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Harris v. Jordan

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

July 1, 2019

ERICA HARRIS, Petitioner,



         On May 18, 2016, Erica Harris (“Petitioner”) filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging her 2011 Tennessee state court conviction for the sale of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school [Doc. 2]. Respondent has filed a response in opposition to the petition [Doc. 10] and a copy of the state court record [Doc. 8]. Petitioner has filed a reply to the response [Doc. 12]. For the following reasons, Petitioner's § 2254 petition will be DENIED and this action will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.


         On March 9, 2011, Petitioner was convicted by a Knox County jury of the sale and delivery of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine. State v. Erica Harris, No. E2012-01107-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 1190826, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 25, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 14, 2013). At sentencing, the trial court merged her convictions and sentenced her to serve seventeen years' incarceration. Id. On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. Id.

         On November 12, 2013, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief. Harris v. State, No. E2014-01893-CCA-R3-PC, 2015 WL 4366620, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 16, 2015). Counsel was appointed, and an amended petition was filed on February 26, 2014. Id. An evidentiary hearing was held on August 28, 2014, after which the post-conviction court denied the petition for post-conviction relief. Id. Petitioner filed a timely notice of appeal. Id. The TCCA affirmed the judgment of the post-conviction court on July 16, 2015, and the Tennessee Supreme Court (“TSC”) denied Petitioner's application for permission to appeal on October 15, 2015. Id.

         Thereafter, on May 18, 2016, Petitioner, proceeding pro se, filed the instant petition [Doc. 2]. This matter is now ripe for review.


         The TCCA summarized the facts of this case in its opinion on direct appeal as follows:

The defendant's conviction arose from a controlled drug purchase on August 24, 2009. At trial, 27-year-old Francis Brady, who testified that she had a history of drug abuse and drug-related criminal convictions, said that she became an informant for the Knoxville Police Department (“KPD”) in 2007 after discussing it with an officer that attended her church. For the controlled buy involving the defendant, she was searched and fitted with a recording device before traveling to a residence on New Street in the Austin Homes community. She said that before the August 24, 2009 transaction, she had seen and interacted with the defendant “[a] good five or six times, ” that she was familiar with the defendant's apartment, and that she knew both of the defendant's sons, Darius and “Zonfo.” Ms. Brady explained that she had arranged to purchase drugs from Zonfo on a previous occasion.
According to Ms. Brady, the plan on August 24, 2009, was for Ms. Brady to go to the defendant's residence and purchase crack cocaine from “just whoever was in the residence.” When she arrived, the defendant let her into the apartment, and Ms. Brady described what happened next:
I told her I needed a $100 worth of crack cocaine, and she had gone in the kitchen and brought back a DVD which had several rocks on it. And she had said that it was her son's dope that she didn't know if she could give it all to me, so she had got him on the phone and tried to call him and he didn't answer the phone.
At that point, the defendant told her she “could have all the dope that was on top of the ... DVD case.” Ms. Brady said that she agreed because she “thought it was pretty big. It was a little over a hundred dollars worth.” She said that the defendant gave her “a bread wrapper off of bread, ” and Ms. Brady packaged the cocaine herself. Ms. Brady then gave the defendant $100.
An audio recording of the transaction was played for the jury over the defendant's objection. The recording, which was included in the record on appeal, is largely unintelligible. A woman other than Ms. Brady identified herself as “Erica” on the recording. Ms. Brady identified the defendant as the woman with whom she interacted during the recorded transaction.
During cross-examination, Ms. Brady said that the use of street names and false identities was common in the illegal drug trade.
KPD Officer Michael Geddings testified that he supervised Ms. Brady in her role as a confidential informant and explained the procedure for conducting controlled drug purchases. He explained that confidential informants are paid in cash for each controlled buy they complete if they are “not working off charges.” Officer Geddings testified that on August 24, 2009, Ms. Brady made him aware of “drug activity at an apartment ... in the Austin Homes community, ” telling him that she had purchased drugs from a black male named Zonfo and that Zonfo's mother, Erica Harris, was present during the transaction. Although Ms. Brady did not know the apartment number, she did know the location. With the assistance of Google Earth, Officer Geddings was able to determine the address. Through further investigation, he confirmed that the address was the defendant's residence. Officer Geddings testified that he showed the defendant's driver's license photo to Ms. Brady, who confirmed that the defendant was the woman named Erica that Ms. Brady knew to live in the New Street apartment. Officer Geddings testified that he fitted Ms. Brady with recording equipment and “instructed [her] to attempt to purchase a hundred dollars worth of crack cocaine from ... the apartment ... that she had identified and that we had identified as 1116 West New Street, apartment number 295.” He described what happened upon their arrival at 1116 West New Street:
[Ms. Brady] exited and then walked into the apartment through the front door, was in there approximately a little over two minutes and then exited through the same door. At which time, she got back into the vehicle, handed me the crack cocaine that had ...

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