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Smith v. Lindamood

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

August 29, 2019

JOHN SMITH, Petitioner,



         Petitioner John Smith[1] petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Petition (“Pet.”), ECF No. 1.) The petition did not follow the format of the district court's official form. (Id.) In 2016, United States District Judge John T. Fowlkes ordered Petitioner to amend his petition using the official form. (Order, ECF No. 4.) Petitioner Smith amended his petition, but the amendment did not comply with the Court's order. (Amended (“Am.”) Pet., ECF No. 6.) He then amended the petition a second time in 2017. (Second Am. Pet., ECF No. 10.) This Court considers the second amended petition as the operative pleading. Respondent filed the state court record and answered. (Record (“R.”), ECF Nos. 14 & 15.) Smith then replied to Respondent's answer. (Reply, ECF No. 16.)

         As more fully discussed below, Petitioner raises many issues here that fall into three categories: 1) whether the state court identified and applied the correct federal legal principles, 2) whether the claim is barred by the procedural default doctrine, and 3) whether the claim presents a question of federal law. For the reasons discussed below, the petition is DISMISSED.


         In 2008, a Shelby County, Tennessee grand jury returned an indictment against John Smith and co-defendant James Snipes charging them with first-degree felony murder, premeditated murder, aggravated burglary, and employing a firearm during the commission of a felony. (R., Indictments, ECF No. 14-1 at PageID 287-94.) And the indictment charged a third co-defendant, Jesus Lujan, with facilitation of a felony and aggravated burglary. (Id. at PageID 290-91.)

         Smith's defense counsel moved to suppress Petitioner Smith's confessions. (Motion (“Mot.”) to Suppress, ECF No. 14-1 at PageID 324-25.) After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. (Order, ECF No. 14-1 at PageID 326-33.) The case went to trial and the jury convicted John Smith of first-degree felony murder, aggravated burglary, and employing a firearm during the commission of a felony. (R., Minutes (“Mins.”), ECF No. 14-1 at Page ID 338.)

         The trial court sentenced Smith to life imprisonment plus six years. (R., Judgments (“J.”), ECF No. 14-1 at PageID 367-71.) Smith appealed. (R., Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 14-1 at PageID 398-99.) The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed Smith's conviction and sentence. State v. Smith, No. W2011-01438-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 4372547 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 25, 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Feb. 13, 2013). The Tennessee Supreme Court declined to accept the case on further appeal. (Id.)

         Next Smith petitioned pro se for relief in Shelby County Criminal Court under the Tennessee Post-Conviction Procedure Act, Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 40-30-101 to 40-30-122. (R., Pet. for Post-Conviction Relief, ECF No. 14-19 at PageID 1466-80.) Smith then amended that petition. (Supplemental R., Am. Pet., ECF No. 14-22 at PageID 1569-77.) A bit later, his appointed counsel filed an addendum to the amended petition. (R., Addendum, ECF No. 14-19 at PageID 1482-93.) The post-conviction court conducted an evidentiary hearing and denied relief in January 2015. (R., Order, ECF No. 14-19 at PageID 1494-1503.) Smith appealed that ruling. (R., Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 14-19 at PageID 1504.) The TCCA affirmed. Smith v. State, No. W2015-006333-CCA-R3-PC, 2016 WL 3345247 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 27, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 17, 2016).

         For factual and procedural background from the state court, this Court will recite the summary from the TCCA's opinion from the direct appeal.

         I. Facts

The defendant was indicted on charges of first degree felony murder, first degree premeditated murder, aggravated burglary, and employing a firearm during the commission of a felony due to his and a co-defendant's, James Snipes, involvement in the shooting death of the victim, Charles Beegle, Jr.

