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Edwards v. Lebo

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

June 26, 2019

JONATHAN LEBO, Warden, Respondent.



         Patrick Edwards, a state inmate, filed a pro se petition for the writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”) (Doc. No. 1), and the respondent filed a response. (Doc. No. 14.) For the following reasons, the Petition will be denied and this action will be dismissed.

         I. Procedural Background

         In January 2007, a Davidson County grand jury indicted the petitioner for first degree felony murder and first degree premeditated murder. (Doc. No. 13-1 at 4-7.) The case proceeded to trial, but the court granted a mistrial at the request of the petitioner's counsel. (Id. at 78.) The petitioner later pleaded guilty to the lesser-included offense of second degree murder on count one, and count two was dismissed. (Id. at 79-82.) As a result, the petitioner faced a range of 15 to 25 years' imprisonment, to be determined by the court at a sentencing hearing. (Id. at 79-80.) The court sentenced the petitioner to 21 years' imprisonment. (Id. at 86.) The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed the court's judgment, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied the petitioner's application for permission to appeal on May 26, 2011. State v. Edwards, No. M2009-01277-CCA-R3-CD, 2011 WL 497444, at *1, 4 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 11, 2011), perm. app. denied May 26, 2011.

         On June 1, 2011, the trial court received the petitioner's pro se petition for post-conviction relief. (Doc. No. 13-15 at 12-18.) The court appointed counsel (id. at 28-29), and the petitioner filed an amended petition (id. at 34-41). The court held an evidentiary hearing (id. at 45; Doc. No. 13-17) and then dismissed the petition (Doc. No. 13-15 at 46-50; Doc. No. 13-16 at 3-8). The TCCA ultimately[1] affirmed the court's judgment, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied discretionary review on August 18, 2016. Edwards v. State, No. M2014-01839-CCA-R3-PC, 2016 WL 1161084, at *1, 7 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 23, 2016), perm. app. denied Aug. 18, 2016. The petitioner then filed a timely pro se habeas petition in this court. (Doc. No. 1.)

         II. Factual Background

         At the plea hearing, the state provided a factual basis for the petitioner's plea. According to the state, five individuals-including the victim, Christopher Hudson-went to Nashboro Village to buy ecstasy from the petitioner and co-defendant Ryan Lewis. (Doc. No. 13-8 at 7.) The petitioner was in the driver's seat of a car at the scene, with Lewis in the passenger's seat. (Id.) Hudson approached the car, leaned in on the driver's side, and saw the petitioner's gun. (Id.) Hudson “became frightened and started running back behind the car, ” and the petitioner shot Hudson “in the back as he was running.” (Id.) As Hudson “tried to crawl to the sidewalk, ” the petitioner got out of the car and went to where Hudson was lying. (Id.) If the case had proceeded to trial, co-defendant Lewis would have testified that he and the petitioner intended to rob Hudson and that the petitioner took over one hundred dollars from Hudson's body. (Id.) Lewis would have testified that he and the petitioner returned to an apartment and divided the money. (Id.) Police went to this apartment and then a man named Corey Ashley took them to another home to retrieve the gun used to shoot Hudson. (Id. at 7-8.) The petitioner testified that these facts were basically true, but he disputed Lewis's expected trial testimony. (Id. at 8-9.)

         At the sentencing hearing, police detective Robert Swisher testified that he interviewed the petitioner after taking him and co-defendant Lewis into custody. (Id. at 15.) The court viewed a video of this interview, and the TCCA summarized it as follows on direct appeal:

[The petitioner] told detectives that he had completed the eighth grade and that he lived in Nashville. He told detectives that his co-defendant, Ryan Lewis, had gotten a phone call from the victim asking for drugs. [The petitioner] drove himself and Mr. Lewis to meet the victim. [The petitioner] stated that the victim, who was standing at the driver's side window of the vehicle, tried to grab the drugs from Mr. Lewis, who was reaching across [the petitioner]. The victim then swung a stick at them and grabbed [the petitioner's] jacket. [The petitioner] pulled out a gun, and the victim started running. [The petitioner] told detectives that he fired the gun “to scare him off.” [The petitioner] hit another car as he drove away. [The petitioner] told detectives that he had purchased the gun from a man on the street for one hundred dollars. Detective Swisher also testified that [the petitioner's] fingerprint was found on a box of ammunition.

