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Graves v. Cook

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

September 28, 2017

IVAN C. GRAVES, Petitioner,
v.
DOUG COOK, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Ivan C. Graves (“Petitioner”), an inmate at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, brings this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the legality of his confinement pursuant to a 2008 judgment issued by the Knox County, Tennessee Criminal Court. [Doc. 1 at 1]. For the reasons set forth herein, Petitioner's Motion for reconsideration [Doc. 40] will be DENIED; Petitioner's Motions to amend and/or supplement his § 2254 petition [Docs. 38, 44, 45] will be DENIED; Petitioner's § 2254 Petition [Doc. 1] will be DENIED; Petitioner's Motion for leave to argue for a certificate of appealability [Doc. 46] will be DENIED; and this action will be DISMISSED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. State Court Proceedings

         On April 9, 2008, Petitioner was convicted by a jury in Knox County Criminal Court on charges of premeditated first-degree murder and felony murder in perpetration of a kidnapping; the convictions were merged and Petitioner was given a sentence of life in prison. [Doc. 49-1 at 60]. Through counsel, Petitioner filed a direct appeal, but the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed Petitioner's judgment on February 8, 2011. [Doc. 1-10 at 1]. On May 27, 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied Petitioner's request for permission to appeal the decision of the TCCA. [Id. at 2].

         On September 8, 2011, Petitioner initiated his pro se petition for post-conviction relief, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-101, et seq., in the Knox County Criminal Court. [Doc. 49-16 at 5]. He was thereafter appointed counsel, and the petition was twice amended [see Doc. 49-16 at 2-3]. After a September 26, 2013 evidentiary hearing, the amended petition was denied and that denial was subsequently affirmed by the TCCA on November 4, 2014. [Doc. 49-20]. On February 12, 2015, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied Petitioner's request for permission to appeal [Doc. 1-10].

         B. Federal Court Proceedings

         On August 21, 2015, Petitioner filed in this Court the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.[1] [Doc. 1]. Respondent - Warden Doug Cook - thereafter filed an answer to the Petition, arguing that Petitioner's claims were all procedurally defaulted and/or without merit [Doc. 12 at 20-32].

         Petitioner subsequently filed numerous motions requesting leave to amend and extensions of time to reply [Docs. 14, 15, 17, 26, 28]. On September 28, 2016, the Court entered an Order ruling on all of Petitioner's pending motions [Doc. 33]. The Court granted Petitioner's motions, ordering that any amendment and any reply to the Respondent's answer must be filed “no later than 30 days from the date of the entry of this Order” [Id. at 4, 5].

         Petitioner did not, however, file any such amendment or reply brief within the thirty days prescribed by the Court. In fact, Petitioner did not file anything with the Court for over 120 days; then, on January 26, 2017, Petitioner filed a Motion to Amend Supplemental Pleadings, requesting leave to file an additional thirteen pages of briefing to his existing petition [Doc. 37]. The Court denied the Motion on March 9, 2017, noting Petitioner's failure to offer any “explanation or excuse as to why he did not timely comply” with the Court's Order and advised Petitioner that it would “consider only the original Petition in assessing the merits of the instant action” [Doc. 39].

         C. Petitioner's Pending Procedural Motions [Docs. 38, 40, 44, 45]

         Petitioner has now filed several additional procedural motions, seeking reconsideration of the Court's orders and leave to amend and/or supplement his pleadings [Docs. 38, 39, 44, 45].[2] Petitioner asks the Court to reconsider its March 9, 2017 ruling, stating that he placed a reply brief in the prison mailbox on November 8, 2016, which was never received or docketed by the Court, despite the fact that it was accepted by prison officials on November 14, 2016 [Doc. 39]. He contends that he is therefore in compliance with the Court's September 28, 2016 Order, as he filed a reply on November 14, 2016, which was “within 30 business days [of the Court's Order] excluding weekends and holidays” [Id. at 3].

         Petitioner is correct that the Court never received any such reply brief. However, even if the Court had received this brief, it would still have been untimely filed based on the facts presented by Petitioner. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a) provides that, in computing time periods “stated in days or a longer unit of time . . . count every day, including intermediate Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, ” excluding only “the day of the event that triggers the period.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a)(1)(A), (B) (emphasis added). Thus, even taking into account the additional three days for service provided by Rule 6(d), Petitioner's amendment and/or reply brief needed to be handed over to prison officials for mailing no later than October 31, 2016.

