This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004)
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Richard Arthur Williams, petitioner,
Filed April 12, 2005
Reversed and remanded
Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Anoka County District Court
File No. KO-89-8381
Samuel J. H.
Sigelman, Rider Bennett, LLP,
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Robert M. A. Johnson, Anoka County Attorney, J. Diane Savage, Robert D. Goodell, Assistant Anoka County Attorneys, 2100 Third Avenue, Anoka, MN 55303-2265 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
Richard Williams was convicted of first-degree burglary and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1989. On appeal from an order denying his second postconviction petition without an evidentiary hearing, Williams argues that the district court (1) applied the wrong evidentiary standard in determining whether a hearing was required and (2) abused its discretion by concluding that the allegation that another man had confessed to the crimes of which he was convicted was cumulative and doubtful and did not therefore entitle him to a new trial. Because we conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying Williams’s postconviction petition without an evidentiary hearing, we reverse and remand.
In July 1989, an individual later identified as appellant Richard Williams entered J.G.’s apartment after she had gone to bed. Williams tied J.G.’s arms behind her back with her brassiere and rubbed her buttocks and vagina while she was lying face down on her bed. He then turned her over, removed her panties, and penetrated her digitally. Williams told J.G. that he was not going to rape her. Instead, he asked her to spread her legs, and he penetrated her digitally again while he masturbated. On his way out, he shined a flashlight on J.G.’s face, looked at her body, and kissed her breast and vagina.
J.G. called the police immediately and described her assailant as a 28-to-30-year-old white male, approximately 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, with dark hair and a mustache. Five days later, J.G. identified Williams as her assailant in a five-person photographic display. J.G. indicated that her “immediate reaction” when seeing the photographic display was to point at Williams’s photograph. Two days later, she identified Williams in a six-person lineup during which the men were instructed to speak. J.G. indicated that she recognized Williams’s mustache and chin and that “everything from the nose down [was] exactly the same.” But she stated that she had “doubts” and was only 90 percent sure of her identification. J.G. subsequently identified Williams at trial. During both the photographic display and the lineup, J.G. shook uncontrollably and cried each time she saw Williams.
The police searched Williams’s truck and found pornographic magazines, depicting bondage, a male masturbating over a female, and photographs of models that resembled J.G. The police also found a knife, a pair of binoculars, several pairs of panties, and a gold watch J.G. identified as being similar to the watch her assailant wore. At Williams’s home, the police found a flashlight similar to the one J.G. had described.
At trial, the state introduced evidence of three Spreigl incidents. During these incidents, Williams generally entered a ground-floor or lower-level apartment at night, held a sharp metal object over the victim’s face or throat, unbuttoned or cut the victims’ clothing, masturbated but did not penetrate the victims with his penis, stole the victims’ money, and ran away after the victims screamed.
The district court found Williams
guilty of first-degree burglary and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. This court affirmed the conviction, and the
supreme court denied Williams’s petition for further review. State v. Williams, No. C2-90-518
(Minn. App. Dec. 18, 1990, review denied (
Williams then filed a second postconviction petition, seeking a new trial on grounds of newly discovered evidence in the form of a written confession to Williams’s alleged crime by friend and fellow jail mate Larry Padgett, who is also a convicted sex offender. The district court denied the petition, reasoning that the newly discovered evidence was cumulative and doubtful and was unlikely to produce a different result at trial. The court refused to hold an evidentiary hearing, reasoning that Williams request for relief was “without factual support” and that he had therefore failed to meet his burden of establishing, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, facts that warranted reopening his case. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
A petitioner seeking postconviction
relief must establish by a fair preponderance of the evidence facts that
warrant reopening the case. Minn. Stat.
§ 590.04, subd. 3 (2004). This
court reviews the denial of a postconvcition petition under an
abuse-of-discretion standard to determine only whether sufficient evidence
exists to support the postconviction court’s findings. Woodruff
v. State, 608 N.W.2d 881, 884 (
Williams first argues that the district court applied the wrong evidentiary standard in denying his request for an evidentiary hearing. We conclude that the court applied the correct evidentiary standard. But because the record does not conclusively show that Williams is entitled to no relief, we also conclude that the district court abused its discretion by denying his request for an evidentiary hearing.
