United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana
JAMES STUBBLEFIELD LA. DOC #88977
WARDEN LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
C. MICHAEL HILL, Magistrate Judge.
Before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on May 14, 2014 by pro se petitioner James Stubblefield. Petitioner is an inmate in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Corrections incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. Petitioner attacks his 2011 conviction for aggravated rape entered by the Twenty-Seventh Judicial District Court for St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, for which petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment.
This matter has been referred to the undersigned in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of the court. For the following reasons, it is recommended that this habeas corpus petition be DENIED AND DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
In 2009, a St. Landry Parish grand jury charged petitioner with the August 18, 1994 aggravated rape of J.S., who at that time was a juvenile. The rape occurred while the victim and her brother, also a juvenile at the time, were left alone in an Opelousas hotel room where they were living, while their mother was at work. The perpetrator was permitted by the children to enter the hotel room after telling the children that their mother had sent him to see if they needed anything from the store. The perpetrator then took J.S. into the bathroom and raped her.
Petitioner was found guilty of the aggravated rape of J.S. on March 3, 2011, following a trial by jury. On April 21, 2011, petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment.
On December 7, 2011, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence. Petitioner raised the following grounds on direct appeal: (1) Petitioner's rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated when the trial court admitted State's Exhibit 8 into evidence (a drawing showing where cuttings were taken from the victim's pants presented during the testimony of George Schiro); and (2) insufficiency of the evidence. [Doc. 1-3, pg. 2-21 (Appellant's Brief on Appeal); Doc. 1-3, pg. 57-72 through 1-4, pg. 1-3, State of Louisiana v. James Stubblefield, XXXX-XXXXX, 2011 WL 6077822, 81 So.3d 1013 (La.App. 3rd Cir. 2011)]. The Third Circuit did not reach the merits of petitioner's Confrontation Clause claim under La. C. Crim. P. art. 841(A) and La. C. Ev. art. 103 because counsel did not make a contemporaneous objection at trial based on the Confrontation Clause, but rather objected for failure to lay a proper foundation for introduction of the exhibit, and a new basis for an objection may not be urged for the first time on appeal. Stubblefield, 2011 WL 6077822 at *9-10.
On December 27, 2011, petitioner filed a writ application in the Louisiana Supreme Court; on April 20, 2012, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs without comment. [Doc. 1-4, pg. 5-23 and pg. 25, State of Louisiana v. James Stubblefield, 2012-KO-0019, 85 So.3d 1267 (La. 2012)].
On February 11, 2013, petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief in the Twenty-Seventh Judicial District Court, which was denied by the trial court on April 26, 2013. [Doc. 1-4, pg. 27-49, and pg. 51-52]. Petitioner asserted (1) that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because counsel (a) failed to investigate the allegations against petitioner and (b) failed to take a writ based on Confrontation Clause grounds when the court ruled in favor of allowing the testimony of George Schiro regarding a forensic lab report (a drawing showing where cuttings were taken from the victim's pants), and (2) that petitioner was prejudiced by the testimony of Sergeant Kenneth Edwards, a "compromised" police officer. [ Id. ].
On May 30, 2013, petitioner applied for writs in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Third Circuit denied writs on August 15, 2013, finding "no error in the trial court's April 26, 2013 ruling", and Judgment was mailed that same date. [Doc. 6, pg. 1, State of Louisiana v. James Stubblefield, KH 13-0621 (La.App. 3rd Cir. 2013)].
Petitioner filed an original writ application in the Louisiana Supreme Court which was signed by petitioner on September 12, 2013 and post-marked by the Louisiana State Penitentiary on September 13, 2013. That writ application, however, did not address any of the claims made be petitioner in the lower courts during post-conviction proceedings. Rather, the writ application improperly presented the claims made by petitioner on direct appeal.
By letter dated October 1, 2013, inmate counsel wrote to the Clerk of the Louisiana Supreme Court advising the Clerk that, in his original writ application, petitioner had "inadvertently addressed the issues which were raised during the course of his direct review...." Accordingly, petitioner enclosed for filing a supplemental writ application, in which he addressed his post-conviction claims.
Because petitioner had only provided this court with a copy of his supplemental writ application [Doc. 1-5, pg. 23-43], which was not timely filed within 30 days after the August 15, 2013 mailing of the Third Circuit's Notice of Judgment, the undersigned issued a Report and Recommendation finding this federal habeas corpus petition timebarred by the one-year limitation provision set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). [rec. doc. 7].
However, after receiving the entire record from the Louisiana Supreme Court and discovering of the original timely filed writ application which did not address petitioner's post-conviction claims, the undersigned vacated that Report and Recommendation, reserving the State's right to raise any timeliness, exhaustion and procedural default issues by response herein.
On April 25, 2014, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs without comment. State of Louisiana ex rel. James Stubblefield v. State of Louisiana, 2013-2224, 138 So.3d 637 (La. 2014). [Doc. 1-5, pg. 45].
