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O'Hagan v. Hobbs

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

September 10, 2014

BRIAN O'HAGAN, Petitioner,
RAY HOBBS, Director, Arkansas Department of Correction, Respondent.


TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, District Judge.

Currently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 59) filed in this case on January 28, 2014, by the Honorable Erin L. Setser, United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas. After a de novo review of the record, as well as Petitioner Brian O'Hagan's Objections (Doc. 60) and Respondent Ray Hobbs' Response (Doc. 61), the Court ADOPTS IN PART AND DECLINES TO ADOPT IN PART the Magistrate's recommendations.

The R&R sets forth the procedural history of this case in great detail and is hereby adopted by the Court. Nevertheless, for purposes of providing context for the Court's analysis of O'Hagan's Objections, a brief recitation of the most pertinent facts is in order.


This case concerns O'Hagan's Amended Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 31) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Amended Petition requests relief from judgments and commitment orders in two state court cases: Case No. CR-1999-166-1 ("the 99 case") and Case No. 2010-0125-1 ("the 10 case").

In the 99 case, O'Hagan pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten years of probation on three Class "C" drug felonies. The judgment in the 99 case contained scrivener's errors, the most consequential of which incorrectly referred to two of the counts of conviction as Class "Y" felonies. Nearly nine years after O'Hagan was sentenced in the 99 case, and just prior to completing his ten-year term of probation, he once again became involved in illegal drug activity. The Benton County Prosecutor's Office filed new charges against him (the 10 case) for possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and manufacturing a controlled substance. O'Hagan was also charged with two sentencing enhancements in that case. The first sentencing enhancement was described in Count Four of the Amended Criminal Information ("the Information") and was based on O'Hagan's past criminal convictions in the 99 case. See Ark. Code Ann. § 5-64-408 (the "habitual-offender enhancement").[1]

At the same time O'Hagan was brought up on new drug charges in the 10 case, the State also sought revocation of his probation in the 99 case. During the revocation hearing, both the prosecutor and the sentencing judge, the Honorable Robin F. Green, incorrectly referred to O'Hagan's 99 case convictions as Class "Y" felonies, again due to the scrivener's error. The sentencing range that was calculated on the revocation assumed Class "Y" felonies and thus was higher than was legally permissible. Consequently, the sentence imposed on the revocation-40 years on one count and 20 years on a second count, to run consecutively for a total of 60 years of imprisonment-was too high.

Respondent agrees that the scrivener's error in the 99 case judgment implicated due-process concerns during sentencing on O'Hagan's revocation. The Magistrate therefore recommended that a writ of habeas corpus issue in the 99 case, and that the revocation sentence be vacated. The Court agrees with the Magistrate's recommendation as to the 99 case and ADOPTS it in its entirety.

As for the 10 case, Respondent and O'Hagan disagree about whether a writ of habeas corpus should issue. As an initial matter, no one disputes that the scrivener's error from the 99 judgment impacted how O'Hagan was charged in the 10 case. There is also no doubt that the scrivener's error was relied upon by O'Hagan's attorney, the prosecutor, and the sentencing judge in considering how O'Hagan should be sentenced in the 10 case. All of the individuals involved in sentencing O'Hagan assumed that he had been previously convicted of Class "Y" felonies. Because O'Hagan had actually been convicted of Class "C" felonies, the habitual-offender enhancement charged in the 10 case was inapplicable.

Because the parties in the 10 case were operating under the false assumption that the enhancement applied, the underlying error produced the following domino effect: (1) O'Hagan's lawyer advised him as to the wrong potential sentencing ranges on each of the pending counts; (2) the plea agreement that O'Hagan signed listed the wrong sentencing ranges; (3) the prosecutor advised the sentencing court as to the wrong sentencing ranges; and (4) the sentencing judge recited and relied on the wrong sentencing ranges when handing down the sentence in the 10 case.

Coincidentally, even though the sentencing ranges were wrong, the sentence that was actually imposed fell within the correct range. O'Hagan was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment on Count Three, a 20-year suspended sentence on Count One, and a 10-year suspended sentence on Count Two. The incorrect sentencing ranges for those counts-which were relied on by Judge Green at the time-were 20-80 years on Counts Three and One and 6-20 years on Count Two. The correct sentencing ranges are 10-40 years on Counts Three and One and 3-10 years on Count Two. Focusing only on the sentence that was imposed on Count Three-30 years' imprisonment-this number falls at the low end of the 20-80 year range Judge Green thought applied. However, once the correct sentencing range is considered, 30 years' imprisonment is actually at the higher end of the 10-40 year range for Count Three.

In the 10 case, Respondent rests on its argument that O'Hagan should be denied a writ of habeas corpus because the term of imprisonment that was actually imposed falls within the legally correct sentencing range. O'Hagan argues that the scrivener's error that Respondent admits tainted the 99 case also tainted the 10 case and mandates vacating both the guilty plea and sentence. The Court is therefore faced with three options: rule in favor of Respondent and leave undisturbed O'Hagan's plea and sentence in the 10 case, which is the position the Magistrate endorses in her R&R; rule in favor of O'Hagan and vacate both the guilty plea and sentence in the 10 case; or rule in favor of O'Hagan and vacate only the sentence, leaving the guilty plea undisturbed.

In analyzing O'Hagan's Objections to the R&R, the Court will address the following issues: first, whether O'Hagan's federal claims are barred by procedural default; second, whether the sentence that was imposed in the 10 case violated O'Hagan's due-process rights; and third, whether O'Hagan's ...

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