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Cranmer v. Johnson

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 18, 2017

JAMES R. CRANMER #00503201, Petitioner,
DEBRA JOHNSON, Respondent.


          Kevin H. Sharp, United States District Court Chief Judge

         Petitioner James R. Cranmer, a state prisoner serving an effective sentence of fifteen years for one count of second degree murder and three related felonies, has filed a pro se petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for the writ of habeas corpus. (ECF No. 1.) Respondent has filed an answer, along with a copy of portions of the state court record. (ECF Nos. 13, 15, 20.) For the reasons set forth below, the petition will be denied, and this action will be dismissed.


         On March 26, 2012, judgment entered against Petitioner in the Criminal/Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Tennessee, sentencing him to 15 years in prison upon his guilty plea to one count of second degree murder. (ECF No. 13-1, at 7.) Petitioner also pleaded guilty to one count of attempted second degree murder and two counts of reckless aggravated assault, but lesser prison sentences for those convictions were ordered to run concurrent with the second degree murder sentence, for an effective total sentence of fifteen years. (ECF No. 13-1, at 8- 10.) Petitioner did not take a direct appeal.

         On October 8, 2012, through new counsel, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief. (ECF No. 13-1, at 11-36.) An evidentiary hearing was commenced on January 10, 2013, but was adjourned after the testimony of the first witness. (ECF No. 13-2, at 1-28.) Petitioner's original post-conviction counsel was disqualified from the case due to her previous partnership with trial counsel during part of Petitioner's representation (ECF No. 13-1, at 123-24), and substitute counsel was retained and filed an amended petition. (ECF No. 13-1, at 125-34.) The evidentiary hearing reconvened on September 12, 2013, and closing arguments were heard on November 21, 2013. (ECF No. 13-2, at 34; ECF No. 13-3.) The post-conviction court entered an order denying relief on November 26, 2013. (ECF No. 13-1, at 137-51.) Petitioner appealed, and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) affirmed the denial of relief on April 23, 2015. (ECF No. 13-9.) The Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal on September 17, 2015. (Id.).

         Petitioner asserts that he submitted his pro se habeas corpus petition to be mailed to this Court on April 1, 2016, and Respondent does not dispute that it is timely or that the claims raised are exhausted. (ECF No. 15, at 1-2.) Respondent filed an answer to the petition on July 14, 2016, and has filed portions of the state court record. (ECF Nos. 13, 15, 20.) The matter is ripe for review.


         For its summary of the facts of the case, the TCCA quoted the following recitation made by the prosecutor at the plea hearing:

The facts of this case are that on the morning of February 6, 2011, the [Petitioner] and a number of individuals were at the Flavors (phonetic) After Hours Club in Clarksville, Montgomery County. The [Petitioner] and a Mr. Lionel Watkins, who is the victim in Count two, got into an argument. The [Petitioner] challenged Mr. Watkins and Mr. Watkins struck the [Petitioner]. After being struck, the [Petitioner] pulled a gun and started shooting and shot and killed Detwain Bell (phonetic), struck Mr. [Bell] right in the chest and he died extremely quickly from those injuries. The [Petitioner] continued to fire, struck Mr. Watkins twice, once in the hand and once in the back. Mr. Watkins suffered some very serious injuries, life-threatening injuries and still has ongoing problems from those. He also struck Ms. Jaquita Murray (phonetic) in the leg and Ms. Jamaine Thompson (phonetic) in the leg. There were numerous witnesses at the club, [there] was over a hundred people in there. Several [witnesses] have identified the [Petitioner] as the individual that was shooting and that fled from the scene and ... later we found him, actually using ping tracing to locate him and found him up in Kentucky hiding from the police three days after the shooting occurred.

Cranmer v. State, No. M201302866CCAR3PC, 2015 WL 1868815, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 23, 2015), appeal denied (Tenn. Sept. 17, 2015).


         Petitioner raises three claims in his habeas petition:

1. His guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because the state withheld Brady material until after he entered his plea. (ECF No. 1, at 10.)
2. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to timely convey the state's offer of an agreed withdrawal of his guilty plea based on the late-disclosed information. (ECF No. 1, at 12.)
3. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate multiple exculpatory leads, for failing to file pre-trial motions or motions in limine, and for failing to advise him that recordings of jailhouse telephone calls are inadmissible at trial. (ECF No. 1, at 12.)


         The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). A federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner “only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S .C. § 2254(a). Upon finding a constitutional error on habeas corpus review, a federal court may only grant relief if it finds that the error “had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.” Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993); Peterson v. Warren, 311 F. App'x 798, 803-04 (6th Cir. 2009).

         AEDPA was enacted “to reduce delays in the execution of state and federal criminal sentences, particularly in capital cases . . . and ‘to further the principles of comity, finality, and federalism.'” Woodford, 538 U.S. at 206 (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 436 (2000)). The requirements of AEDPA “create an independent, high standard to be met before a federal court may issue a writ of habeas corpus to set aside state-court rulings.” Uttecht v. Brown, 551 U.S. 1, 10 (2007) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court has explained, AEDPA's requirements reflect “the view that habeas corpus is a ‘guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n.5 (1979)). Where state courts have ruled on a claim, AEDPA imposes “a substantially higher threshold” for obtaining relief than a de novo review of whether the state court's determination was incorrect. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000)).

         Specifically, a federal court may not grant habeas relief on a claim rejected on the merits in state court unless the state decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2). A state court's legal decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). An “unreasonable application” occurs when “the state court identifies the correct legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id. at 413. A state court decision is not unreasonable under this standard simply because the federal court concludes that the decision is erroneous or incorrect. Id. at 411. Rather, the federal court must determine that the state court's decision applies federal law in an objectively unreasonable manner. Id. at 410-12. Under this standard, “[a] state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).

         Similarly, a district court on habeas review may not find a state court factual determination to be unreasonable under § 2254(d)(2) simply because it disagrees with the determination; rather, the determination must be “‘objectively unreasonable' in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings.'” Young v. Hofbauer, 52 F. App'x 234, 236 (6th Cir. 2002). “A state court decision involves ‘an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding' only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings are rebutted by ‘clear and convincing evidence' and do not have support in the record.” Matthews v. Ishee, 486 F.3d 883, 889 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting § 2254(d)(2) and (e)(1)); but see McMullan v. Booker, 761 F.3d 662, 670 and n.3 (6th Cir. 2014) (observing that the Supreme Court has not clarified the relationship between (d)(2) and (e)(1) and the panel did not read Matthews to take a clear position on a circuit split about whether clear and convincing rebutting evidence is required for a petitioner to survive (d)(2)). Moreover, under § 2254(d)(2), “it is not enough for the petitioner to show some unreasonable determination of fact; rather, the petitioner must show that the resulting state court decision was ‘based on' that unreasonable determination.” Rice v. White, 660 F.3d 242, 250 (6th Cir. 2011).

         Thus the standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) for granting relief on a claim rejected on the merits by a state court “is a ‘difficult to meet' and ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102, and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). The petitioner carries the burden of proof. Pinholster, 563 U.S. at 181.

         VI. ANALYSIS ...

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