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Small v. Lindamood

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

July 10, 2017

MICHAEL SMALL, Petitioner,



         Michael Small, a Tennessee state prisoner, has filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 seeking habeas corpus relief. (Pet., ECF No. 1.) For the reasons that follow, the petition is DENIED.


         The following background summary is drawn from the state court record (Index, ECF No. 15) and the state appellate court's recitation of the evidence at Small's trial. See State v. Small, No. W2010-00470-CCA-R3-CD, 2011 WL 1137061, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 28, 2011), perm. appeal denied (Tenn. July 15, 2011).

         I. Petitioner's Trial

         Small was indicted on two charges of aggravated robbery in connection with an incident at a Shop-N-Go store in Memphis, Tennessee. (Indict., ECF No. 15-1 at 4-6.) At his trial, the store's cashier, Rita Pafford, testified that two men entered the store on the morning of April 13, 2000, and asked for some meat from the deli. As Pafford placed the meat on the counter, the shorter and more heavy-set of the two men pointed a long black gun at her forehead. He then pointed the gun at the back of her head and ordered her to open the cash register and hand him the store's surveillance video. She complied. The man also took a gun belonging to Pafford's son-in-law. He then forced the cashier to the back of the store. After a short while, Pafford went to the front of the store, pressed a panic button, and waited for the police to arrive. She spoke to the police about what had happened but could not identify the man who had pointed the gun at her when shown a photographic lineup.

         Tiffany Young testified that, on April 13, 2000, as she was about to enter the Shop-N-Go, she saw two men exiting the store. She was about ten feet from the men, and noticed that one of them had a long gun inside his coat and money in his coat and clothes pockets. After the men left, Young called the police and then entered the store to talk to Pafford. On April 20, 2000, Young picked-out Small from a photographic lineup as the man she saw leaving the store with a gun and money. At trial, Young identified Small as the same individual.

         The lead detective on the case, Colonel Jeff Clark of the Memphis Police Department, testified that he interviewed Small on April 20, 2000. Small signed a written statement confessing that he had held the cashier at gunpoint during the robbery. The detective stated that he never said anything to Small during the interview suggesting that a confession would lead to a more lenient sentence.

         Small testified that he did not have any involvement in the robbery, despite his confession. He stated that he signed the confession after the police threatened him and promised him an eight-year sentence.

         Small was convicted on both counts of aggravated robbery. The trial court merged the convictions and sentenced the defendant to twenty years imprisonment, consecutive to his effective sentence of forty years for three previous convictions for aggravated robbery. The TCCA affirmed the convictions and sentence, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. Small, 2011 WL 1137061, at *1.

         II. Post-conviction Proceedings

         On September 28, 2011, Small filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief (P-C Pet., ECF No. 15-10 at 13-25), which was later amended through appointed counsel (Am. P-C Pet., ECF No. 15-10 at 25-37). The post-conviction court held an evidentiary hearing and denied the petition. (P-C Order, ECF No. 15-10 at 41-48.) The TCCA affirmed, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. Small v. State, No. W2012-02101-CCA-R3-PC, 2014 WL 60966, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 7, 2014), perm app. denied (Tenn. Jan. 7, 2014).

         III. Federal Habeas Petition

         On September 22, 2014, Small filed his pro se § 2254 petition, in which he raises three claims:

Claim 1: Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel (Pet., ECF No. 1);
Claim 2: The proof at trial was insufficient to support the convictions (id. at 11);
Claim 3: The trial court erred by imposing consecutive sentences (id. at 19).


         On February 20, 2015, Respondent filed its answer to the amended petition. (Ans., ECF No. 14.) Respondent argues that Claim 1 is without merit, Claim 2 is procedurally defaulted, and Claim 3 is non-cognizable. (Id. at 3-5.) Petitioner filed a reply on April 27, 2015, in which he opposes Respondent's arguments. (Reply, ECF No. 19.)

         I. Legal Standards

         The statutory authority for federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by § 2254, as amended by the AEDPA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under § 2254, habeas relief is available only if the prisoner is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A § 2254 claim challenging the petitioner's custody or sentence on state-law grounds thus fails to state a federal habeas claim. Moreland v. Bradshaw, 699 F.3d 908, 926 (6th Cir. 2012) ...

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