         A. Motion to Suppress

The defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements to the police, and a hearing was held on the motion prior to trial. At the hearing, Sergeant Joe Stark of the Memphis Police Department testified that his first encounter with the defendant occurred on August 3, 2008. On that date, Sergeant Stark went to pick up the defendant from the jail at 8:55 a.m. Upon arriving at the homicide office, the defendant was allowed to use the restroom and given a snack and something to drink. At 10:03 a.m., Sergeant Stark advised the defendant of his rights, at which time the defendant informed him that he had an attorney. Based on the defendant's invocation of his rights, Sergeant Stark left the interview room. The defendant remained in the interview room, secured to a bench.
A few minutes later, the defendant started yelling that he wanted to talk to someone, so Sergeant Stark and Sergeant Davidson returned to the interview room. Sergeant Stark advised the defendant of his rights again, and the defendant said, “I am going to talk to you, but I want a cigarette, I want to talk to my dad and I want to talk to my lawyer.” When Sergeant Stark asked the defendant for his attorney's name, the defendant responded, “Jeff Rosenblum.” The defendant then began to question the officers about the case and the charges against him. Sergeant Stark informed the defendant that he was going to be charged with first degree murder and that they were going to take him back to the jail. At that point, the officers left the interview room again, and Sergeant Stark asked Sergeant Max to prepare the defendant to be transported back to the jail. According to Sergeant Stark, the defendant refused to waive his Miranda rights the second time at 10:17 a.m.
Shortly after Sergeant Max went into the interview room, he came out and informed the other officers that the defendant wanted to talk to them. Sergeants Stark and Davidson returned to the interview room and advised the defendant of his rights a third time, at 10:44 a.m. This time, the defendant waived his rights and the officers interviewed him and then took a typed statement from him, which the defendant signed at 3:37 p.m. In his statement, the defendant denied being responsible for the victim's death and said that James Snipes was the person responsible. Sergeant Stark recalled that the defendant appeared to be sober and not under the influence of any substance, and he was not threatened or coerced into giving a statement.
After Snipes, a co-defendant, was interviewed, Sergeant Stark returned to the defendant and confronted him with contradictions in their stories. Thereafter, the defendant gave another typed statement, which he signed at 5:10 p.m. Specifically, the defendant had not told the officers in his first statement about being in possession of a .38 revolver and shooting the victim or about Jesus Lujan being present at the time of the killing.
Sergeant James Terry Max of the Memphis Police Department testified that he was asked to prepare the defendant to be transported back to the jail. When he entered the interview room, the defendant asked what was going on, and Sergeant Max responded that he was going to take the defendant back to the jail. The defendant queried again as to what was going on, and Sergeant Max said to him, “I can't discuss with you what's going on, you don't want to waive your rights, I can't talk about this case.” According to Sergeant Max, the defendant then stated that he wanted a cigarette and wanted to talk. Sergeant Max left the room and informed Sergeant Hanks, the case coordinator, that the defendant wanted to talk. Sergeant Max had no further interaction with the defendant.
The defendant testified that he was taken to the homicide department around 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. on August 2, 2008. He said that he told the officers that he was intoxicated on “[h]eroin, powder and some pills.” Due to his condition, the defendant was taken to the jail. He claimed that he was “dope sick” that evening and was not provided with medical attention. He eventually fell asleep around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. on August 3 and was awoken at 7:38 a.m. The defendant recalled that Sergeants Stark and Davidson picked him up and took him to the homicide office around 10:00 a.m.
The defendant denied that the officers ever offered him anything to eat or drink. However, he said that the officers allowed him to use the restroom after he told them that his stomach was hurting from having used heroin. He said that he could tell he was suffering from heroin withdrawals but admitted that he did not explain that to the officers.
The defendant corroborated Sergeant Stark's testimony that Sergeant Stark left the room after the defendant refused to waive his Miranda rights and requested an attorney. However, the defendant denied that he thereafter screamed and yelled for Sergeant Stark to return, claiming instead that the officers came back in after ten or fifteen minutes without his beckoning. He recalled that, when the officers returned, they asked him if he wanted to make a statement. Similarly to Sergeant Stark, the defendant stated that he refused to waive his rights and requested a cigarette, to speak with his father, and to speak with his attorney, Jeff Rosenblum. Upon the defendant's refusal, the officers left the room again.
The defendant recalled that, ten or fifteen minutes later, Sergeant Max entered the room and told him that it was all right if he did not want to make a statement because Snipes, his co-defendant, had given them information. He claimed that Sergeant Max also told him that he was going to get the death penalty because there was someone who was going to testify against him. He said that Sergeant Max told him, however, that he would receive a sentence of thirteen to fifteen years if he gave a statement. Based on what Sergeant Max told him and his fear of receiving the death penalty, the defendant decided to make a statement.
On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that neither Snipes nor anyone else saw him take heroin or powder cocaine on the day of the offenses. However, he said that Snipes saw him take Ecstasy, Xanax, Seroquel, and marijuana. He acknowledged that nowhere in his statement did he say that he was giving the statement in order to not face the death penalty and instead receive a sentence of thirteen to fifteen years.
The trial court denied the defendant's motion to suppress, finding that his statements were not given in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.