Petitioner filed the instant petition on May 14, 2014. He asserts the following claims for relief: (1) Petitioner's rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated when the trial court admitted State's Exhibit 8 into evidence (a drawing showing where cuttings were taken from the victim's pants presented during the testimony of George Schiro); (2) insufficiency of the evidence; (3) ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel (a) failed to investigate the allegations against petitioner and (b) failed to take a writ based on Confrontation Clause grounds when the court ruled in favor of allowing State Exhibit 8, a drawing showing where cuttings were taken from the victim's pants, into evidence during the testimony of DNA analysis expert George Schiro; and (4) that petitioner was prejudiced by the testimony of Sergeant Kenneth Edwards, a "compromised" police officer. The State has filed an Answer and Memorandum in Opposition to federal habeas corpus relief [rec. doc. 23]. No Reply has been filed by petitioner. This Report and Recommendation follows.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
I. Procedural Default
The State contends that petitioner's first claim for relief, that petitioner's rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated when the trial court admitted State's Exhibit 8 into evidence, is traditionally procedurally defaulted. In light of the above procedural history, the Court agrees. On direct appeal, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal did not reach the merits of petitioner's Confrontation Clause claim. Instead, the Third Circuit expressly relied on the contemporaneous objection rules set forth in La.C.Cr.P. article 841 and La. C. Ev. art. 103 to deny merits review of this claim, because counsel did not make a contemporaneous objection at trial based on the Confrontation Clause, but rather objected for failure to lay a proper foundation for introduction of the exhibit, and a new basis for an objection may not be urged for the first time on appeal. Stubblefield, 2011 WL 6077822 at *9-10. The Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs without comment. State of Louisiana v. Joseph Thomas Savoie, 992 So.2d 1011 (La. 10/3/2008). Accordingly, the last reasoned decision on petitioner's claims, that of the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal, clearly and expressly relied on these state procedural rules as the basis for its Judgment.
The scope of federal habeas review is limited by the intertwined doctrines of procedural default and exhaustion. Procedural default exists where (1) a state court clearly and expressly bases its dismissal of a claim on a state procedural rule, and that procedural rule provides an independent and adequate ground for the dismissal, ("traditional" procedural default), or (2) the petitioner fails to properly exhaust all available state remedies, and the state court to which he would be required to petition would now find the claims procedurally barred, ("technical" procedural default). In either instance, the petitioner is deemed to have forfeited his federal habeas claim. Bledsue v. Johnson, 188 F.3d 250, 254-55 (5th Cir.1999) citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 735 n. 1, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1986) and O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999).
The "traditional" procedural default doctrine applies to bar federal habeas corpus review when a state court declines to address a prisoner's federal claims because the prisoner failed to follow a state procedural rule. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 2565, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991).
Federal courts typically refuse to reach the merits of questions of federal law if the state courts have expressly relied on an "adequate and independent" state procedural ground in refusing to review the claim. "An adequate' rule is one that state courts strictly or regularly follow, and one that is applied evenhandedly to the vast majority of similar claims." Glover v. Cain, 128 F.3d 900, 902 (5th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 523 U.S. 1125 (1998) citing Amos v. Scott, 61 F.3d 333, 339 (5th Cir. 1995). A state procedural rule enjoys a presumption of adequacy when the state court expressly relies on it in deciding not to review a claim for collateral relief. Id. citing Lott v. Hargett 80 F.3d 161, 165 (5th Cir.1996). A procedural rule is "independent" when the last state court rendering a judgment in the case "clearly and expressly" indicates that its judgment rests on the procedural ground. Amos, 61 F.3d at 338.
The procedural rules identified in this case satisfy both requirements. Petitioner herein makes no showing that Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 841 or Louisiana Code of Evidence article 103 are not evenhandedly applied. Thus, these state court procedural rules are presumed "adequate." Moreover, review of published Louisiana jurisprudence establishes that the Louisiana courts of appeal regularly invoke the contemporaneous objection rule set forth in article 841 to decline review of similar claims when no contemporaneous objection is lodged.
Furthermore, both the Fifth Circuit, this Court and other Louisiana district courts within the Fifth Circuit have held that it is well-settled that the Louisiana contemporaneous objection rules are independent and adequate state procedural grounds which preclude federal habeas corpus review of claims. Duncan v. Cain, 278 F.3d 537, 541 (5th Cir. 2002); Toney v. Cain, 24 F.3d 240, 1994 WL 243453, at *2 (5th Cir. 1994); Jones v. Warden, 2010 WL 817311, *10 (W.D. La. 2010) (finding La. C.Cr.P. art. 841 is an adequate and independent ground to preclude review of a Confrontation Clause/ Crawford Claim); Grace v. Warden Louisiana State Penitentiary, 2015 WL 2185207, *8 (W.D. La. 2015) (finding La. C.Cr.P. art. 841 is an adequate and independent ground to preclude review of a Confrontation Clause/ Crawford Claim); Landry v. Cain, 2013 WL 1103276, *5-7 (E.D. La. 2013) (and cases cited therein) (finding La.C.Cr.P. art. 841 and La.C.Ev. art. 103 are adequate and independent grounds to preclude review of a Confrontation Clause/ Crawford Claim).
