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Whitaker v. Minter

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

March 29, 2018

BROOKE LEE WHITAKER, Petitioner,
v.
TRINITY MINTER, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HARRY S. MATTICE, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, filed by pro se prisoner Brooke Lee Whitaker (“Petitioner”), challenging the constitutionality of her confinement under a state court judgment of conviction of rape [Doc. 1]. Respondent filed a response in opposition, as well as a copy of the state record [Docs. 18 and 20]. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's § 2254 petition [Doc. 1] will be DENIED and this action will be DISMISSED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Petitioner was indicted for aggravated rape of a fellow inmate in the Bedford County Jail. See State v. Brooke Lee Whitaker, No. M2009-02449-CCA-R3-CD, 2011 WL 2176511, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 31, 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 21, 2011). Following negotiations with the State, Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of rape, and the trial court sentenced her to serve twelve years in confinement. Id. The judgment reflects that Petitioner was also sentenced to community supervision for life. Id. On direct appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed the judgment of the trial court and the Tennessee Supreme Court (“TSC”) denied permission to appeal. Id. at *3.

         Next, Petitioner filed for post-conviction relief, arguing that she received ineffective assistance of counsel, that her guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary, and that her trial counsel had a conflict of interest. See Brooke Lee Whitaker v. State, No. M2013-00919-CCA-R3-PC, 2014 WL 2553441, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 4, 2014), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 22, 2014). The TCCA affirmed the post-conviction court's denial of relief and on September 22, 2014, the TSC denied permission to appeal. Id. at *12.

         Petitioner then filed a motion under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 for the correction of an illegal sentence, arguing, “her sentence is illegal because the trial court failed to advise her that she would be subject to community supervision for life.” State v. Brooke Lee Whitaker, No. M2015-01853-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 4547991, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 31, 2016), no perm. app. filed. Petitioner argued that Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 and Ward v. State, 315 S.W.3d 461 (Tenn. 2010), rendered her sentence illegal. Id. The trial court dismissed Petitioner's Rule 36.1 motion, and the TCCA affirmed the dismissal, holding that Ward did not apply retroactively and that Petitioner's sentence was legal. Whitaker, 2016 WL 4547991, at *2.

         On November 18, 2016, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Whitaker v. Minter, No. W201700127CCAR3HC, 2017 WL 4004163, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 8, 2017). Once again, Petitioner argued that her sentence was illegal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 and Ward because the trial court did not inform her that she would be subject to community supervision for life. Id. The state habeas court denied her petition on November 29, 2017. Id. On January 3, 2017, Petitioner filed an unsigned notice of her appeal. Id. Because Petitioner's notice of appeal was untimely, her appeal was dismissed. Id.

         Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus on November 10, 2014 [Doc. 1]. This matter is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. FACTUAL HISTORY

         The recitation of the facts by the Assistant District Attorney General at Petitioner's guilty plea hearing provides the following information.

In August 2008, Defendant and five other women, including the victim, were all housed in the same cell in the Bedford County jail. After lights were shut off and the cell was locked on the night of August 20, Defendant and one other inmate in the cell approached the victim. The victim was in her own bunk bed. Defendant and the other inmate held down the victim and began sexually assaulting her. They digitally penetrated the victim's vagina and also performed cunnilingus on the victim. Defendant yelled for other women present to help hold down the victim, and two additional inmates proceeded to assist in holding down the victim while the sexual assault continued. The victim reported the sexual assault the following day.

Whitaker, 2011 WL 2176511, at *1.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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). Congress has mandated that federal courts review state court adjudications on the merits of such claims using a “highly deferential” standard of review. See, e.g., Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011). Under this deferential standard, this Court is bound to accept the state court's findings of fact as true unless a petitioner presents “clear and convincing evidence” to the contrary. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)(providing that “a determination of a factual issue by a State court shall be presumed to be correct” unless the petitioner rebuts that presumption with clear and convincing evidence); see Seymour v. Walker, 224 F.3d 542, 551-52 (6th Cir. 2000). Additionally, 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, 132 S.Ct. 38, 44 (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)). Ultimately, 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)).

         However, before a federal court may review a federal claim raised in a habeas petition, it must first determine whether the petitioner has exhausted the remedies available to him in state court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). If a federal habeas claim has not been presented to a state court for adjudication, then it is unexhausted and may not properly serve as the basis of a federal habeas petition. See Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 87 (1977).

         The exhaustion “requirement is satisfied when the highest court in the state in which the petitioner was convicted has been given a full and fair opportunity to rule on the petitioner's claims.” Wilson v. Mitchell, 498 F.3d 491, 498-99 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Lott v. Coyle, 261 F.3d 594, 608 (6th Cir. 2001)). Under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 39, a Tennessee prisoner exhausts a claim by raising it before the TCCA. See Adams v. Holland, 330 F.3d 398, 402 (6th Cir. 2003). A federal court will not review claims that were not entertained by the state court due to the petitioner's failure to (1) raise those claims in the state courts while state remedies were available, or (2) comply with a state procedural rule that prevented the state courts from reaching the merits of the claims. Lundgren v. Mitchell, 440 F.3d 754, 763 (6th Cir. 2006).

         A petitioner who fails to raise his federal claim in the state courts and who is now barred by a state procedural rule from returning with the claim to those courts has committed a procedural default. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 732 (1991). A procedural default forecloses federal habeas review, unless the petitioner can show cause to excuse the failure to comply with the state procedural rule and actual prejudice resulting from the alleged constitutional violation. Id. at 750.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Petitioner raises six claims for relief in her § 2254 habeas corpus petition [Doc. 2].

1. Petitioner's guilty plea was not knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently entered into [Doc. 2 p. 2];
2. Ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to properly advise Petitioner regarding material elements of the accepted plea [Doc. 2 p. 7];
3. Ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to investigate the facts of the case [Doc. 2 p. 9];
4. Ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel [Doc. 2 p. 12];
5. Trial court failed to fully inform Petitioner of the consequences of her ...

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