         II. Trial

         A. State's Proof

Charles Eddie Beegle, III, the victim's son, was living with his father at 4370 Zelda Lane in Memphis at the time of his father's death. On August 1, 2008, Beegle left the house around 7:00 p.m. to spend the night with a friend. Around 9:00 a.m. the next morning, a friend of his father's called to tell him that he needed to come home. When he arrived at the house around 10:00 a.m., the police were there and the house was surrounded with crime scene tape. Shortly after he arrived, he learned that his father had been shot and was dead.
After the police left the scene, Beegle inspected the inside of the house and noticed that it was in a much different condition than it had been when he left the previous night. In the living room, the couch cushions had been turned up and items had been knocked onto the floor. In the victim's bedroom, clothes had been pulled out of the closet and the dresser drawers were open, appearing as though they had been rummaged through. He also noticed that the metal tins in which his father kept his marijuana were not in their normal locations and had been opened. Money was missing from the victim's dresser, and one of his wallets was on the floor. Further examination of the house revealed that the sliding glass door in the back of the house appeared to have scratches and pry marks as though someone had tampered with it, and the BB gun that the victim kept next to the back door was missing. The victim's cell phone was also missing.
Darrell Sebring, a neighbor and friend of the victim's, was visiting the victim the evening of July 31, 2008, around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., when three people in a blue Ford Sport Track stopped by the victim's house, and one of the young men in it was identified to Sebring by the victim as James Snipes. Snipes asked the victim, “Do you have some?” Sebring acknowledged that the victim was known to sell drugs and that the victim told him that Snipes had taken drugs from him before.
Randy Broome, a neighbor of the victim, was outside the morning of August 2, 2008, around 9:00 a.m., when he heard gunshots coming from the direction of the victim's house followed by a man yelling for help. Bonnie Hazel, another neighbor of the victim, heard what appeared to be gunshots coming from the direction of the victim's house between 9:00 and 9:30 that same morning and heard someone crying for help. Shortly after hearing the gunshots, Hazel saw a white male outside the victim's house. Hazel also noticed a dark blue or black truck parked in front of the victim's house and then saw the truck leave. Because the truck's windows were tinted, Hazel could not see who was inside. She then saw another white male, wearing baggy pants and no shirt and carrying what appeared to be a rifle behind his back, walk down the victim's driveway. She next saw the truck return and pick up the young man. At that point, Hazel, her brother, and another neighbor went to the victim's home to check on him. When they arrived, they saw the victim lying facedown on the carport with a pool of blood under his head and not breathing.
Sergeant Roger Wheeler, a crime scene officer with the Memphis Police Department, processed the scene at the victim's house, which included taking photographs and collecting evidence. Among the items of evidence collected at the scene were three .25 caliber automatic shell casings and a cigarette butt.
Dr. Miguel Laboy, a forensic pathologist with the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office, conducted the autopsy on the victim and determined that he suffered three gunshot wounds, one to the upper portion of the head, one to the left shoulder, and one to the front left side of the chest. With regard to the head wound, determined to be the lethal injury, Dr. Laboy hypothesized that the slightly downward wound track was consistent with the gun being above the victim's head. Two bullets and one bullet fragment were recovered during the autopsy. It was determined that the victim died from multiple gunshot wounds.
Officer Richard Morrow with the Memphis Police Department was on patrol around 1:00 p.m. on August 2, 2008, when he saw a dark blue Ford Explorer truck matching the description of the one seen at the scene of a homicide earlier that day. As soon as he saw the truck, it made a quick right turn and started accelerating. Officers pursued the vehicle, trying to get it to stop, but it would not comply. During the pursuit, Officer Morrow saw the defendant slide open the back window of the truck and point a black automatic handgun out the window in his direction. When the truck ran a red light, another car came through the intersection and hit it, bringing the pursuit to an end. The driver of the truck, James Snipes, fled the scene, but the defendant remained in the vehicle and was taken into custody.
