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James v. Perry

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

October 7, 2019

STANLEY A. JAMES, JR., Petitioner,
v.
GRADY PERRY, Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Clifton L. Corker United States District Judge.

         Petitioner 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.

         I. SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Henry James (“James”)[1] 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].

         Petitioner 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 98-99].

         On 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. 9-17].

         On 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.

         Thereafter, 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.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The 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).

         Federal 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. § 2254(e)(1).

         Petitioner's 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 ...


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