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Harris v. Carpenter

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

March 10, 2015

WAYNE CARPENTER, Warden, [1] Respondent.


LEON JORDAN, District Judge.

This is a petition for writ of habeas corpus brought by Tennessee inmate, Edward Leroy Harris ("petitioner"). The Court granted respondent's motions for summary judgment, and denied petitioner's petition with respect to his conviction and sentence [Docs. 247, 248, 270, 271]. This matter is now before the Court on petitioner's motion to amend his first motion to alter and amend the Court's judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 [Doc. 279]. For the reasons stated below, petitioner's motion will be DENIED.

I. Procedural History and Factual Background[2]

Petitioner was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and one count of armed robbery by a Sevier County jury in May, 1988. Each murder conviction carried a death sentence, and the armed robbery conviction carried a sentence of life imprisonment. Petitioner's convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, see State v. Harris, 839 S.W.2d 54 (Tenn. 1992), and state post-conviction relief was subsequently denied. Harris v. State, 947 S.W.2d 156 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1996).

Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in this Court on February 2, 1998 [Doc. 42], and filed an amended petition on March 12, 1999 [Doc. 84]. However, while petitioner's proceedings were pending, he was determined to be mentally retarded and, therefore, ineligible for the death penalty under both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. As a result, petitioner's death sentences were converted to consecutive life sentences. Ultimately, the Court denied petitioner's habeas petition, finding, among other things, that petitioner had procedurally defaulted a number of claims, including some of his claims alleging ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment [Doc. 247].

Petitioner subsequently filed his first motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) [Doc. 272]. Before the Court could rule on his motion, petitioner filed a motion to revise his first motion to alter or amend judgment, citing the Supreme Court's decisions in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911 (2013) [Docs. 279, 285]. The Court ultimately denied petitioner's first motion to alter or amend judgment, and granted his motion to revise the motion to alter or amend judgment, electing to treat it as a second motion to alter or amend judgment [Doc. 286]. The Court ordered the parties to provide additional briefing on the impact of Martinez and Trevino [Doc. 286].

II. Analysis

1. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) allows a party to move to alter or amend the judgment of a court within 28 days of the entry of that judgment. A district court may grant a motion to alter or amend a judgment under this rule for any of the following reasons: (1) because of an intervening change in controlling law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) to correct a clear error of law; or (4) to prevent manifest injustice. Abnet v. Unifab Corp., No. 06-2010, 2009 WL 232998, at *3 (6th Cir. Feb, 3, 2009). Here, petitioner bases his motion to amend or alter judgment on the change of law wrought by Martinez v. Ryan [Doc. 279]. There is little doubt that the Martinez and Trevino decisions represent an intervening change in law, allowing a court to review its judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). See, e.g., McGuire v. Warden, Chillicothe Corr. Inst., 738 F.3d 741, 750 (6th Cir. 2013) (referring to the Martinez and Trevino line of cases as a change in decisional law).

2. Relief Under Martinez and Trevino

Martinez effected a change in decisional law in that it created a "narrow exception" to the general rule of Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991). The general rule from Coleman states that a habeas petitioner cannot use ineffective assistance of collateral review counsel as cause to excuse a procedural default. Id. at 756-57. The Martinez exception, however, provides 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 counsel, if in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective. Martinez, 132 S.Ct. at 1320. A year later, the Supreme Court expanded the Martinez exception to cases 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...." Trevino, 133 S.Ct. at 1921. The Sixth Circuit subsequently ruled this exception applicable to Tennessee. See Sutton v. Carpenter, 745 F.3d 787, 795-96 (6th Cir. 2014).

Under Martinez, a petitioner may 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 does not dispense with the "actual prejudice" requirement of Coleman; as such, a petitioner must "show that his post-conviction counsel was ineffective under Strickland v. Washington. ' That is, the petitioner must show both that his post-conviction counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient and that the petitioner was prejudiced by the deficiency." Thorne v. Hollway, No. 3:14-CV-0695, 2014 WL 4411680, at *22 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 8, 2014) (quoting Clabourne v. Ryan, 745 F.3d 362, 376 (9th Cir. 2014)).

In addition, relief under Martinez requires a showing of a substantial underlying claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. See Trevino, 133 S.Ct. at 1918; Martinez, 132 S.Ct. at 1318-19. This showing, as with the showing for post-conviction counsel, must meet the requirements of Strickland. See id. Under Strickland, a petitioner can prove prejudice by showing "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). The "actual prejudice" requirement of Coleman and the prejudice requirement of Strickland overlap such that "in many habeas cases seeking to overcome procedural default under Martinez, it will be more efficient for the reviewing court to ...

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