Edwards, 2011 WL 497444, at *1. The TCCA also summarized Lewis's sentencing hearing testimony:

Ryan Lewis testified that he knew [the petitioner] through [the petitioner's] cousin, Corey Ashley. He testified that he knew the victim in this case, Christopher Hudson, because he had sold drugs to him before at Dover Glen Apartments. On the evening of the crime, Mr. Hudson called Mr. Lewis, while Mr. Lewis was with [the petitioner] and Mr. Ashley, and had requested to purchase some ecstasy pills. Mr. Lewis initially told Mr. Hudson that he did not have any pills, but in another conversation later that evening, he told Mr. Hudson that [the petitioner] and Mr. Ashley had drugs to sell.
Mr. Lewis testified that [the petitioner], Mr. Ashley, and he discussed a plan to rob Mr. Hudson. [The petitioner] and Mr. Lewis drove to Nashboro Village and pulled in facing Mr. Hudson's vehicle. Mr. Ashley drove another vehicle and his role in the robbery was to be the “lookout.” Mr. Hudson walked to the driver's side window of the vehicle where [the petitioner] was, and leaned into the car. Mr. Lewis testified that [the petitioner] pulled out the pistol and demanded the money. Mr. Hudson turned to run away, and [the petitioner] shot him. Mr. Lewis opened the passenger's side door to run, and [the petitioner] pointed the pistol at him and told him to get back in the car. [The petitioner] got out of the car to retrieve the drugs and the money that fell on the ground. Mr. Lewis did not see that the victim had any kind of weapon; however, he testified, someone threw something “like a stick, or a bat, or something” at the car as they drove away. As they left Nashboro Village, Mr. Lewis saw Corey Ashley speed away in his vehicle. [The petitioner] and Mr. Lewis returned to Dover Glen Apartments. On the way there, [the petitioner] told Mr. Lewis to change his cell phone number, which he did. When they arrived back at the apartments, Mr. Ashley was there. Mr. Ashley made a phone call to get rid of the gun. The three men divided up the money. The police arrived about two hours later. Mr. Lewis testified that he initially lied to police.

Id. at *2. Finally, the TCCA summarized the sentencing hearing testimony of petitioner's mother as follows:

Pamela Rooks, [the petitioner's] mother, testified that [the petitioner] was nineteen or twenty years old at the time of his arrest. He had not been living with her for a few months before his arrest because [the petitioner] “was doing some things that [she] didn't approve of.” She testified that [the petitioner] had dropped out of school after the seventh or eighth grade. Mrs. Rooks testified that [the petitioner's] father left home when [the petitioner] was about one-year old. [The petitioner's] father was not consistently involved with [the petitioner]. [The petitioner] went to live with his father for one year when [the petitioner] was thirteen years old. Mrs. Rooks knew that [the petitioner] had smoked marijuana, but she denied knowledge of any other drug use. She testified that when her son was about eighteen years old, he had attempted suicide by taking pills and was hospitalized for about one week. Several of [the petitioner's] family members prepared letters in support of [the petitioner], which were admitted into evidence.


         III. Asserted Claims for Relief

         In the Petition, the petitioner asserts that his: (1) confession was coerced; (2) plea was unknowing and involuntary; (3) sentence was improper; (4) conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence; (5) trial counsel was ineffective; and (6) post-conviction counsel was ineffective. He asserts that his trial counsel was specifically ineffective in failing to: (1) present mitigating evidence at sentencing; (2) move to suppress his confession; (3) allow him to proceed to trial rather than plead guilty; (4) investigate co-defendant Ryan Lewis; (5) object to application of enhancement factors at sentencing; (6) appeal the court's application of sentencing enhancement factors; and (7) consult with his first appointed attorney. (Doc. No. 1.)

         IV. Standard of Review

         Federal courts have the authority to grant habeas corpus relief to state prisoners under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 97 (2011). Where a petitioner's claim was “adjudicated on the merits” in state court, a federal court may not grant habeas relief unless the state's decision was: (1) “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States”; or (2) “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)(1)-(2). Thus, “[t]he question under AEDPA is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000)). “The petitioner carries the burden of proof.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (citing Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002)).

