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Caruthers v. Carpenter

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

November 7, 2014

WALTER LEE CARUTHERS, Petitioner,
v.
WAYNE CARPENTER, Warden, [1] Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEON JORDAN, District Judge.

This is a petition for writ of habeas corpus brought by Tennessee inmate, Walter Lee Caruthers ("petitioner"). The Court denied the petition with respect to petitioner's conviction for first degree murder, granted the petition with respect to his sentence, and vacated the sentence of death. This matter is now before the Court on remand from the Sixth Circuit. For the reasons below, petitioner's claims E, AA.1.a, AA.1.e-i, AA.2, AA.3, AA.4, A, B, G, H, I, J, K, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, W, and BB will be DENIED.

I. Procedural History and Factual Background[2]

On January 13, 1981, petitioner was indicted, along with co-defendant, Reginald Watkins, for first degree murder, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of armed robbery, and assault with intent to commit murder. Petitioner was subsequently convicted of all charges and sentenced to death by a Knox County jury on February 8, 1983. His co-defendant was convicted of all charges except first degree murder, and sentenced to four life sentences and two sixty-year sentences. Petitioner's murder conviction and sentence was affirmed on direct appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, see State v. Caruthers, 676 S.W.2d 935 (Tenn. 1984), and state post-conviction relief was subsequently denied.

Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on August 15, 1989, and the case was subsequently transferred to this Court on December 28, 1990. The Court denied the petition with respect to petitioner's conviction for first degree murder, granted the petition with respect to his sentence, and vacated the sentence of death [Doc. 287]. While the Court found that petitioner had procedurally defaulted on a number of his claims by failing to properly exhaust them in the state proceedings, the Court also found that petitioner had received ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial.

Petitioner subsequently filed a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment with the Court based on the newly enacted Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 39 [Doc. 298]. The Court allowed petitioner to brief on the merits of his Claim AA, and subsequently denied the motion for relief on the grounds that the allegations remained procedurally defaulted [Doc. 344]. Petitioner appealed this Court's decision to the Sixth Circuit, who subsequently granted petitioner's renewed motion to remand the case in light of the Supreme Court's decisions in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012) and Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911 (2013) [Doc. 364-1]. The Court ultimately ordered the parties to file briefs identifying the specific claims impacted by Trevino, how Trevino should be applied with respect to Tennessee law, and why petitioner is entitled to relief under Trevino as to specific claims [Doc. 372].

II. Analysis

In his brief, petitioner argues that he is entitled to relief based on Martinez v. Ryan and Trevino v. Thaler because he can establish the requisite cause and prejudice to excuse the procedural default of his ineffective assistance of counsel claims, since he received ineffective assistance of counsel during his initial-review collateral proceeding [Doc. 384]. Specifically, petitioner argues that in light of the Martinez exception, the following claims from his amended habeas petition should be reviewed: claims E, AA.1.a, AA.1.e-i, AA.2, AA.3, AA.4, A, B, G, H, I, J, K, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, W, and BB [Doc. 384].

In Martinez, the Supreme Court created "a narrow exception" to the general rule of Coleman v. Thompson that a habeas petitioner cannot use ineffective assistance of collateral review counsel as cause to excuse a procedural default. 501 U.S. 722, 756-57 (1991). The Supreme Court held that where a state's procedural law requires claims of ineffective assistance of counsel to be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding, a procedural default will not bar a habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel was ineffective. Martinez, 132 S.Ct. at 1320. The Court subsequently expanded the Martinez exception in Trevino, holding that where a "state ['s] procedural framework, by reason of its design and operation, makes it highly unlikely in a typical case that a defendant will have a meaningful opportunity to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal, [the] holding in Martinez applies." Trevino, 133 S.Ct. at 1921. The Sixth Circuit has since ruled the Martinez exception, as expanded by Trevino, applicable in Tennessee. See Sutton v. Carpenter, 745 F.3d 787, 795-96 (6th Cir. 2014).

A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

Petitioner first argues that his claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel-i.e., claims E, AA.1.a, AA.1.e-i, AA.2, AA.3, and AA.3-are substantial and should be reconsidered in light of Martinez and Trevino [Doc. 384].

As an initial matter, the Court must address petitioner's contention that Martinez and Trevino permit petitioner to reassert his claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Sixth Circuit has previously found that Martinez does not apply to such claims. In Hodges v. Colson, the court held that "[u]nder Martinez 's unambiguous holding our previous understanding of Coleman is still the law-ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel cannot supply cause for procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel." 727 F.3d 517, 531 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Landrum v. Mitchell, 625 F.3d 905, 919 (6th Cir, 2010)). As such, the Court finds that petitioner's claims AA.1.e-i, AA.3, AA.4-and to the extent claim AA.2 asserts ineffective assistance of appellate counsel-remain procedurally defaulted because they fall outside the purview of Martinez and Trevino.

The Court will, however, consider whether ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel excuses the default of petitioner's remaining ineffective assistance claims: failure to object to prosecution's use of peremptory strikes on the basis of group bias; failure to obtain Brady and Jencks material as to Ms. Cunningham's testimony; and failure to present issues of race.

Martinez permits a petitioner to establish cause to excuse a procedural default of an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim by showing that he received ineffective assistance by post-conviction counsel. See Martinez, 132 S.Ct. at 1320. This holding, however, does not dispense with the "actual prejudice" requirement established by the Supreme Court in Coleman. 501 U.S. at 750. To be successful under Martinez and Trevino, a petitioner must show a substantial underlying claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. See Trevino, 133 S.Ct. at 1918; Martinez, 132 S.Ct. at 1318-19. "To establish that his claim is substantial, ' a habeas petitioner must show that his post-conviction relief counsel was ineffective under Strickland v. Washington. ' That is, the petitioner must show both that his post-conviction's counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient ...


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