] the truth of the facts alleged by the plaintiff and construe[s] all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff"). He contends that, had the trial court applied the proper standard, it would have found that the facts alleged constituted a basis for coram nobis relief, thereby entitling him to an evidentiary hearing during which he would have the opportunity to prove those facts. The State counters that a defendant seeking coram nobis relief "is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing as a matter of right." It further argues that, because the defendant failed to articulate sound reasons explaining his failure to seek earlier relief from the time of his conviction in 2004 to the filing of the subject petition in 2014, the trial court properly denied his petition without an evidentiary hearing. We agree with the State.

         We recently held that relief under the common law writ of coram nobis continues to be available in New Hampshire. Santamaria, 169 N.H. at __(slip op. at 2-3). In Santamaria, we observed that a threshold requirement to obtaining coram nobis relief is that sound reasons exist for failing to seek earlier relief. Id. (slip op. at 4). We denied coram nobis relief to the defendant in that case because he failed to meet that requirement. Id. (slip op. at 4). Although the defendant in Santamaria asserted at oral argument that the trial court ...


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