Furthermore, the rules cited by the Third Circuit are "independent" because the last reasoned judgment on petitioner's claims, that of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on direct appeal, expressly relied solely on state procedural rules in declining to reach the merits of petitioner's claim. Since the Louisiana Supreme Court did not specify reasons for its denial of review, it must therefore be presumed that the Supreme Court, like the Third Circuit, did not reach the merits of the claims. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706 (1991).
Cause and Prejudice/Miscarriage of Justice
Because petitioner's Confrontation Clause claim (claim 1, herein) is traditionally procedurally defaulted, this court may refuse to review the merits of this claim unless petitioner demonstrates that he should be excused from application of the procedural default doctrine. This he can do by showing cause and prejudice for the default or that a miscarriage of justice will result from the denial of federal habeas review. See Finley, 243 F.3d 215, 220-221 (5th Cir. 2001); Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750, 111 S.Ct. at 2565; McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 493-495, 111 S.Ct. 1454, 113 L.Ed.2d 517 (1991); Moore v. Roberts, 83 F.3d 699, 704 (5th Cir. 1996); Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 116 S.Ct. 2074, 135 L.Ed.2d 457 (1996); Sones, 61 F.3d at 418; Murray, 477 U.S. at 496, 106 S.Ct. at 2649; Glover, 128 F.3d at 904; Ward v. Cain, 53 F.3d 106, 107-108 (5th Cir. 1995); Callins v. Johnson, 89 F.3d 210, 213 (5th Cir. 1996) quoting McClesky, 499 U.S. at 495, 114 S.Ct. at 1471.
The cause of petitioner's default on his first claim for relief was his counsel's failure to object on Confrontation Clause or Crawford grounds. This failure was clearly not an "impediment external to the defense." Thus, petitioner has not shown "cause" for his default. This Court therefore need not consider whether there is actual prejudice. Saahir v. Collins, 956 F.2d 115, 118 (5th Cir. 1992).
Likewise, petitioner has not shown that, as a factual matter, he is actually innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and, thus, he will not suffer a fundamental miscarriage of justice from this Court's failure to consider his claims. Accordingly, petitioner cannot avoid procedural default on grounds of actual innocence.
For these reasons, petitioner's first claim for relief, that petitioner's rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated when the trial court admitted State's Exhibit 8 into evidence, is procedurally defaulted. Federal habeas corpus relief on this claim is therefore precluded.
Petitioner's remaining claims are addressed on the merits below.
Standard of Review
This habeas petition was filed on April 15, 2014; therefore the standard of review is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended in 1996 by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Knox v. Johnson, 224 F.3d 470, 476 (5th Cir. 2000); Orman v. Cain, 228 F.3d 616, 619 (5th Cir. 2000). AEDPA substantially restricts the scope of federal review of state criminal court proceedings in the interests of federalism, comity, and finality of judgments. Montoya v. Johnson, 226 F.3d 399, 403-04 (5th Cir. 2000) citing Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 306, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989) and Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1516, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) (noting that AEDPA "placed a new restriction on the power of federal courts to grant writs of habeas corpus to state prisoners").
Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) as amended, states as follows:
(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the 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.
Under the deferential scheme of § 2254(d), as amended, this Court must give deference to a state court decision for "any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" unless the decision was either "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ", or the decision "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) and (2).
A habeas petitioner has the burden under AEDPA to prove that he is entitled to relief. Ormon, 228 F.3d at 619 citing Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1518, and Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 134-35, 102 S.Ct. 1558, 71 L.Ed.2d 783 (1982). Under § 2254(d), as amended, "[t]he federal courts no longer have a roving commission to discern and correct' error in state court proceedings, but must exercise a more limited review...." Grandison v. Corcoran, 78 F.Supp.2d 499, 502 (D. Md. 2000). Federal courts may not grant the writ merely on a finding of error by a state court or on a finding of mere disagreement with the state court. Montoya, 226 F.3d at 404; Orman, 228 F.3d at 619.
A decision is "contrary to" clearly established Federal law "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by... [the Supreme Court] on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than... [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Dowthitt v. Johnson, 230 F.3d 733, 740-41 (5th Cir. 2000) citing Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1523; Montoya, 226 F.3d at 403-04 citing Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1523. "The contrary to' requirement refers to holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of... [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.'" Dowthitt, 230 F.3d at 740 citing Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1523.
Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ only if the state court "identifies the correct governing legal principle from... [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Dowthitt, 230 F.3d at 741 citing Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1523. The standard is one of objective reasonableness. Montoya, 226 F.3d at 404 citing Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1521-22. A federal habeas court may not issue the writ "simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision ...