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Davis v. Perry

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

November 6, 2019

STERLING DAVIS, Petitioner,
v.
GRADY PERRY, Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HARRY S. MATTICE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner 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.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Conway 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].

         At 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.].

         On 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].

         Various 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].

         On May 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].

         Thereafter, Petitioner filed his federal habeas petition on or about December 19, 2018, raising the following claims, as paraphrased:

1. Whether the State withheld material, exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
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 (1984).
4. Whether the State post-conviction court abused its discretion by quashing the subpoena for Tasha Black.

         This 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.

         II. ...


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