Officer Stacy Milligan, a crime scene officer with the Memphis Police Department, was dispatched to the scene of the crash where he assisted in processing the crashed Ford Explorer truck. Among the contents found in the truck were $475 of cash under the driver's side visor and marijuana on the console. Two weapons were collected from the vehicle-a loaded .380 nine-millimeter handgun found on the front driver's side of the vehicle and a loaded .25 caliber handgun found on the floorboard of the back of the vehicle on the passenger's side.
Lieutenant Barry Hanks of the Memphis Police Department transported buccal swabs taken from James Snipes and a .38 special Colt revolver recovered from a location revealed by Jesus Lujan to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) Crime Laboratory for testing. Lieutenant Hanks also transported three .25 caliber shell casings and a cigarette butt found at the crime scene, a three bullet pack retrieved from the medical examiner's office, and the .25 caliber and .380 nine-millimeter handguns recovered from the wrecked truck. Lieutenant Hanks also noted that the victim's cell phone was located in the bed of the wrecked truck.
Qadriyyah Debnam, a forensic scientist with the TBI Crime Lab at the time of the offenses, tested the cigarette butt submitted by Lieutenant Hanks and determined that the DNA on it was a match to James Snipes. Donald Carman, another forensic scientist with the TBI Crime Lab, tested the weapons, the three .25 caliber shell casings, and the bullets and bullet fragment retrieved from the medical examiner's office that were submitted by Lieutenant Hanks. All of the bullets and shell casings were fired from the submitted weapons. The bullet fragment was consistent with being fired from the submitted .25 caliber weapon.
On August 3, 2008, around 10:30 a.m., Sergeant Max was asked by Sergeant Stark to get the defendant ready for transport back to the jail from the interview room due to the defendant's refusal on two occasions to waive his Miranda rights. The defendant inquired as to what was going on, and Sergeant Max informed him that he could not talk about the case. The defendant told Sergeant Max that he wanted a cigarette and then would talk to the officers, which Sergeant Max relayed to Sergeant Stark, the interviewing officer. Sergeant Max denied telling the defendant he would get the death penalty if he did not talk to the officers or that he would get thirteen to fifteen years if he did talk to them.
Lieutenant Walter Davidson with the Memphis Police Department was involved in arresting the defendant after the wreck and placed him on a forty-eight-hour hold due to his intoxication. The next day, having no appearance of intoxication and able to communicate clearly, the defendant was brought to the homicide bureau for questioning. After twice refusing to waive his Miranda rights, the defendant was being prepared for return to the jail when he decided to talk to the officers. Upon being read his rights a third time, the defendant waived them and ultimately gave two typewritten statements.
In his first statement, the defendant denied any responsibility for the victim's death but, instead, blamed the murder on his co-defendant, James Snipes. Specifically, the defendant said that he and Snipes were driving around smoking marijuana when Snipes started talking about “making money.” Snipes then stopped at the victim's house and said, “[L]et's go in.” According to the defendant, before Snipes made it in the house, the victim spotted him and started chasing him. The defendant said that Snipes and the victim “scuffled” and then he heard gunshots. He recalled that Snipes told him that he shot the victim because the victim grabbed him and would not let him go. According to the defendant, Snipes was armed with a .25 caliber automatic, but he was not armed. When questioned about the subsequent police chase, the defendant admitted that he was in the backseat of the truck and armed with a .25 caliber automatic but claimed that it and the .380 belonged to Snipes.
After taking the defendant's first statement, officers learned that Jesus Lujan was in the truck with Snipes and the defendant at the time of the murder and that the defendant had been armed with a .38 revolver. The officers confronted the defendant with the inconsistencies from that in his first statement. In his second statement, the defendant admitted that his initial statement was not completely accurate. He confirmed that Lujan was in the truck with him and Snipes when they went to the victim's home and that he was armed with a .38 special revolver provided to him by Lujan. The defendant also admitted that he entered the victim's house with Snipes. According to the defendant, after they entered the house, “ ‘the victim s[aw] [Snipes] [and] chased him outside. They started [to] wrestle and [Snipes] shot him to get him off and while the victim was on the ground, I shot him in the face.' ” He gave the .38 special revolver back to Lujan after the shooting.

