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White v. State

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

September 29, 2017

DANIELLE M. WHITE, Petitioner,
STATE OF TENNESSEE et al, Respondent.



         Presently before the Court is a second amended petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [Doc. 12] filed pro se by Petitioner Danielle M. White challenging her 2010 Tennessee state court conviction for two counts of aggravated assault.[1]Respondent has filed an answer to the petition [Doc. 33] and a copy of the state court record [Doc. 34]. Petitioner has filed a reply to the answer [Doc. 44], along with a "second motion to take judicial notice and motion to grant habeas corpus petition" [Doc. 56]. For the following reasons, Petitioner's second amended § 2254 petition and second motion to take judicial notice and grant habeas corpus petition will be DENIED and this action will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE


         Petitioner was indicted by a grand jury in Greene County, Tennessee, on two counts of aggravated assault in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-102(a)(1)(B) [Doc. 34 Attachment 1 at 1-2]. Following a two-day trial, at which Petitioner represented herself, a jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts [Id. at 71-72]. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to concurrent sentences of three years and six months with four months' incarceration [Id. at 84-85]. Petitioner, through retained counsel, filed a motion for new trial [Id. at 87-90] and a second amended motion for new trial [Id. at 99-104] which together asserted 71 errors. Following a hearing, Petitioner's request for a new trial was denied [Id. at 105].

         Petitioner appealed her conviction and sentence to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) raising seven issues: (1) the trial court erred in failing to appoint counsel and in allowing her to represent herself; (2) the trial judge erred in failing to recuse himself and denying her a fair trial; (3) the grand jury foreman was not selected constitutionally because there was a systematic exclusion based upon gender, race, and ethnicity; (4) the indictment was invalid because no grand jury foreman was appointed; (5) the trial court erred in using a jury selection process that was not in accord with the relevant statute; (6) the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress; and (7) there was prosecutorial misconduct when the assistant district attorney referred to Petitioner's invocation of her right to counsel [Doc. 34 Attachment 19]. The TCCA affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence and Petitioner's application for permission to appeal was denied by the Tennessee Supreme Court. State v. White, No. E2011-01817-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 1788535 (Tenn. Crim. App. April 25, 2013) perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 10, 2013).

         Petitioner later filed a pro se petition for a writ of certiorari which the United States Supreme Court denied. White v. Tennessee, 134 S.Ct. 2701 (June 2, 2014). Petitioner did not seek post-conviction relief in the Tennessee state courts and her time to do so has expired. See Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-30-102(a) and (b); Seals v. State, 23 S.W.3d 272, 276 (Tenn. 2000).


         Petitioner's “crimes relate to her shooting at a utility company's contracted work crew as they sprayed herbicide on the right-of-way on her property” on July 27, 2009. White, 2013 WL 1788535, at *1. As an initial matter, the decision of the TCCA affirming Petitioner's conviction and sentence sets forth the circumstances relating to Petitioner's self-representation at trial as follows:

The Defendant represented herself through the trial proceedings, despite the trial court's urging her to seek counsel. The Defendant claimed she could not afford counsel but refused to complete an affidavit of indigency, although the court repeatedly urged her to do so. The court released $10, 000 of the Defendant's cash bond for her use in employing counsel, but she was unable to find counsel who agreed with her interpretation of the Constitution and did not retain an attorney. Shortly before the trial, the court appointed the public defender as advisory counsel. After the trial, the Defendant retained counsel, who represented her at the sentencing hearing and the motion for a new trial and who represent her in this appeal.


         The opinion of the TCCA proceeds to a lengthy summary of the evidence presented at Petitioner's trial. Id., at *1-11. In pertinent part, the testimony of Paul Pridgen, one of the victims, was summarized as follows:

Mr. Pridgen testified that the crew arrived at the Defendant's address around 7:10 p.m. and that it was daylight. He said that they had three trucks and that the crew consisted of four men with backpacks and a crew leader. He said David Caldwell, the application manager with Helena Chemical, Mike Boles, an employee of another chemical treatment company, and he were also present. He said that to his knowledge, the Defendant's address was not on the list of property that was not to be treated. He said that neither the Defendant nor her husband ever approached the crew on July 27 and said they did not want the property treated and that the crew should leave. He said that the Defendant's husband approached the crew leader and asked what they were doing, that the crew leader stated they were applying herbicide, and that the Defendant's husband walked away without saying anything. He said he was standing by the crew leader and heard the conversation. He said the crew progressed through less than three feet of dense vegetation when he saw movement on a ridge about seventy-five yards away and heard a woman's voice say, “You can't spray no herbicide on my d---property.” He looked up and saw the woman with a rifle. He said the woman leveled a gun at them and fired a shot. He heard the sound of rifle fire and of a shot whizzing by their heads. He said the bullet was close and scared him for his own safety and that of the crew. He stated that there was no question they were in imminent danger and that they left the property as quickly as possible. Mr. Caldwell called 9-1-1. He said that they regrouped at the bottom of a hill and that several Sheriff's deputies responded quickly. He drew and explained a diagram of the scene. He identified a rifle as appearing to be the same one he saw that day. He positively identified the Defendant as the woman he saw that day.