Standard for a Postconviction Evidentiary Hearing
A postconviction court must hold an
evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions of law “[u]nless
the petition and the files and records of the proceedings conclusively show
that the petitioner is entitled to no relief.” Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd.
1 (2004). The supreme court has
consistently interpreted section 590.04 to require a petitioner to allege facts
that, if proved by a fair
preponderance of the evidence, would entitle him or her to relief. See, e.g., Ferguson v. State, 645
N.W.2d 437, 446 (Minn. 2002) (stating that to prevail on request for
evidentiary hearing petitioner “must allege facts that would, if proved by a
fair preponderance of the evidence, entitle him to relief”); State v. Rhodes,
627 N.W.2d 74, 86 (Minn. 2001) (stating that evidentiary hearing is necessary
when petitioner alleges facts that, “if proven by a fair preponderance of the
evidence,” would entitle petitioner to relief).
Alternatively, an evidentiary hearing is required when disputed material
facts must be resolved to determine the postconviction issues on the merits.
Relying on Opsahl, Williams argues that the district court applied the wrong evidentiary standard when it denied his request for an evidentiary hearing based on a finding that Williams’s petition for relief was without factual support and that he had therefore failed to establish, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, facts that warranted reopening his case. According to Williams, an evidentiary hearing is required when the postconviction petition attacks the evidence presented at trial and the denial of relief is based on the credibility of the postconviction evidence, even if the undisputed facts in the record show that the allegations are not credible. We do not agree.
Williams’s argument is inconsistent with Minn. Stat.§ 590.04, subd. 1, and Opsahl. First, section 590.04 expressly provides that a hearing is required “[u]nless the petition and the files and records of the proceedings conclusively show that the petitioner is entitled to no relief.” Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd. 1. Thus, if the record conclusively shows that the postconviction allegations are without factual support or inherently incredible, an evidentiary hearing is not statutorily required.
although the supreme court in Opsahl stated that section 590.04 requires
an evidentiary hearing when the postconviction petition “allege[s] facts that, if
proven, would entitle [the
petitioner] to the requested relief,” seemingly lending support to Williams’s
proposed evidentiary standard, the court cited to Ferguson, a case in
which it expressly invoked the fair-preponderance-of-the-evidence
standard in determining whether a postconviction hearing was required. Opsahl, 677 N.W.2d at 423 (emphasis
the Opsahl court
expressly alluded to the credibility of the postconviction allegations in
holding that claims of falsified testimony and prosecutorial misconduct by five
of seven state witnesses in a circumstantial-evidence case met the minimal
standard for an evidentiary hearing under Minn. Stat. § 590.04, subd.
1. 677 N.W.2d at 424. The court stated that a hearing was required
because, “[i]f the [postconviction] allegations . . . are
credible, they create a material issue of fact with respect to the
circumstances surrounding Opsahl’s conviction.”
Analysis of District Court’s Decision
Although the district court applied the correct standard in determining whether an evidentiary hearing was required, it abused its discretion by concluding that the postconviction allegations conclusively showed that Williams was entitled to no relief. Padgett’s confession contained more than bald assertions or conclusory allegations without factual support. The confession was detailed, contained information that only the perpetrator was likely to know, and raised a material issue of fact about J.G.’s identification of Williams, on which the conviction was primarily based. In addition, the confession was not based on hearsay and, if believed, would have required reversal of Williams’s conviction. Cf. Ferguson, 645 N.W.2d at 446 (requiring evidentiary hearing when petitioner submitted third-party’s notarized statement, indicating that state witness had admitted to lying when he testified that defendant had confessed to him). Because Padgett’s credibility is potentially dispositive and the record is insufficient to make a credibility determination with any degree of certainty, any doubts about the need for an evidentiary hearing should have been resolved in Williams’s favor. See Opsahl, 677 N.W.2d at 423 (stating that doubts as to whether to conduct an evidentiary hearing should be resolved in favor of granting a hearing).
We do not intend by this opinion to suggest that an evidentiary hearing is required each time the postconviction petition raises a credibility issue. In this case, however, the allegations in Padgett’s confession raised enough of a credibility issue about J.G.’s identification to warrant an evidentiary hearing. The district court may ultimately conclude that the confession was not credible and did not warrant a new trial. But on this record, Williams was entitled to have that determination made after an evidentiary hearing.
Reversed and remanded.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.