         B. Defendant's Proof

The defendant testified that the night before the shooting, he and Snipes were partying at another friend's house. He had been “smoking weed, taking expills, snorting heroin, snorting powder and popping Xanax pills.” Around 8:00 a.m. the next morning, the defendant, Snipes, and Jesus Lujan left in a blue Ford Sport Track with Snipes driving to go buy more marijuana. Snipes drove them to the victim's house, although the defendant did not know who lived in the house or who the victim was; he just thought they were going to buy marijuana.
Snipes parked the truck, and the defendant and Snipes got out and walked toward the house. Snipes was armed with a .25 caliber automatic. The defendant lagged behind, and his vision of Snipes was blocked by a fence. When he walked around the fence, he saw that Snipes was not at the victim's front door, so he walked toward the back of the house. He was about to knock on the sliding glass door when Snipes came running down the hallway yelling for him to run. The defendant grabbed a BB gun that was sitting next to the sliding glass door and ran toward the truck. When he was about five or ten feet from the truck, he “heard a couple of gunshots and . . . heard a guy scream and . . . heard James Snipes yell for [his] help.” He ran back to help his friend and saw Snipes and the victim “tussling on the ground in front of the van.” Snipes was standing up and the victim was on his knees with one arm wrapped around Snipes's legs and holding a pistol in his other hand. The two were fighting over the gun, but the defendant did not know at that time to whom the gun belonged. He saw blood on Snipes's stomach and shorts, so he screamed. The victim looked at him, and, thinking the victim had shot Snipes, he shot the victim one time.
The defendant and Snipes ran to the truck and drove Lujan back to their other friend's house. He did not call the police because he was scared and intoxicated. He also felt bad for shooting the victim after he learned that Snipes was not hurt. They continued to drive around “getting high” and then drove back by the scene at the victim's house. Two police cars were in the area and, when Snipes saw them, he made a sharp right turn and sped away. The police gave chase, but the pursuit ended when their vehicle was hit by another car at a traffic signal. Snipes got out of the truck and ran, but the defendant remained because he was intoxicated and felt that he had not done anything wrong. The defendant denied using a weapon at any time during the pursuit.
The defendant was arrested at the scene and taken to the police station. Because he was too intoxicated to give a statement that night, he was put on a hold and taken to a cell. The next morning, he was taken to the homicide office and eventually gave two statements, neither of which was entirely accurate, due to Sergeant Max's telling him that he would get the death penalty. Prior to giving the statements, he had twice requested an attorney. On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that “[t]here's a chance” he yelled for the officers to return to the interview room after they left the first time.
After the conclusion of the proof, the jury convicted the defendant of first degree felony murder, the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder, aggravated burglary, and employing a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Smith, 2012 WL 4372547, at *1-*7.

         As for the hearing on Petitioner's post-conviction, again this Court will reference the TCCA opinion on that appeal to summarize the evidence presented at the post-conviction hearing and the decision of the post-conviction trial court.

