Murder as Side-Effect to an Insurance Fraud

There is a myth that abounds in the criminal and civil courts of the United States that insurance fraud is a non-violent crime. Abdullah Alkhalidi (“Alkhalidi”) was convicted of murder, robbery, and theft. The Indiana state court denied relief, holding Alkhalidi’s innocence claim strongly indicated he would not have accepted the plea deal. The state court also held that Indiana requires a defendant to admit a plea deal’s factual basis otherwise the trial court would be prevented from entering the plea. Alkhalidi filed for habeas corpus relief and the district court denied the petition.

In Abdullah T. Alkhalidi v. Ron Neal, No. 19-1378, United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit (June 29, 2020), at trial, Alkhalidi testified that his former roommate killed the victim in Alkhalidi’s vehicle while Alkhalidi followed in a car he planned to sell as part of an insurance fraud scheme. Alkhalidi admitted to helping hide the body and receiving stolen money but denied any other involvement. A jury found Alkhalidi guilty on all counts and the trial court imposed a sentence of 65 years. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

BACKGROUND

On May 3, 1999, Alkhalidi was seen leaving a casino with another man (“the victim”). The victim was found dead a few days later with a gunshot wound to the head. Police found the victim’s license plate and driver’s license, blood in Alkhalidi’s car, a gun, and other incriminating evidence in Alkhalidi’s possession.

In September of 2007, Alkhalidi, his attorney, and the prosecutor met to discuss a plea deal. Following the meeting, the prosecutor proposed a plea offer with a strict deadline. On September 13, the prosecutor sent a letter to Alkhalidi’s attorney that stated the best offer he could extend would be for Alkhalidi to plead guilty to robbery and auto theft. The letter stated the offer’s deadline would be September 21, 2007.

Alkhalidi expressed dissatisfaction with the plea and indicated he had a desire to counteroffer. The court denied Alkhalidi’s motion. In 2010, Alkhalidi filed a petition for post-conviction relief and, in 2014, Alkhalidi filed an amended petition. In 2015, the court held a post-conviction hearing. Alkhalidi testified that he would have accepted the offer or made a counteroffer. The trial court denied relief because Alkhalidi “maintained his innocence throughout the course of the proceedings” and failed to establish his acceptance of the plea offer. Indiana requires a defendant to admit the factual basis of the plea, otherwise the court is unable to accept the plea.

Alkhalidi filed a federal writ of habeas corpus relief with the district court which was rejected.

DISCUSSION

A federal court may grant habeas corpus relief for a state prisoner who is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. Federal habeas review thus exists as a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.

When a state prisoner asks a federal court to set aside a sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining, our cases require that the federal court use a doubly deferential standard of review that gives both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt. The petitioner must show the state court’s decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

Alkhalidi was unable to show prejudice. Alkhalidi failed to show the state court’s decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law and therefore the decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

A reasonable probability of Alkhalidi accepting a plea deal is unpersuasive considering his insistence on counteroffers. Nothing in the record shows any reasonable probability Alkhalidi would have pleaded guilty.

The record shows that Alkhalidi remained committed to advocating his innocence and showed no probability of abating. Finally, Alkhalidi failed to meet the demanding doubly deferential standard that provides the benefit of the doubt to the state court and the defense attorney.

He failed to show that no possibility existed that fair-minded jurists could disagree with his claims and that the state court’s decision conflicts with prejudice. Since the state court was reasonable in finding Alkhalidi had not established he would have accepted the plea and the state court would have accepted the plea even if he had taken it.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed and the writ of habeas corpus was denied.

ZALMA OPINION

There is a myth that abounds in the criminal and civil courts of the United States that insurance fraud is a non-violent crime that needs to be destroyed. Mr. Alkhalidi was involved in creating an auto insurance fraud when his scheme was interrupted by a murder. The victim’s license plate and driver’s license, blood were found in Alkhalidi’s car, a gun, and other incriminating evidence in Alkhalidi’s possession. Since murder, whether as part of an insurance fraud or coincidental to an insurance fraud, is a violent crime. He was convicted because the evidence was overwhelming and his attempt at obtaining a habeas corpus release failed as did his defense of insurance fraud as his intent and someone else killed the victim.


© 2020 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant  specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as a

n insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 52 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and zalma@zalma.com.

Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.

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