         As the Court has previously noted, Petitioner was given several opportunities to amend his petition and/or file a reply to Respondent's answer, but he repeatedly failed to do so on a timely basis in compliance with the Court's Orders. Because Petitioner did not timely comply with the Court's September 28, 2016 Order, even under the most liberal interpretation of the events described by Petitioner, the Court finds no reason to reconsider its March 9, 2017 Order denying Petitioner's untimely motion to amend and/or supplement, and it will accordingly DENY Petitioner's Motion for reconsideration [Doc. 40]. For the same reason, the Court will DENY Petitioner's subsequent Motions to amend and/or supplement [Docs. 38, 44, 45] and will consider only the original Petition in assessing the merits of this habeas action.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court must review Petitioner's request for habeas corpus relief pursuant to the standards set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), which allows state prisoners to seek federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that they are being held in custody in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254; Reed v. Farley, 512 U.S. 339, 347 (1994).

         A. Procedural Default

         A federal district court generally cannot entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus unless the Petitioner has first exhausted all available state court remedies for each claim in his petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). While exhaustion is not a jurisdictional requirement, it is a strictly enforced doctrine that promotes comity between the states and federal government by giving the state an initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). Consequently, as a condition precedent to seeking federal habeas corpus relief, a petitioner is required to present the factual and legal bases for his claims to every available level of the state court system. McMeans v. Brigano, 228 F.3d 674, 681 (6th Cir. 2000); O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845 (holding that state prisoners “must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process”); see also Lyons v. Stovall, 188 F.3d 327, 331 (6th Cir. 1999); Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518-20 (1982). “It is not enough that all the facts necessary to support the federal claim were before the state courts, or that a somewhat similar state law claim was made.” Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 6 (1982) (internal citations omitted). Instead, the doctrine of exhaustion requires a petitioner to present “the same claim under the same theory” to the state courts as he seeks to present in federal court. Pillette v. Foltz, 824 F.2d 494, 497 (6th Cir. 1987); see also Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 418 (6th Cir. 2009) (“A constitutional claim presented to the federal courts that does not rest on the same theory as was presented to the state courts is procedurally defaulted.”)

         Once Petitioner's federal claims have been raised in the highest state court available, the exhaustion requirement is satisfied, even if that court refused to consider the claims. Manning v. Alexander, 912 F.2d 878, 883 (6th Cir. 1990).[3] By contrast, when a petitioner has failed to present the grounds of his claim to the state courts and has exhausted his grounds because no state remedy remains available, his grounds are procedurally defaulted. O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 847-48. The prisoner will not be allowed to present unexhausted claims in a federal petition unless he can (1) show cause for his default and actual prejudice to his defense at trial or on appeal, or (2) “demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991).

         B. Claims Adjudicated on the Merits by the State Court

         For any claims that have been adjudicated on the merits by the state court, however, federal courts must utilize a “highly deferential” standard of review. See, e.g., Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 88-89 (2011). Under this deferential standard, this Court may not grant habeas relief to a state prisoner unless the state court's decision on the merits of his claims “(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that 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).

         “Clearly established federal law, ” for the purposes of § 2254(d)(1), refers to rulings of the United States Supreme Court in place at the time of “the last state-court adjudication on the merits.” Greene v. Fisher, 565 U.S. 34, 40-41 (2011); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003) (defining clearly established federal law as “the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision”). A decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law 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] on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). A state-court decision unreasonably applies clearly established federal law if “the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id.

         The standards set forth in the AEDPA's are “intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quoting White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014)); see also Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102 (“If [§ 2254(d)] is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.”). Ultimately, however, the AEDPA's highly deferential standard requires this Court to give the rulings of the state courts “the benefit of the doubt.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)).

         III. PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 2254

         In his instant petition, Petitioner asserts numerous grounds for habeas corpus relief pursuant to § 2254, arising from his trial, appellate, and post-conviction proceedings in state court [Doc. 1]. Respondent opposes each of Petitioner's grounds for relief. The Court will address the merits of each claim, applying the above standards.

         A. Ground 5

         In Ground 5, Petitioner raises a claim of prosecutorial misconduct [Doc. 1 at 12]. Petitioner maintains that, although the prosecutor promised the trial court at a pretrial hearing that she would introduce the telephone recordings “through the keeper of the records from the sheriff's department, ” she instead used Buddy Burkhart - a technical support supervisor for the county - to introduce this evidence at trial [Id.; see Doc. 1-12 at 2]. According to Petitioner, Burkhart “testified that the prosecutor asked him to deviate from his ordinary course of duties” [Id.]. Respondent contends that this claim is procedurally defaulted because it was not presented to the state court for review [Doc. 12 at 28-29].

         Although the issue of the admissibility of the telephone recordings was raised numerous times before the state court [see Doc. 49-11], Petitioner did not expressly raise a claim for prosecutorial misconduct related to the State's use of the testimony of Buddy Burkhart to introduce the recordings at trial.[4] As the Court previously noted, the doctrine of exhaustion requires Petitioner to have presented to the state court “the same claim under the same theory” as the claim for which he seeks relief in federal court. See Pillette, 824 F.2d at 497. Thus, it is not enough that Petitioner presented to the state courts claims relating to the admissibility of the telephone recordings. Because Petitioner did not present this specific claim and theory to the state courts - that is, a claim of prosecutorial misconduct related to the state's use of Burkhart's testimony to introduce the recordings - this claim is procedurally defaulted.