Trial counsel, an Assistant Shelby County Public Defender for seven years, testified that he was assigned the petitioner's case in 2007. Counsel had previously tried two first degree murder cases and assisted in the prosecution of at least three others. Counsel recalled meeting with the petitioner and his family on several occasions to discuss potential witnesses and possible defenses. Through discovery, he received a statement from the petitioner's co-defendant Jesus Lujan, which reflected that Lujan was in the car when they arrived at the victim's house, but he remained in the car “with the radio blaring loudly” during the altercation between the victim and the petitioner. Because Lujan's statement reflected that he remained in the car during the incident, counsel decided not to send investigators to get an additional statement from Lujan or to call him as a witness at trial. When pressed on this point, counsel admitted that his primary defense at trial was voluntary intoxication and that he knew Lujan could testify to the petitioner's level of intoxication because Lujan had been with the petitioner during the hours preceding the altercation with the victim. Counsel believed that he had sufficient evidence of the petitioner's intoxication based on the petitioner's testimony of his extensive drug use prior to the altercation and the testimony elicited on cross-examination from the arresting officer that, at the time of the arrest, the petitioner was too intoxicated to give a statement.
Trial counsel was also aware that three women were in the vehicle with the petitioner when he was arrested and had received their statements in discovery. Counsel made “a strategic choice” not to get follow-up statements or to call the women as witnesses at trial. Counsel met with the petitioner's sister, Madison Molina, on multiple occasions prior to trial, but did not recall whether she encouraged him to call Lujan as a witness. Counsel additionally made “a strategic choice” not to give a more detailed opening statement. He testified that he considered giving a more detailed opening statement, but determined that it was in the client's best interest to hear the State's proof first.
Madison Molina, the petitioner's sister, testified that she saw the petitioner in the late afternoon of the day prior to the shooting. When she saw the petitioner, “He was out of his mind. He was so intoxicated.” After the petitioner's arrest, Molina visited Lujan in jail and learned that the petitioner had continued to take drugs through the night and into the following morning prior to the shooting. Lujan also told her that the petitioner never planned to rob anyone and that they just went to the victim's house to buy more marijuana. Molina relayed this information to trial counsel and told him that both she and Lujan would be willing to testify at trial. However, trial counsel told her that, “he just couldn't use [Lujan] in the case.”
At the conclusion of the hearing, the post-conviction court took the matter under advisement and subsequently issued a written order denying relief on January 15, 2015. In the order, the court found that the petitioner failed to establish that trial counsel was deficient for failing to call Lujan as a witness at trial because the petitioner failed to present testimony from Lujan at the post-conviction hearing as required by Black v. State, 794 S.W.2d 752, 757 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1990). The post-conviction court also determined that trial counsel made a strategic decision not to call the petitioner's sister and that it was in the petitioner's best interest. Regarding the three witnesses that were with the petitioner when he was arrested, the post-conviction court determined that trial counsel was not deficient for failing to interview them because he already had a copy of their statements to police and their testimony was not relevant to trial counsel's theory of the case. Finally, the post-conviction court determined that trial counsel gave an adequate opening statement that fell “well within the accepted standards for those practicing within the profession.”

Smith, 2016 WL 3345247, at *3-*4.

         Now the Court will turn to the federal issues and start with the legal standards that apply here.


         Federal courts have authority to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). A federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner “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).

         I. Exhaustion and Procedural Default

         A federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a state prisoner unless, with certain exceptions, the prisoner has exhausted available state remedies by presenting to the state courts the same claim the prisoner brings in a federal habeas court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)- (c); see also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). Indeed, the petitioner must “fairly present”[2] each claim to all levels of state court review, up to the state's highest court on discretionary review, Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004), unless the state has explicitly disavowed state supreme court review as an available state remedy, O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 847-48 (1999). Following this directive, Tennessee eliminated the need to seek review in the Tennessee Supreme Court to meet the requirements of exhausting all available state remedies. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 39; see also, Adams v. Holland, 330 F.3d 398, 402 (6th Cir. 2003); Smith v. Morgan, 371 Fed.Appx. 575, 579 (6th Cir. 2010).

         The procedural default doctrine is ancillary to the exhaustion requirement. See Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 452-53 (2000) (noting the interplay between the exhaustion rule and the procedural default doctrine). If the state court decides a claim on an independent and adequate state ground, like a procedural rule prohibiting the state court from deciding the merits of the constitutional claim, the procedural default doctrine ordinarily bars a petitioner from seeking federal habeas review of that claim. Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 81-82 (1977); see Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. 307, 315 (2011) (“A federal habeas court will not review a claim rejected by a state court if the decision of the state court rests on a state law ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).[3] In general, a federal court “may only treat a state court order as enforcing the procedural default rule when it unambiguously relied on that rule.” Peoples v. Lafler, 734 F.3d 503, 512 (6th Cir. 2013).

