Melendez v. Commissioner Of Correction
Under Connecticut General Statutes §52-80, if a hearing on an issue of fact has commenced, the action cannot be withdrawn without the court's permission. Oscar Melendez, convicted of murder, withdrew his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus and filed a second petition, amended to allege ineffective assistance of trial counsel. On the day trial was to commence, the court asked about preliminary matters. Melendez stated that he wanted to "withdraw," because his habeas counsel had not effectively communicated with him. He explained that he did not want to withdraw the "whole habeas in totality, but it's withdrawing from my attorney…" The court, interpreting his statements as a request to discharge counsel and to continue the case, denied the request. The court asked counsel if he wanted to call witnesses. Melendez continued making statements. His counsel indicated that he believed his client wished to withdraw. The court again addressed the petitioner, canvassed him and ultimately ruled that it would not accept the withdrawal, finding it not voluntary. The court did not want to force the petitioner to withdraw his petition. The court proceeded with the trial. Melendez, the only witness his counsel intended to call immediately, refused to testify. With no evidence presented to prove the claims, the court denied the habeas petition and denied certification to appeal. Melendez appealed, claiming that the court erred in denying his petition for certification to appeal and committed plain error in refusing to grant his request for withdrawal because he had an absolute right to withdraw his petition under C.G.S. §52-80. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The petitioner did not raise his claim regarding C.G.S. §52-80 before the habeas court and did not raise his claim of plain error in his petition for certification to appeal. The habeas court could not abuse its discretion in denying the petition for certification to appeal about matters never raised. Reversal was not warranted under the plain error doctrine. It was unclear whether a "hearing on the merits" had commenced when the request to withdraw the habeas petition finally was denied, after the court called for the first witness. If error occurred, it was not plain error, as it was not clear and obvious from the record what the petitioner was requesting.