United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
all-white jury in Maury County, Tennessee, convicted
Petitioner of possession of over 300 grams of cocaine with
intent to sell or deliver it in a drug-free school zone.
(Doc. No. 33 at 1.) After exhausting his state court appeals
and post-conviction process, he filed the instant Petition
for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (the “Petition”),
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 25.) Before the
Court is a Report and Recommendation from the Magistrate
Judge, recommending that the Petition be dismissed. (Doc. No.
33.) Petitioner filed timely objections (Doc. No. 36), to
which Respondent responded (Doc. No. 37). For the following
reasons, the Report and Recommendation is
first objection involves Claim I.B., in which he alleges
ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to sufficiently
challenge the racial composition of the jury and venire.
(Doc. No. 25 at 7.) He believes that the state court clerk
should not have dismissed one of the black jurors for
hardship. (Doc. No. 36 at 1-2.) Petitioner argues that the
judge must dismiss the juror unless the judge delegates the
authority to the jury coordinator, pursuant to Tennessee Code
Annotated § 22-1-103(b)(1), which did not happen here.
(Id. at 2.) Therefore, Petitioner argues that the
Clerk's dismissal of the black juror without any evidence
of delegation by the judge violated Tennessee law.
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed with
Petitioner. It endorsed the post-conviction court's
holding that “Petitioner failed to demonstrate how the
Clerk's procedure violated Tennessee law, as well as how
he was prejudiced by her failure to follow the law.”
(Doc. No. 30-25 at 13.) The Court of Criminal Appeals found
that “trial counsel zealously represented his client on
this matter, ” and Petitioner “makes no other
allegations as to what more trial counsel could have done to
seek relief.” (Id.) The Magistrate Judge held
that these factual findings were not an “unreasonable
determination of facts in light of the evidence presented in
the State court proceeding.” (Doc. No. 33 at 29); 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).
Objections, Petitioner no longer argues that counsel's
performance was deficient, but specifically challenges the
Tennessee court's interpretation of §
22-1-103(b)(1). (Doc. No. 36 at 1-2.) However, Congress has
stated that a federal court may only grant a petition for a
writ of habeas corpus if the state court's decision
“was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). The Supreme Court has stated
“many times that ‘federal habeas corpus relief
does not lie for errors of state law.'” Estelle
v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991) (quoting Lewis v.
Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990)). Instead, “a
state court's interpretation of state law, including one
announced on direct appeal of the challenged conviction,
binds a federal court sitting in habeas corpus.”
Bradshaw v. Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005) (citing
Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68). Whether the Court
agrees with Petitioner's interpretation of §
22-1-103(b)(1) or the state court's interpretation, the
Court is bound by the state court's interpretation of
second objection is regarding claim I.C., Paragraph 43 in the
Petition, of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to
object to a jury instruction. Specifically, Petitioner argues
that “trial counsel failed to object to the jury
instruction regarding the ‘drug-free schools'
enhancement, which did not require the jury to find beyond a
reasonable doubt that the petitioner possessed any culpable
mental state regarding the necessary element of being within
1, 000 feet of a daycare facility and imposed strict
liability for the element.” (Doc. No. 25 at 7.)
However, Petitioner did not raise this claim with the state
court. Thus, the Magistrate Judge appropriately found that
the claim is procedurally defaulted. (Doc. No. 33 at 36.)
Petitioner argues that there was an excuse for the procedural
default, the Court can bypass that issue if, as here, a
decision on the merits is “easily resolvable against
the habeas petitioner.” Johnson v. Lee, 136
S.Ct. 1802, 1806 (2016) (quoting Lambrix v.
Singetary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997)). Petitioner's
argument is predicated on an assumption that Tennessee law
required the State to prove that he had a particular
“culpable mental state regarding the necessary element
of being within 1, 000 feet of a daycare facility, ”
under Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-17-417. (Doc. No. 36
at 4.) However, the Tennessee state courts have “held
that the Drug-Free School Zone Act is an enhancement statute
and therefore does not require a specific mens rea to
conclude that a defendant violated the statute. State v.
Reeves, No. W2012-02656-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 1593153, at
*9 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 17, 2014) (citing State v.
Vasquez, No. M2010-02538-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 5989875, at
*13 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 28, 2012)); see also State v.
Jones, No. M2015-02515-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 2493684, at
*6-7 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 9, 2017) (declining the
defendant's request to review its prior decisions because
“the Drug Free School Zone Act does not require a
specific mens rea, [and] the State is not required to show
that the Defendant knowingly possessed the cocaine with
intent to sell the cocaine within 1, 000 feet of a
school”). Because this objection is merely a difference
of opinion with the state court's interpretation of state
law, habeas relief is unavailable. Estelle, 502 U.S.
at 67. Moreover, because the jury instruction is correct,
Petitioner cannot prove that his counsel was deficient for
failing to ask for a different one, or that he was
prejudiced. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. This
objection is overruled.
final objection is that the Court “reverse and/or
overrule any and all other rulings made in the R & R and
otherwise grant him relief.” (Doc. No. 36 at 4.) Local
Rule 72.03(b)(1) requires any objections to a Report and
Recommendation to “state with particularity the
specific portions of the Magistrate Judge's report . . .
to which an objection is made.” Petitioner's
general objection “waives subsequent review by the
district court and appeal to [the Sixth Circuit].”
Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 380 (6th Cir. 1995)
(citing references omitted). Nevertheless, the Court has
conducted a de novo review of the record and the Magistrate
Judge's conclusions are adopted.
11(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United
States District Courts requires that the Court “issue
or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final
order adverse to the applicant.” A certificate of
appealability may issue “only if the applicant has made
a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional
right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). “A
petitioner satisfies this standard by demonstrating that
jurists of reason could disagree with the district
court's resolution of his constitutional claims or that
jurists could conclude the issues presented are adequate to
deserve encouragement to proceed further.”
Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327(2003)
(citing Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484
(2000)). Petitioner has not satisfied this standard and thus
a certificate of appealability is denied.
foregoing reasons, the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No.
33) is ADOPTED. The Petition (Doc. No. 25)
is DENIED. A certificate of appealability is
DENIED. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c). The Clerk