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Scramuzza v. Boutte

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 8, 2018


         SECTION “I” (2)



         This matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct hearings, including an evidentiary hearing, if necessary, and to submit proposed findings and recommendations for disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (C) and, as applicable, Rule 8(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases. Upon review of the entire record, I have determined that a federal evidentiary hearing is unnecessary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2).[1] For the following reasons, I recommend that the instant petition for habeas corpus relief be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as time-barred.


         The petitioner, Gina E. Scramuzza, is a convicted inmate currently incarcerated in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabrielle, Louisiana.[2] On April 22, 2009, Scramuzza and three co-defendants, Carlos Alberto Rodriguez, Erly Y. Montoya and Luis Starlyn Rodriguez-Hernandez, were indicted by a St. Tammany Parish grand jury for the first degree murder of Scramuzza's husband, Mario Scramuzza.[3]

         On August 14, 2013, Scramuzza withdrew her prior plea of not guilty and entered a guilty plea to the first degree murder charge.[4] That same day, the state trial court sentenced her to serve life in prison without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.[5] Scramuzza's conviction and sentence became final thirty (30) days later, on September 13, 2013, when she did not pursue direct appeal. Roberts v. Cockrell, 319 F.3d 690, 694-95 (5th Cir. 2003) (under federal habeas law, a conviction is final when the state defendant does not timely proceed to the next available step in the state appeal process); see Cousin v. Lensing, 310 F.3d 843, 845 (5th Cir. 2002) (petitioner's guilty pleas became final at the end of the period for filing a notice of appeal under La. Code Crim. P. art. 914[6]).

         More than eight months later, on May 23, 2014, Scramuzza filed several motions seeking copies of transcripts, record documents, her plea agreement and the district attorney's entire file.[7] On May 29, 2014, the trial court granted the motion in part to direct that she be given a copy of her plea hearing transcript, the indictment, commitment order and minute entries, and denied the motion as to other documents finding that she had not shown a particularized need for the documents and was not entitled to relief that would entitle her to the documents.[8] By separate order, the court denied the request for a hearing to determine her need for copies of the district attorney's file, because Scramuzza was not entitled to relief of the type that would entitle her to those files.[9]

         On October 22, 2014, Scramuzza filed a second motion with the trial court seeking access to copies of the district attorney's file, which the court denied for reasons similar to those stated in its two prior orders issued May 29, 2014.[10]

         On June 2, 2015, more than one year and eight months after her conviction became final, Scramuzza signed and submitted an application for post-conviction relief to the state trial court asserting thirteen grounds for relief from her conviction and sentence.[11]The state trial court held that ten of the claims were waived by the entry of her guilty plea.[12] The court further held that her claim of excessive sentence was not subject to post-conviction review and two other claims, including her claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, were meritless.

         The Louisiana First Circuit denied Scramuzza's subsequent writ application without stated reasons on November 18, 2015.[13] The Louisiana Supreme Court also denied Scramuzza's related writ application on May 1, 2017, for similar reasons to those given by the state trial court.[14]


         On July 10, 2017, after correction of certain deficiencies, the clerk of this court filed Scramuzza's petition for federal habeas corpus relief in which she asserts the following grounds for relief:[15] (1) The evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for first-degree murder. (2) Petitioner was interrogated without being provided counsel on her request. (3) The state trial court erred by not suppressing petitioner's statements that were coerced by law enforcement after she asked for counsel. (4) The search of her vehicle was unlawful since she was not a suspect at the time. (5) Petitioner should have entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity at her initial arraignment because of her emotional issues including depression. (6) Her trial counsel was ineffective when he advised her to plead guilty to first degree murder.

         The State filed a response in opposition to Scramuzza's federal petition asserting that it was not timely filed under federal law, and alternatively that, one claim is in procedural default and the remaining claims are without merit.[16]


         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, comprehensively revised federal habeas corpus legislation, including 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The AEDPA went into effect on April 24, 1996[17] and applies to habeas petitions filed after that date. Flanagan v. Johnson, 154 F.3d 196, 198 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997)). The AEDPA therefore applies to Scramuzza's petition, which, for reasons discussed below, is deemed filed in a federal court on May 31, 2017.[18] The threshold questions in habeas review under the amended statute are whether the petition is timely and whether petitioner's claims were adjudicated on the merits in state court; i.e., the petitioner must have exhausted state court remedies and must not be in “procedural default” on a claim. Nobles v. Johnson, 127 F.3d 409, 419-20 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c)).

         The State has asserted that Scramuzza's federal petition was not timely filed and alternatively that one of the claims is in procedural default. For the following reasons, the record supports the State's conclusion that the petition is not timely filed, and Scramuzza's petition should be dismissed for that reason.


         The AEDPA requires that a Section 2254 petition must ordinarily be filed within one year of the date the conviction became final.[19]Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 179-80 (2001). Scramuzza's conviction became final on September 13, 2013, which was thirty (30) days after she entered her guilty plea, was sentenced by the state trial court and did not appeal. Applying Section 2244 literally, Scramuzza had one year from finality of her conviction, until Monday, September 15, 2014, [20] to file her federal habeas corpus petition, which she did not do. Her petition must be dismissed ...

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