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Winn v. Cook

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

December 23, 2019

DOUGLAS RAY WINN, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
MAX COOK, Creek County District Attorney, Respondent - Appellee, and DOUGLAS W. GOLDEN, Creek County District Judge, Respondent.

         Submitted on the briefs:[*]

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 4:18-CV-00382-JED-JFJ)

          Robert D. Gifford, II, Gifford Law, P.L.L.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for Petitioner-Appellant.

          Before HARTZ, PHILLIPS, and EID, Circuit Judges.

          HARTZ, Circuit Judge.

         Applicant Douglas Ray Winn seeks a certificate of appealability (COA) to appeal the denial by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma of his application for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1)(A) (requiring COA for state prisoner to appeal denial of relief under § 2241); Montez v. McKinna, 208 F.3d 862, 866-69 (10th Cir. 2000). Applicant signed a waiver of his right to a jury trial during his state criminal proceeding. But he then claimed the waiver was invalid, and he filed his § 2241 application asking the district court to order the state court to conduct a jury trial. Concluding that the waiver was valid, the district court denied relief. We deny a COA and dismiss the appeal. We rely, however, on the ground that Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), precludes federal-court intervention.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Applicant was charged in Oklahoma state court with domestic abuse (assault and battery) and related offenses. At a pretrial hearing he signed a waiver of his right to a jury trial so that he could qualify for a state mental-health court program. Because he did not complete the program, his case was put back on the trial docket. He then filed a motion in the state trial court for reinstatement of a jury trial, stating his waiver was not knowing, willing, or voluntary. There was no transcript of the pretrial hearing, so the court held an evidentiary hearing. Applicant testified that he had believed he was signing paperwork to enter the mental-health program, rather than signing a waiver, because he did not read the paperwork. He further claimed he did not recall either his attorney or the judge advising him about the waiver. Applicant's then-attorney testified that although he could not remember specifically discussing the waiver with Applicant, his standard practice is to advise defendants of the rights they are waiving and the permanence of such a waiver. The court determined that the waiver was knowing and voluntary and denied Applicant's motion.

         Applicant filed a petition for emergency relief with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) seeking either a writ of prohibition or writ of mandamus. But the OCCA ruled that Applicant could not establish that the lower court's denial of his jury-trial motion was "unauthorized by law," as required for a writ of prohibition, nor could he show that he had a "clear legal right to the relief sought," as required for a writ of mandamus. Aplt. App. at 139-41 (Okla. Crim. App., Order Den. Pet. (June 29, 2018) at 2-3).

         Applicant then sought federal-court relief under § 2241, requesting an order requiring the state court to provide him a jury trial. The State responded that Applicant had validly waived his right to a jury trial, and the district court agreed. The court also held (1) that Applicant had exhausted his available state remedies by raising his invalid-waiver claim in the state trial court and then seeking emergency relief from the OCCA on the same ground, and (2) that it was not required to abstain from exercising jurisdiction under Younger. Because we hold that the district court should have abstained, we need not address any other issues.

         II. STANDARD FOR COA

         Applicant is not entitled to a COA if no reasonable jurist would find it debatable that his application (1) fails to state a valid constitutional claim or (2) is procedurally barred. See Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000). He fails on the procedural prong, because the district court was required to abstain under Younger. We review de novo the district court's ruling regarding abstention. See Walck v. Edmonson, 472 F.3d 1227, 1232 (10th Cir. 2007).

         III. YOUNGER ABSTENTION

         A. The General Rule

         Under the Younger abstention doctrine, federal courts are to abstain from exercising jurisdiction to interfere with state proceedings ...


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