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Parks v. Lebo

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

September 3, 2019

BRUCE PARKS, Petitioner,
v.
JONATHAN LEBO, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. RONNIE GREER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Now before the Court is a pro se prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [Doc. 2] and three supplements thereto [Docs. 5, 12, and 14]. Respondent filed a response in opposition thereto [Docs. 9 and 23], as well as copies of the state record [Doc. 8]. Petitioner filed a reply to Respondent's initial response [Doc. 10]. After reviewing the relevant filings, including the state court records, the Court finds that the record establishes that Petitioner is not entitled to relief under § 2254. Accordingly, no evidentiary hearing is warranted, see Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, Rule 8(a) and Schirro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007), Petitioner's requests for § 2254 relief will be DENIED, and this action will be DISMISSED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), codified in 28 U.S.C. § 2254, et. seq., a district court may not grant habeas corpus relief for a claim that a state court adjudicated on the merits unless the state court's adjudication 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).

         The § 2254(d) standard is a hard standard to satisfy. Montgomery v. Bobby, 654 F.3d 668, 676 (6th Cir. 2011) (noting that “§ 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is a purposefully demanding standard . . . ‘because it was meant to be'”) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011)).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On January 31, 2012, a Bradley County, Tennessee jury found Petitioner guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated burglary [Doc. 8-1 at 21-11]. These convictions arose from an incident on October 22, 2010, in which a masked intruder, whom the victim recognized as Petitioner based on his voice, entered the victim's apartment, moved her Sony Playstation, beat her, and digitally penetrated her twice. State v. Parks, No. E2012-02621-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 5314600, at *1-4 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 7, 2012). In his appeal, Petitioner raised claims that the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions, that the trial court erred in not granting a mistrial based upon a prosecutor's question regarding whether anyone provided an alibi for Petitioner, and that his sentence was excessive [Doc. 8-9]. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed the convictions. Id. at *10.

         Petitioner next filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, and counsel subsequently filed an amended petition which incorporated Petitioner's pro se petition [Doc. 8-5 at 3-20, 23- 26]. After an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief [Id. at 60-67].

         Petitioner appealed the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, requesting review of his claims that counsel was ineffective in (1) not spending more time with Petitioner prior to trial; (2) failing to request a mental health evaluation of Petitioner; (3) failing to interview the alibi witness; (4) failing to interview Petitioner's mother; (5) failing to make objections during the trial; (6) not rigorously cross-examining the victim; and (7) failing to inspect the physical evidence, all of which Petitioner alleged had prejudiced him [Doc. 8-12 at 19-31]. The TCCA affirmed the post-conviction court's denial of relief. Parks v. State, No. E2014-02359-CCA-R3-PC, 2015 WL 9013165 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 15, 2015), perm. app. denied May 5, 2016 (Tenn.).

         In his petition, the supplements thereto, and reply, Petitioner sets forth the following claims for relief under § 2254:

(1) Counsel was ineffective as to a number of issues;
(2) His sentence was improper;
(3) The trial court should have declared a mistrial based on an improper question from the prosecutor;
(4) The evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdicts; and
(5) The prosecutor made improper comments.

[Doc. 2; Doc. 5; Doc. 10; Doc. 12; Doc. 14]. In his responses [Docs. 9 and 23], Respondent asserts that Plaintiff procedurally defaulted a number of these claims and that the remainder lack merit.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Procedurally Defaulted Claims

         As set forth above, Petitioner sets forth a number of claims for relief under § 2254. Petitioner, however, did not raise all of these claims in his underlying state court appeals regarding his conviction and/or the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. Before a district court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, the prisoner must exhaust all of his available remedies in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). To fulfill the exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must have fairly presented his federal claims to all levels of the state appellate system, including the state's highest court. Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365- 66; Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 2009); Hafley v. Sowders, 902 F.2d 480, 483 (6th Cir. 1990). “[S]tate prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 845. A petitioner who fails to raise his federal claim in the state courts and cannot do so now due to a procedural rule has committed a procedural default that forecloses federal habeas review unless the petitioner shows cause to excuse his failure to comply with the procedural rule and actual prejudice from the constitutional violation. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991).

         As the record establishes that Petitioner did not raise a number of the claims for which he now seeks relief under § 2254 in his state court appeals and Petitioner has not shown cause to excuse his procedural default of those claims, the Court will only address the claims that Petitioner properly raised in all levels of the state appellate review process and raises in his § 2254 filings, [1]including as follows:

(1) The evidence was insufficient to support Petitioner's conviction;
(2) The trial court improperly sentenced Petitioner;
(3) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a mental evaluation of Petitioner;
(4) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to interview an alibi witness;
(5) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress the DNA evidence;
(6) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a mistrial and/or object to the prosecutor's questioning of a witness regarding whether anyone had provided the detective with an alibi for Petitioner;
(7) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to rigorously cross-examine the victim at trial; and
(8) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to inspect the physical evidence.

[Docs. 8-9 and 8-12]. All other claims will be DISMISSED as procedurally defaulted.

         B. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         The Court will first address the merits of Petitioner's claim that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. The United States Supreme Court's decision in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979), provides the controlling rule for such claims. See Gall v. Parker, 231 F.3d 265, 287-88 (6th Cir. 2000), superseded on other grounds Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37 (2012). In Jackson, the Supreme Court held that the evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. In making this determination, the ...


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