United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
STANLEY A. JAMES, JR., Petitioner,
GRADY PERRY, Warden, Respondent.
Clifton L. Corker United States District Judge.
Stanley A. James, Jr., (“Petitioner”), an inmate
proceeding pro se, has filed a federal habeas petition
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the legality of
his confinement under a Tennessee judgment of conviction for
second-degree murder. Having considered the submissions of
the parties, the State-court record, and the law applicable
to Petitioner's claims, the Court finds that the petition
should be denied.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
James (“James”) was shot and killed on August 4,
2009 [See, e.g., Doc. 9-1 p. 52]. A witness to the
shooting, Nyron Roberts, testified that he and the victim had
recently been released from jail on drug charges [Doc. 9-2 p.
40, 42-43]. On the evening of the shooting, Roberts, James,
and another individual named Jonathan Jones were together
inside of a friend's apartment when Petitioner came to
the door [Id. at 47-52]. Roberts testified that
Petitioner and James spoke, and Petitioner accused James of
having snitched on someone in order to be released from
prison [Id. at 54-55]. Petitioner then shot James in
the chest [Id. at 54-55, 57, 63]. Jones also
testified at trial, and he stated that Petitioner had come to
the apartment looking for drugs and had accused James of
being a snitch right before James was shot [Doc. 9-3 p.
92-94]. Both Roberts and Jones denied that the victim had a
weapon on his person at the time of the shooting [Doc. 9-2 p.
55-56; Doc. 9-3 at 96-97].
testified in his own defense and admitted to going to the
apartment to buy drugs from James on the night in question
[Doc. 9-6 p. 91-92]. Petitioner stated that James came to the
door with a gun in his waistband, and that he handed James
$500 to purchase marijuana [Id. at 93-95].
Petitioner claimed that after James took the money, he
instructed Petitioner to return in an hour [Id. at
95]. An argument erupted [Id. at 95-98]. Petitioner
testified that he saw James “goin[g] for his gun,
” and that he took his own gun out of his pocket and
shot twice, striking James once in the chest [Id. at
January 27, 2011, a Knox County Criminal Court jury convicted
Petitioner of one count of second-degree murder, and he was
sentenced to 25 years in prison [Doc. 9-1 p. 61; see
also Doc. 9-8 p. 71]. His conviction and sentence were
affirmed on appeal. State v. James, No.
E2012-01912-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 4680205 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug.
29, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 11, 2013).
Petitioner's application for permission to appeal to the
Tennessee Supreme Court was denied on December 11, 2013 [Doc.
September 25, 2013, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for
post-conviction relief that was later amended when counsel
was appointed to assist him in those proceedings [Doc. 9-18
p. 4-16, 34-37]. Following an evidentiary hearing, the
post-conviction court denied relief [Id. at 45-47].
Petitioner appealed, and the Tennessee Court of Criminal
Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed on July 26, 2017.
James v. State, E2016-01909-CCA-R3-PC, 2017 WL
3174068 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 26, 2017). Petitioner did not
file an application for permission to appeal to the Tennessee
Supreme Court from that decision.
Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas
corpus on or about November 20, 2017, alleging the following
ground for relief:
I. Trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance where he
pursued the defense of “self-defense[, ]” which
was precluded by the facts of the offense.
[Doc. 2 p. 6; Doc. 3 p. 8-10]. The Court ordered Respondent
to answer or otherwise respond to the petition, and
Respondent complied by filing an answer on July 20, 2018
[Doc. 11]. This matter is now ripe for review.
Court's review of the instant petition is governed by the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”), which prevents the grant of federal
habeas relief on any claim adjudicated on the merits in a
State court unless that adjudication (1) resulted in a
decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established United States Supreme
Court precedent; or (2) resulted in a decision based on an
unreasonable determination of facts in light of the evidence
presented. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) &
(2); Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007).
habeas relief may be granted under the “contrary
to” clause where the State court (1) arrives at a
conclusion opposite that reached by the Supreme Court on a
question of law; or (2) decides a case differently than the
Supreme Court on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.
See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000).
Under the “unreasonable application” clause, a
federal court may grant relief where the State court applies
the correct legal principle to the facts in an unreasonable
manner. See id. at 407-08; Brown v. Payton,
544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005). Whether a decision is
“unreasonable” is an objective inquiry; it does
not turn on whether the decision is merely incorrect. See
Schriro, 550 U.S. at 473 (“The 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.”); Williams, 529 U.S. at 410- 11.
This standard will allow relief on a federal claim decided on
its merits in State court only where the petitioner
demonstrates that the State ruling “was so lacking in
justification that there was an error understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). When evaluating the
evidence presented in State court, a federal habeas court
presumes the correctness of the State-court's factual
findings unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption by
clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. §
sole claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is governed
by the standard set forth in Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), which requires a habeas
petitioner to satisfy a two-prong test to warrant federal
habeas corpus relief: (1) he must demonstrate
constitutionally deficient performance, and (2) he must
demonstrate actual prejudice as a result of such ineffective
assistance. Strickland, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).
Deficiency is established when a petitioner can demonstrate
that counsel's performance falls below an objective
standard of reasonableness as measured by professional norms,
such that counsel was not functioning as the
“counsel” guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
Id. at 687-88. A reviewing court's scrutiny is
to be highly deferential of counsel's performance, with
an effort to “eliminate the distorting ...