Id., at *2.

         The testimony of the other victim, David Caldwell, was summarized by the TCCA as follows:

[Caldwell] said that they were working around the Defendant's address and that as the work crew began applying herbicide to the right-of-way, a man came down the driveway and asked what they were doing. He said that the crew leader answered and that the man walked away without speaking. He said they continued working and saw a woman come to the top of the hill near the house. He said she was about seventy-five yards away. He said she asked what they were doing, and within twenty seconds, she lifted a rifle and fired a shot over their heads. He said that he had been walking toward the Defendant when he saw the gun and that he told the crew they had to leave when she fired. He said that the woman said, “Consider yourself warned, ” and that he replied, “We are gone.” He said he called the police to report the shooting as they drove away. He identified the Defendant as the person who shot at him.

Id., at *3.

         After hearing testimony from a number of other State and defense witnesses as detailed in the TCCA opinion, the jury found Petitioner guilty of aggravated assault of Pridgen and Caldwell. Id., at *11. To the extent additional facts and evidence as outlined by the TCCA are relevant to any claim raised by Petitioner in her § 2254 petition, they will be addressed below in the analysis of that specific claim.


         A state prisoner is entitled to habeas corpus relief “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). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) of 1996, which amended § 2254, sets forth “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). By this standard, when a state court adjudicates a claim on the merits, habeas relief is available only if the adjudication of that claim “(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).

         A state court 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 has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). A state court's ruling is an “unreasonable application of” clearly established federal law if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from Supreme Court precedent but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case. Id. at 407. The habeas court is to determine only whether the state court's decision is objectively reasonable, not whether, in the habeas court's view, it is incorrect or wrong. Id. at 411.

         Under the AEDPA, a habeas petitioner must “‘show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). This standard is “difficult to meet, ” “highly deferential, ” and “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; Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Petitioner filed her initial § 2254 petition on April 9, 2014 [Doc. 1], then filed an amended § 2254 petition on June 25, 2014 [Doc. 8]. Noting several deficiencies in that amended petition, the Court directed the Clerk to send Petitioner a blank preprinted form on which to file her § 2254 petition [Doc. 9], and Petitioner subsequently filed the pending second amended petition [Doc. 12].

         Like her original and first amended petitions, however, Petitioner's second amended § 2254 petition was not submitted on the standard form appended to the Rules Governing Section 2254 cases and the arguments in support of her claims are incorporated into the petition itself rather than in a separate memorandum or brief. This convoluted drafting style makes it difficult to ascertain the precise nature of her constitutional claims, or even to determine the exact number. In the answer [Doc. 33], Respondent lists 15 distinct grounds for relief raised in the 57 numbered paragraphs of the second amended petition, while the Court's review indicates there may be as many as 22:

1. Defective indictment [Doc. 12 at ¶ 17];
2. Unconstitutional exclusion of women from the grand jury process [Doc. 12 at ¶ 18];
3. Failure of trial court to hold a hearing or rule on 11 motions [Doc. 12 at ¶ 19];
4. Denial of right to counsel [Doc. 12 at ¶ 22];
5. Failure of trial court to dismiss case because Petitioner had a right to defend herself and her property [Doc. 12 at ¶ 24];
6. Denial of Petitioner's constitutional rights “under Article III” by the State of Tennessee [Doc. 12 at ¶ 25];
7. Withholding of information by State of Tennessee's “pesticide investigators” regarding pesticide contamination [Doc. 12 at ¶ 26];
8. Failure of State of Tennessee and the Environmental Protection Agency to prosecute Helena Chemical Company, Greeneville Light and Power and “S.F.E” [Doc. 12 at ¶ 27];
9. Denial of First Amendment right to associate with “persons of ill repute” [Doc. 12 at ¶ 28];
10. Denial of right to protect her property and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ...

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