United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
S. MATTICE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Sterling Davis, a Tennessee inmate proceeding pro se, has
filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2254 challenging the legality of his confinement under Monroe
County Circuit Court judgments of conviction for possession
of 300 grams or more of cocaine with intent to sell,
possession of more than one-half ounce but less than 10
pounds of marijuana with intent to sell, and possession of
drug paraphernalia. 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.
RELEVANT BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Mason, a detective with the Monroe County Sheriff's
Department, obtained information from various sources
concerning illegal narcotics sales at the Madisonville
residence of Petitioner, and he conducted a trash pull at the
residence and found a marijuana stem and several discarded
baggies [Doc. 6-4 p. 12-13, 61; Doc. 6-7 p. 13-14].
Thereafter, Detective Mason arranged for a confidential
informant (“CI”) to enter the residence [Doc. 6-4
p. 61; Doc. 6-7 p. 14]. The CI observed marijuana in the
residence on two separate occasions [Id.]. Based on
this information, Detective Mason sought and secured a search
warrant for Petitioner's residence, which was executed on
September 5, 2010 [See, e.g, Doc. 6-7 p. 12].
trial, Detective Mason testified that Petitioner and another
individual were in the living room when he and other officers
arrived to execute the search warrant [Doc. 6-4 p. 14].
Detective Mason stated that officers first secured Petitioner
and his companion, cleared the residence, and then searched
the home in systematic fashion [Id. at 14-15]. Among
the items uncovered in the search were 305.8 grams of
cocaine, 428.3 grams of marijuana, $154, 844 in cash, plastic
baggies, a vacuum-pack “FoodSaver” machine, four
sets of scales, and a small spoon [Doc. 6-7 p. 26, 28-29].
Detective Mason explained that the presence of scales,
plastic baggies, and the FoodSaver machine indicated to him
that the drugs were being packaged for resale [Doc. 6-4 p.
23, 26, 31]. Most of the seized items were found in a back
bedroom in which there was a photograph of Petitioner on the
wall, a photograph of the car that Detective Mason had
regularly seen Petitioner driving, a box of checks in
Petitioner's name, and a Sentry safe containing a wallet
with two credit cards in Petitioner's name, along with
Petitioner's social security card, two of
Petitioner's expired driver's licenses, and various
other papers and photographs [Id. at 24-25, 27-28,
54-55]. Detective Mason testified that he found the car he
had seen Petitioner driving, a 1997 Nissan, outside on the
property and seized it in accordance with the drug forfeiture
process [Id. at 33]. There was also a locked storage
building on the property, which Detective Mason searched
after finding the key to the lock on Petitioner's key
ring [Id. at 57-58]. Detective Mason described the
forfeiture process and identified Petitioner's signed
petition for a hearing on the seizure of the property in
which Petitioner listed himself as the owner of the $154, 844
in cash [Id. at 52]. The petition was admitted as a
trial exhibit [Id.].
cross-examination, Detective Mason acknowledged that he was
the one who identified the residence as Petitioner's,
that the address on Petitioner's checks was different
from the address of the residence they searched, and that his
research revealed that another man was the owner of the
searched residence [Id. at 60-61, 77-78]. Detective
Mason stated that the room in which they found most of the
seized items was “pretty messy” with “quite
a bit of stuff” in it, including boxes and clothing
stacked against the wall [Id. at 68-69]. He conceded
that they did not attempt to take any fingerprints from any
of the surfaces or items in the home [Id. at 74-75].
Detective Mason testified that he was unaware that the
individual in the home with Petitioner at the time he
executed the search, Stephen Yates, was on probation at the
time [Id. at 78]. He was, however, aware of
Yates' general background [Id.]. Detective Mason
also stated that none of the identification in
Petitioner's name was dated later than 2006 [Id.
at 86-87]. At the request of Petitioner's counsel, he
identified Petitioner's current driver's license,
which was admitted as an exhibit and which listed
Petitioner's address as the same as that on
Petitioner's checks [Id. at 89-90]. Detective
Mason said he believed the address was that of
Petitioner's mother [Id. at 93].
other State witnesses offered additional testimony [Docs. 6-4
and 6-5]. Petitioner elected not to testify and rested his
case without presenting any additional proof [See,
e.g., Doc. 6-5 p. 22]. The jury convicted Petitioner of
possession of 300 grams or more of cocaine with intent to
sell, possession of more than one-half ounce but less than 10
pounds of marijuana with intent to sell, and possession of
drug paraphernalia [Doc. 6-1 p. 24-26]. He was sentenced to
an effective sentence of 40 years' imprisonment in the
Tennessee Department of Corrections [Id. at 27-29].
Petitioner appealed [Id. at 48]. On November 14,
2013, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
(“TCCA”) affirmed the judgments of the trial
court. State v. Davis, No. E2012-01398-CCA-R3-CD,
2013 WL 6047558 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 14, 2013), perm.
app. denied (Tenn. Mar. 13, 2014) (“Davis
I”). The Tennessee Supreme Court denied
discretionary review on March 13, 2014 [Doc. 6-14].
12, 2015, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction
relief in the trial court that was amended following the
appointment of counsel [Doc. 6-15 p. 3-23, 26-27]. Following
a hearing, the post-conviction court dismissed the petition
on June 6, 2017 [Doc. 6-15 p. 49]. The TCCA affirmed the
post-conviction court's judgment on August 13, 2018.
Davis v. State, No. E2017-01308-CCA-R3-PC, 2018 WL
3853566 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 13, 2018), perm. app.
denied (Tenn. Dec. 5, 2018) (“Davis
II”). The Tennessee Supreme Court denied
Petitioner's application for discretionary review on
December 5, 2018 [Doc. 6-26].
Petitioner filed his federal habeas petition on or about
December 19, 2018, raising the following claims, as
1. Whether the State withheld material, exculpatory evidence
in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83
2. Whether the State post-conviction court abused its
discretion by declining to rule on the merits of
Petitioner's search warrant claim.
3. Whether Petitioner received the ineffective assistance of
counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
4. Whether the State post-conviction court abused its
discretion by quashing the subpoena for Tasha Black.
Court ordered Respondent to respond to the petition, and
Respondent complied by filing an answer on March 6, 2019
[Doc. 7]. Petitioner filed a reply to the answer on or about
April 29, 2019 [Doc. 10]. This matter is now ripe for review.