         Under Section 2254(d)(1), a state court's decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law “‘if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases' or ‘if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision [of the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a [different result].'” Hill v. Curtin, 792 F.3d 670, 676 (6th Cir. 2015) (en banc) (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73 (2003)). “Under the ‘unreasonable application' clause of [Section] 2254(d)(1), habeas relief is available 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. (quoting Harris v. Haeberlin, 526 F.3d 903, 909 (6th Cir. 2008)). A state court's application is not unreasonable under this standard simply because a federal court finds it “incorrect or erroneous”-“rather, ” the federal court must find the state court's application was “objectively unreasonable.” Id. (quoting Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003)).

         To obtain relief under Section 2254(d)(2), the federal court must find that “the state court's factual determination was ‘objectively unreasonable' in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings.” Young v. Hofbauer, 52 Fed.Appx. 234, 236 (6th Cir. 2002). State-court factual determinations are only unreasonable “if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings are rebutted by ‘clear and convincing evidence' and do not have support in the record.” Pouncy v. Palmer, 846 F.3d 144, 158 (6th Cir. 2017) (quoting Matthews v. Ishee, 486 F.3d 883, 889 (6th Cir. 2007)). “[I]t is not enough for the petitioner to show some unreasonable determination of fact; rather, the petitioner must show that the resulting state court decision was ‘based on' that unreasonable determination.” Rice v. White, 660 F.3d 242, 250 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Byrd v. Workman, 645 F.3d 1159, 1172 (10th Cir. 2011)).

         The demanding review of claims rejected on the merits in state court, however, is ordinarily only available to petitioners who “exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103. In Tennessee, a petitioner is “deemed to have exhausted all available state remedies for [a] claim” when it is presented to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Adams v. Holland, 330 F.3d 398, 402 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 39). “To be properly exhausted, each claim must have been ‘fairly presented' to the state courts, ” meaning that the petitioner presented “the same claim under the same theory . . . to the state courts.” Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 414, 417 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         The procedural default doctrine is “an important ‘corollary' to the exhaustion requirement” under which “a federal court may not review federal claims that . . . the state court denied based on an adequate and independent state procedural rule.” Davila v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 2058, 2064 (2017) (citations omitted). A claim also may be “technically exhausted, yet procedurally defaulted, ” where “a petitioner fails to present a claim in state court, but that remedy is no longer available to him.” Atkins v. Holloway, 792 F.3d 654, 657 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Jones v. Bagley, 696 F.3d 475, 483-84 (6th Cir. 2012)).

         To obtain review of a procedurally defaulted claim, a petitioner must “establish ‘cause' and ‘prejudice,' or a ‘manifest miscarriage of justice.'” Middlebrooks v. Carpenter, 843 F.3d 1127, 1134 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Sutton v. Carpenter, 745 F.3d 787, 790-91 (6th Cir. 2014)). A petitioner may establish cause by “show[ing] that some objective factor external to the defense”- a factor that “cannot be fairly attributed to” the petitioner-“impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule.” Davila, 137 S.Ct. at 2065 (citations omitted). There is also “a narrow exception to the cause requirement where a constitutional violation has ‘probably resulted' in the conviction of one who is ‘actually innocent' of the substantive offense.” Dretke, 541 U.S. at 392 (quoting Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496 (1986)). To establish prejudice, “a petitioner must show not merely that the errors at his trial created a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions.” Garcia-Dorantes v. Warren, 801 F.3d 584, 598 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Hollis v. Davis, 941 F.2d 1471, 1480 (11th Cir. 1991)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         V. Analysis

         The court will first address claims adjudicated in state court and then turn to procedurally defaulted claims. As an initial matter, however, the court notes that the petitioner's assertion of ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel is not an independent ground for habeas relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(i) (“The ineffectiveness or incompetence of counsel during Federal or State collateral post-conviction proceedings shall not be a ground for relief in a proceeding arising under section 2254.”). Nonetheless, post-conviction ineffectiveness may be used to establish the “cause” necessary to obtain review of another procedurally defaulted claim in some circumstances. Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 17 (2012). Thus, the court will consider the assertion of post-conviction ineffectiveness as allegations of “cause” regarding the petitioner's defaulted claims.

         A. Adjudicated Claims

         On post-conviction appeal, the petitioner exhausted a claim that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary and two of his seven sub-claims for ineffective assistance of trial counsel- that counsel coerced him to plead guilty and failed to present mitigating evidence at sentencing. Edwards, 2016 WL 1161084, at *1, 4-7.

         1. Knowing ...

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