United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
RONNIE HOWARD SR.
DARRELL VANNOY, WARDEN
STAY ORDER AND REASONS ON MOTION
C. WILKINSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
petitioner, Ronnie Howard Sr., filed this petition for
federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 related to
his 2014 Terrebonne Parish conviction for aggravated rape for
which he is serving a life sentence. Howard also filed a
motion to stay these proceedings while he exhausts review of
his claims in the state courts. In the motion, Howard contends
that he filed the Section 2254 petition as a protective
measure pending resolution of his post-conviction writ
application currently pending in the Louisiana Supreme Court
in No. 16-KH-1761 and to interrupt the statute of limitations
applicable to federal habeas relief.
petition asserts seven grounds for relief: (1) He received
ineffective assistance of trial counsel. (2) He received
ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. (3) The state
trial court erred in exempting the victim's mother from
the sequestration order. (4) The state trial court erred by
denying the defense motion for mistrial. (5) The evidence was
insufficient to support the verdict. (6) The state trial
court erred by denying the motion for new trial. (7) The
state trial court was without jurisdiction to commence trial
beyond the prescriptive period allowed under state law.
fundamental prerequisite to federal habeas relief under
§ 2254 is the exhaustion of all claims in state court
prior to requesting federal collateral relief.”
Whitehead v. Johnson, 157 F.3d 384, 387 (5th Cir.
1998) (citing Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 519-20
(1982)); accord Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475,
500 (1973); Nobles v. Johnson, 127 F.3d 409, 419
(5th Cir. 1997). “The exhaustion requirement is
satisfied when the substance of the federal habeas claim has
been fairly presented to the highest state
court.” Id. (citing Picard v. Connor,
404 U.S. 270, 275-78 (1971)) (emphasis added). As Howard
recognizes, he has not completed exhaustion of state court
review on all of his claims.
third claim addressing the sequestration order was addressed
on direct appeal and review was exhausted through the
Louisiana Supreme Court. Howard reasserted that claim along with
his other six claims on post-conviction review. His
post-conviction writ application is pending in Louisiana
Supreme Court. This case, which includes both exhausted
and unexhausted claims, is therefore a “mixed petition,
” subject to dismissal for that reason.
Whitehead, 157 F.3d at 387 (citing Nobles,
127 F.3d at 420); see also, Pliler v. Ford,
542 U.S. 225, 233 (2004) (citing Rose, 455 U.S. at
510). In Pliler, however, the Supreme Court also
addressed the availability of a stay-and-abeyance in
connection with “mixed petitions” for habeas
relief containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims.
Id., 542 U.S. at 227. The Court has held that it is
sometimes appropriate for a federal district court to stay
federal habeas corpus proceedings in order to allow a
petitioner to present his unexhausted claims to the state
courts. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277-78
(2005). The Court also expressly sanctions the filing of
protective federal habeas corpus petitions and accompanying
motions to stay to allow for complete exhaustion and protect
the petitioner's right to federal review. Pace v.
DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 416-17 (2005).
Rhines Court cautioned that a stay-and-abeyance
“should be available only in limited
circumstances, ” and is appropriate only when
the district court determines that there was “good
cause” for the failure to exhaust. Id. at 277
(emphasis added). Stays are improper when the unexhausted
claims are “plainly meritless” or when the
petitioner has engaged in “abusive litigation tactics
or intentional delay.” Id. Howard presents as
good cause for his failure to exhaust his desire to file a
federal petition to protect or interrupt the federal statute
of limitations. The record demonstrates that Howard is not
engaged in abusive litigation tactics or intentionally
delaying resolution of his federal claims. His claims broadly
construed are not so plainly meritless that a court should
forego the complete state review which he has diligently
pursued. In addition, the State has not filed an opposition
to Howard's motion to stay and will not be prejudiced by
a brief delay in the resolution of Howard's federal
claims. A stay is appropriate under these circumstances.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Howard's Motion to Stay
(Rec. Doc. No. 2) is GRANTED and the Clerk of Court is
directed to STAY AND CLOSE this case for all statistical and
FURTHER ORDERED that the Court retains jurisdiction in this
matter and the petitioner, Ronnie Howard Sr., must file a
motion to reopen these proceedings within sixty (60) days
after the Louisiana Supreme Court rules on Writ Application
Rec. Doc. No. 2.
Rec. Doc. No. 1.
State ex rel. Howard v. State,
191 So.3d 583 (La. 2016); St. Rec. Vol. 2 of 3, La. S.Ct.
Order, 2015-KH-0761, 4/8/16; 1st Cir. Opinion, 2014-KA-1048,
Contrary to the representation in the
State's response (Rec. Doc. No. 7), a member of my staff
confirmed on July 21, 2017, with the clerk's office of
the Louisiana Supreme Court that ...