         If a petitioner is barred from asserting a claim under the procedural default doctrine, the petitioner must show cause to excuse his failure to present the claim and actual prejudice stemming from the constitutional violation or that a failure to review the claim would lead to a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 320-21 (1995); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991). The latter showing requires a petitioner to establish that a constitutional error has probably caused the conviction of a person who is innocent of the crime. Schlup, 513 U.S. at 321; see also House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 536-539 (2006) (restating the ways to overcome procedural default and further explaining the actual innocence exception).

         II. Merits Review

         Under Section 2254(d), where a state court addressed a claim on the merits, a federal court should grant a habeas petition only if the state court resolution of the 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)(1)-(2). Petitioner carries the burden of proof on this “difficult to meet” and “highly deferential [AEDPA] standard, ” which “demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Cullen, 563 U.S. at 181 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011), and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)).

         Review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. Cullen, 563 U.S. at 182. A state court's decision is “contrary” to federal law when it “arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached” by the Supreme Court on a question of law or “decides a case differently than” the Supreme Court has “on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). A state court makes an “unreasonable application” of federal law when it “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. at 412-13. The state court's application of clearly established federal law must be more than just mistaken-it must be “objectively unreasonable” for the writ to issue. Id. at 409. The federal court may not issue a writ just because the habeas court, “in its independent judgment, ” determines that the “state court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 411).

         There is minimal case law addressing whether, under § 2254(d)(2), a state court based its decision on “an unreasonable determination of the facts.” In Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010), the Supreme Court noted that a state-court's factual determination is not “unreasonable” just because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion.[4] In Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333 (2006), the Court explained that “[r]easonable minds reviewing the record might disagree” about the factual finding in question, “but on habeas review that does not suffice to supersede the trial court's . . . determination.” Rice, 546 U.S. at 341-42.

         The Sixth Circuit described the § 2254(d)(2) standard as “demanding but not insatiable” and even emphasized that, under § 2254(e)(1), the federal court presumes that the state court's factual determination is correct absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Ayers v. Hudson, 623 F.3d 301, 308 (6th Cir. 2010). In the end, a federal court will not overturn a state court adjudication on factual grounds unless it is objectively unreasonable given the evidence presented during the state court proceeding. Id.; see also Hudson v. Lafler, 421 Fed.Appx. 619, 624 (6th Cir. 2011).

         III. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         In Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme Court established the standard by which courts analyze a claim that ineffective assistance of counsel has deprived a defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. See 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To succeed on this claim, a petitioner must prove two elements: 1) that counsel's performance was deficient, and 2) “that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Id. “The benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.” Id. at 686.

         To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction “must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.” Id. at 688. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a “strong presumption” that counsel's representation was within the “wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” Id. at 689. The challenger's burden is to show “that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 687.

         To show prejudice, a petitioner must establish “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694.[5] “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. Id. at 694. It is not enough ‘to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.' [Strickland, ] at 693. Counsel's errors must be ‘so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.' Id., at 687.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 104 (citing Strickland); see also Wong v. Belmontes, 558 U.S. 15, 27 (2009) (per curiam) (“But Strickland does not require the State to ‘rule out'” a more favorable outcome to prevail. “Rather, Strickland places the burden on the defendant, not the State, to show a ‘reasonable probability' that the result would have been different.”).

         Even more, federal courts reviewing an ineffective assistance claim accord a state-court decision higher deference under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The Supreme Court made this point emphatically.

Establishing that a state court's application of Strickland was unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult. The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both “highly deferential, ” id., at 689; Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n.7 (1997), and when the two apply in tandem, review is “doubly” so, Knowles [v. Mirzayance], 556 U.S., at 123, 129 S.Ct. at 1420 [(2009)]. The Strickland standard is a general one, so the range of reasonable applications is substantial. 556 U.S., at 123, 129 S.Ct. at 1420. Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness under Strickland with unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d) applies, ...

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