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Merle G. Wilson v. State of Alaska

December 17, 2010

MERLE G. WILSON, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court, First Judicial District, Juneau, Michael A. Thompson, Judge. Trial Court No. 1JU-03-451 CI

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coats, Chief Judge.

NOTICE

The text of this opinion can be corrected before the opinion is published in the Pacific Reporter. Readers are encouraged to bring typographical or other formal errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts. 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501 Fax: (907) 264-0878 E-mail: corrections at appellate.courts.state.ak.us

OPINION

Before: Coats, Chief Judge, and Mannheimer and Bolger, Judges.

Merle G. Wilson appeals from Superior Court Judge Michael A. Thompson's dismissal of his application for post-conviction relief. In his application, Wilson claimed that he entered a no-contest plea to assault in the second degree for an alleged assault on Judith MacDonald only after being assured by his attorney that a nocontest plea could not be used against him by MacDonald in a trial for civil damages. But when MacDonald later sued Wilson for damages, the court ruled that Wilson was collaterally estopped from contesting the elements of the assault conviction.

Wilson filed an application for post-conviction relief, claiming that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel in entering his plea, that he would not have entered the no-contest plea if he had received accurate advice, and asking to withdraw his plea. Judge Thompson ruled that Wilson's application failed to establish a prima facie case and dismissed the application. Wilson appeals. We conclude that Wilson's application was sufficient to establish a prima facie case. We accordingly reverse Judge Thompson's dismissal of Wilson's application.

Factual and procedural background

Judge Thompson dismissed Wilson's application on the pleadings for failure to set out a prima facie case. A court should dismiss an application for failure to make a prima facie case only when the facts alleged in the application, if true, would not entitle the applicant to relief.*fn1 We therefore set out the facts in the light most favorable to Wilson's claim.

Wilson was indicted for assaulting MacDonald based upon an incident that occurred April 2, 2001. According to Wilson's affidavit, he expected MacDonald to sue him civilly. Wilson stated that his attorney agreed that it was likely that MacDonald would sue him for damages based upon the alleged assault. Wilson stated that his attorney advised him "that a no-contest plea could not be used in a civil trial as proof of Mrs. MacDonald's allegations." Wilson stated that based on this advice, he entered a no- contest plea to assault in the second degree. Wilson stated that he did not believe he was guilty of any criminal wrongdoing and that he would not have entered the no-contest plea if he had understood that the plea would prejudice him in a later civil case.

Wilson pled no contest to assault in the second degree*fn2 on November 5, 2001. Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks sentenced Wilson to four years with all but six months suspended.

In March of 2003, MacDonald sued Wilson based upon the alleged assault.*fn3 Wilson represented himself. Superior Court Judge Michael A. Thompson granted summary judgment against Wilson. He concluded that Wilson's no-contest plea in his criminal case collaterally estopped Wilson from contesting that he had assaulted MacDonald.*fn4 In a trial on damages, a jury awarded MacDonald $75,000 in damages and $135,000 in punitive damages.*fn5 In Wilson v. MacDonald, the Supreme Court upheld Judge Thompson's ruling granting summary judgment against Wilson.*fn6 In addressing Wilson's argument that, when he pled no contest he was not aware that it would have consequences in the later civil case, the Supreme Court stated that "[s]ince this is a question as to the validity of the plea itself, it should be resolved through a motion for post-conviction relief or an appeal in the criminal case."*fn7

Wilson filed an application for post-conviction relief. In the application, Wilson asked the court to allow him to withdraw his plea. Wilson contended that his plea should be withdrawn because it was not knowing and voluntary and because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. These claims are based upon Wilson's contention that his counsel misinformed him of the effect that a no-contest plea would have on the civil litigation. He also contended that he ...


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