         Accordingly, Petitioner cannot present this claim in his § 2254 unless (1) he can show cause for his default and actual prejudice to his defense at trial or on appeal, or (2) he can “demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750. Petitioner has offered no cause for his default, and the Court can discern no such cause from the record before it. Nor has Petitioner identified any actual prejudice to his defense at trial based on the State's use of the testimony of Burkhart, rather than a “records custodian, ” to introduce the recordings at trial. Further, the Court finds that no fundamental miscarriage of justice will result from the Court's failure to consider this claim.[5] Thus, the Court finds no basis upon which to conclude that Petitioner should be permitted to proceed on this procedurally defaulted claim, and this ground for relief must be DENIED.

         B. Ground 2

         In his second ground for relief, Petitioner raises claims pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments related to the admission of abridged transcripts of recordings of Petitioner's jail telephone calls into evidence at his trial. Petitioner argues that the trial court committed plain error in deciding to admit the abridged transcripts into evidence and in failing to instruct the jury that the transcripts themselves were not to be considered as evidence [Doc. 1 at 6; Doc. 1-3 at 1; see Doc. 1-9 at 2].[6] Respondent maintains that this claim is procedurally defaulted, as Petitioner challenged these evidentiary rulings only pursuant to Tennessee law on direct appeal, and thus raised his federal claims for the first time in this Petition [Doc. 12 at 22].

         Although Petitioner challenged the interception and recording of his prison telephone calls pursuant to federal law, he challenged the admissibility of the transcripts of those recordings only pursuant to Tennessee law [Doc. 49-1 at 61-63; Doc. 49-14]. As the Court previously discussed, the doctrine of exhaustion requires Petitioner to have presented to the state court “the same claim under the same theory” as the claim for which he seeks relief in federal court. See Pillette, 824 F.2d at 497. Thus, it is not enough that Petitioner presented to the state courts claims relating to the admissibility of the telephone recordings pursuant to the Tennessee Rules of Evidence. Because Petitioner did not present this specific claim and theory to the state courts - that is, that the admission of the transcripts of the telephone recordings violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution - this claim is procedurally defaulted.

         Accordingly, Petitioner cannot present this claim in his § 2254 unless (1) he can show cause for his default and actual prejudice to his defense at trial or on appeal, or (2) he can “demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750. Petitioner has offered no cause for his default, and the Court can discern no such cause from the record before it. Nor has Petitioner identified any actual prejudice to his defense at trial based on trial court's decision to allow the abridged transcripts of the telephone recordings to be entered into evidence at trial or its failure to instruct the jury that the audio recordings - not the transcripts - were the evidence to be considered. Further, the Court finds that no fundamental miscarriage of justice will result from the Court's failure to consider this claim.[7] Thus, the Court finds no basis upon which to conclude that Petitioner should be permitted to proceed on this procedurally defaulted claim, and this ground for relief must be DENIED.

         C. Ground 3

         In his third ground for relief, Petitioner argues that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the jury's finding that Petitioner was guilty of first-degree murder [Doc. 1 at 8]. Respondent contends that the state court accurately summarized the evidence presented at trial, correctly applied the relevant legal standards, and concluded that there was more than enough evidence to support his conviction for first-degree murder, and maintains that Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that these factual or legal determinations were unreasonable or contrary to federal law [Doc. 12 at 27-28].

         Petitioner presented this claim on direct appeal, and the TCCA analyzed it as follows:

A. Sufficiency of the Evidence: Premeditation
The appellant argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his first degree premeditated murder conviction because the evidence failed to show he premeditated killing the victim. The State contends that the evidence is sufficient. We agree with the State.
When an appellant challenges the sufficiency of the convicting evidence, the standard for review by an appellate court is “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia,443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); see also Tenn. R. App. P. 13(e). The State is entitled to the strongest legitimate view of the evidence and all reasonable or legitimate inferences which may be drawn therefrom. See State v. Cabbage,571 S.W.2d 832, 835 (Tenn. 1978). Questions concerning the credibility of witnesses and the weight and value to be afforded the evidence, as well as all factual issues raised by the evidence, are resolved by the trier of fact. See State v. Bland,958 S.W.2d 651, 659 (Tenn. 1997). This court will not reweigh or reevaluate the evidence, nor will this court substitute its inferences drawn from the circumstantial evidence for those inferences drawn by the jury. See Id. Because a jury conviction removes the ...

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