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Sadler v. Cain

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 26, 2018



         Please take notice that the attached Magistrate Judge's Report has been filed with the Clerk of the U.S. District Court.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), you have 14 days after being served with the attached report to file written objections to the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations set forth therein. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions and recommendations within 14 days after being served will bar you, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the District Court.




         Before the Court is the application of Petitioner Joshua Sadler for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons that follow, Petitioner's application should be denied. There is no need for oral argument or for an evidentiary hearing.

         I. Procedural History

         On December 23, 2008, Petitioner was charged by grand jury indictment in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, with one count of second-degree murder. After a trial by jury conducted in September 2010, the jury found Petitioner guilty of the charged offense. Upon the denial of post-trial motions, the trial judge sentenced Petitioner on October 21, 2010, to life imprisonment, without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

         Petitioner pursued a direct appeal, arguing that his conviction pursuant to a non-unanimous jury verdict violated his rights under the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. On June 10, 2011 the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence. State v. Sadler, 2011 WL 3557836 (La.App. 1 Cir. June 10, 2011). Petitioner sought further review before the Louisiana Supreme Court and, on March 23, 2012, that Court denied review, without comment. See State v. Sadler, 85 So.3d 85 (La. 2012). Upon the failure of Petitioner to thereafter file an application for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, his conviction and sentence became final on June 21, 2012 after expiration of the ninety-day period allowed for him to do so. See Roberts v. Cockrell, 319 F.3d 690, 694 (5th Cir. 2003) (recognizing that a conviction becomes final for federal purposes after the 90-day period allowed for a petitioner to proceed in the United States Supreme Court if he has not pursued such relief).[1]

         On or about January 24, 2013, [2] Petitioner filed a pro se application for post-conviction relief ("PCR") in the state trial court. Petitioner asserted therein (1) that his constitutional rights were violated by the use of statements and consents obtained during questioning by police in the hospital in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), (2) that the prosecution engaged in misconduct during closing arguments by exceeding the scope of rebuttal and by referring to DNA evidence that had not been introduced during trial, and (3) that he was actually innocent of the charged offense under the Louisiana doctrine of self-defense.[3] The State filed procedural objections and an Answer addressing Petitioner's claims in the PCR application.[4] On June 6, 2013, the State Court Commissioner issued a Report recommending that Petitioner's claims (as re-characterized, see note 4) be denied. On July 25, 2013, the trial court adopted the Commissioner's Recommendation and dismissed Petitioner's PCR application.

         On or about September 10, 2013, Petitioner filed an application for supervisory review in the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, which court denied review on November 21, 2013. State v. Sadler, 2013 WL 12125625 (La.App. 1 Cir. Nov. 21, 2013). Petitioner thereafter sought further review before the Louisiana Supreme Court on December 18, 2013, which Court also denied review, without comment, on September 12, 2014. State ex rel. Sadler v. State, 147 So.3d 702 (La. 2014).

         Petitioner submitted his federal habeas corpus application for filing herein on or about October 19, 2014. Petitioner asserts the following grounds for relief:

Ground One: His conviction was obtained as a result of a non-unanimous jury verdict in violation of the Louisiana and federal Constitutions;
Ground Two: His waiver of the rights guaranteed under Miranda v. Arizona, supra, was not knowing and intelligent because he could not “read, write, nor understand and comprehend intelligently and rationally” these rights, and his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to adequately present this claim at a hearing on a pre-trial motion to suppress;
Ground Three: The prosecution engaged in misconduct by exceeding the scope of rebuttal during closing arguments and by commenting upon DNA evidence that had not been presented at trial; and
Ground Four: He is in fact innocent of the charged offense in light of Louisiana's self-defense doctrine. Petitioner further asserts that this claim was never addressed by the state courts during post-conviction review proceedings.

         II. Factual Summary

         The facts, as summarized in the opinion of the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit, are as follows:

On December 22, 2008, at approximately 7:00 p.m. the victim, Cary Ray Dungan, picked up his friend, Robert O'Connell, and went to Lambert's bar in Baton Rouge to celebrate O'Connell's birthday. Kacey Atkinson, a female acquaintance of Dungan's, later met the men at the bar. According to Atkinson, she often went out with Dungan in exchange for monetary payment. Later that night, the group left Lambert's and went to Dancer's nightclub on Airline Highway. While at the club, Dungan used cash to purchase drinks for his friends.
At sometime thereafter, Atkinson spoke to the defendant on the telephone. The defendant later arrived at Dancer's and sat in the back of the club. According to Atkinson, the defendant stayed at Dancer's for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes and then he left. The defendant did not make any contact with Atkinson at Dancer's.
Eventually, the group left Dancer's, and Dungan drove O'Connell home to his apartment on Sherwood Forest Boulevard. Atkinson accompanied Dungan. Dungan and Atkinson visited with O'Connell briefly at his home before deciding to leave. After Dungan and Atkinson exited the apartment, the defendant walked up with a gun and, according to Atkinson, hit Dungan on his head with the gun and demanded that he “get in the truck.” Dungan reached into his vehicle, grabbed a handgun and shot the defendant. The defendant responded with several gunshots.
The defendant sustained a gunshot wound to his neck and elbow. Dungan was shot in his upper abdomen, right thigh, and left thigh. The injury to the abdomen perforated Dungan's colon and left kidney, causing massive hemorrhage to his abdomen. The injury was fatal.
The defendant initially denied shooting the victim. In an initial statement to the police, the defendant claimed that he and two other individuals followed Dungan from Dancer's and planned to rob him. The defendant claimed one of his accomplices shot the victim and the defendant ran away. The defendant later confessed to shooting Dungan and admitted that he acted alone. He claimed that he simply approached Dungan and ordered him to “freeze.” Dungan then retrieved a gun from his vehicle and shot the defendant in the neck. The defendant claimed he was running away when he started shooting back towards Dungan.

See State v. Sadler, supra, 2011 WL 3557836, *1.

         In addition to the foregoing, the evidence adduced at trial reflects that Kacey Atkinson, who was Petitioner's girlfriend at the time of the shooting and who was living with Petitioner and knew him well, witnessed the shooting and positively identified Petitioner as the shooter, having recognized his camouflage clothing, his eyes, his voice, and his manner. She further testified that Petitioner was personally aware, having been told by her prior to the night of the shooting, that the victim often carried substantial amounts of cash when she and the victim were out together. She testified that on the night of the shooting, she and the victim were standing in the parking lot outside Robert O'Connell's apartment talking when Petitioner approached the victim holding a firearm and instructed the victim to get in the adjacent truck. When the victim initially demurred, Petitioner hit him in the head with the firearm. The victim then moved to the door of the vehicle but instead of getting in as instructed, grabbed his own firearm and began shooting at Petitioner, whereupon Petitioner returned fire. Kacey Atkinson confirmed that Petitioner was wearing camouflage clothing that matched the clothing later found in Petitioner's vehicle. In addition to the foregoing, the evidence reflects that during interrogation, Petitioner admitted to having attempted to rob the victim and to having shot him when the victim produced a weapon. Petitioner further advised investigating officers of the location of the weapon used during the incident, which the officer were able to thereafter recover from Petitioner's mother's house. Evidence recovered from the crime scene indicated that Petitioner had fired his weapon approximately 14 times before it became jammed.

         Based upon the foregoing, the jury returned a verdict finding Petitioner guilty of the charged offense.

         III. Procedural Defenses Raised by the State

         Un ...

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