United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
C. WILKINSON, JR., UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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). For the following reasons, I recommend
that the instant petition for habeas corpus relief be
DENIED and DISMISSED WITH
STATE COURT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
petitioner, James Earl, is incarcerated in the Rayburn
Correctional Center in Angie, Louisiana. On March 18,
2011, Earl was charged by bill of indictment in Washington
Parish with one count of second degree murder in violation of
La. Rev. Stat. § 14:30.1 and one count of conspiracy to
commit second degree murder in violation of La. Rev. Stat.
§ 14:26:30.1. The Louisiana First Circuit Court of
Appeal summarized the facts determined at trial as follows in
On the night of January 6, 2001, Richie Martin was parked in
a Geo Tracker in a driveway on Jenkins Road in Washington
Parish. Raymond Terry Lyons was in the front passenger seat
of the Tracker, and two men were waiting for someone. Ricky
Magee, who had driven a black Malibu from his house, pulled
into the driveway near the Tracker. Magee's front-seat
passenger was the defendant. Donald Dawson (aka “Pee
Wee ”), who had been at Magee's house looking to
buy drugs, was driving a white Buick and had followed Magee
and the defendant, as Magee had instructed. After Magee
parked, Dawson, whose passenger was his girlfriend, Tessie
Starnes, parked about thirty feet away in the driveway next
to Magee. The defendant, Magee, and Dawson each got out of
their respective vehicles and approached the Tracker.
According to several eyewitness accounts, either the
defendant or Magee struck Lyons with a board or piece of
wood, identified by most as a “2x4.” The
defendant then shot Lyons once in the chest, killing him.
Martin got out of the Tracker, ran to a nearby trailer, and
called 911. The defendant, Magee, and Dawson got in their
vehicles and left the scene. When the defendant was
interviewed by Detective (now, Captain) Jim Miller, with the
Washington Parish Sheriff's Office, the defendant
admitted that he shot Lyons. At trial, the defendant
testified that he lied about shooting Lyons because he was
afraid of Magee. The defendant testified that he struck Lyons
with his hands, but that it was Dawson who shot Lyons.
State v. Earl, No. 2015 KA 1383, 2016 WL 3146011, at
*1 (La.App. 1st Cir. June 6, 2016); State Record Volume 3 of
4, Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal Opinion, 2015 KA
1383, pages 2-3, June 6, 2016.
was tried before a jury for the charge of second degree
murder on March 2 through 4, 2015 and found guilty of the
responsive verdict of manslaughter in violation of La. Rev.
Stat. § 14:31. On April 8, 2015, petitioner filed a
motion for a new trial and a motion for post-verdict judgment
of acquittal. On that same day, the state trial court
denied the motions and sentenced Earl to 35 years in prison
to be served at hard labor.
direct appeal to the Louisiana First Circuit, Earl's
appointed counsel asserted three errors: (1) The trial
court erred in denying his motion to suppress. (2) The
evidence was legally insufficient to convict him of
manslaughter. (3) The trial court erred in denying his motion
for post-verdict judgment of acquittal. On June 6, 2016, the
Louisiana First Circuit affirmed, finding the claims without
letter dated July 1, 2016, Earl sought an extension of time
to file a writ application with the Louisiana Supreme
Court. The Louisiana Supreme Court apparently
treated Earl's letter as a writ application and denied it
without stated reasons on December 5, 2016. In the
interim, Earl filed a writ application with the Louisiana
Supreme Court on July 18, 2016. On November 7, 2016, the
Louisiana Supreme Court refused to consider the writ
application pursuant to La. S.Ct. Rule X §
5. Earl's November 15, 2016 request for
rehearing was denied on January 9, 2017.
conviction became final on March 6, 2017, 90 days after the
Louisiana Supreme Court denied his first writ application,
when the time expired for Earl to file a petition for writ of
certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. Roberts
v. Cockrell, 319 F.3d 690, 694 (5th Cir.2003) (citing 28
U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A); Flanagan v. Johnson,
154 F.3d 196, 200-01 (5th Cir.1998)); Ott v.
Johnson, 192 F.3d 510, 513 (5th Cir.1999) (citing 28
U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A)); U.S. Sup.Ct. R. 13(1).
FEDERAL HABEAS PETITION
5, 2017, the clerk of this court filed Earl's petition
for federal habeas corpus relief in which he asserts the
following grounds for relief: (1) The trial court erred in
denying his motion to suppress his confession. (2)
Insufficient evidence supports his manslaughter conviction
and therefore the trial court erred in denying his motion for
post-verdict judgment of acquittal.
State filed an answer in response to Earl's petition in
which it concedes that the federal petition is timely and
expressly waives any exhaustion defense. The State
argues that Earl's claims are without merit. Earl filed a
reply reiterating his claims.
GENERAL STANDARDS OF REVIEW
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 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 Earl's
petition, which, for reasons discussed below, is deemed filed
in a federal court on May 2, 2017.
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 concedes and I find
that Earl's petition was timely filed. The State, while
acknowledging that the Louisiana Supreme Court treated
Earl's July 1, 2016 letter as a writ application, claims
that the court did not have a fair opportunity to address
petitioner's claims because the July 18, 2016 writ
application was untimely. The State nonetheless has waived
the defense of failure to exhaust pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b)(3). The State's arguments are
inconsistent, and I find no support for the contention that
the original writ application was not addressed on the merits
in light of the one word denial. Nevertheless, the State
expressly waives exhaustion and, because Earl's claims
are meritless, they may be addressed without further
exhaustion. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2).
STANDARDS OF MERIT REVIEW
U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1) and (2) contain revised
standards of review for questions of fact, questions of law
and mixed questions of fact and law in federal habeas corpus
proceedings. Nobles, 127 F.3d at 419-20 (citing 28
U.S.C. § 2254(b) and (c)).
of questions of fact by the state court are “presumed
to be correct . . . and we will give deference to the state
court's decision unless it ‘was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the
evidence presented in the State court proceeding.'
” Hill v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 481, 485 (5th Cir.
2000) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2)), cert.
denied, 532 U.S. 1039 (2001). The amended statute also
codifies the “presumption of correctness” that
attaches to state court findings of fact and the “clear
and convincing evidence” burden placed on a petitioner
who attempts to overcome that presumption. 28 U.S.C. §
court's determination of questions of law and mixed
questions of law and fact are reviewed under 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d)(1) and receive deference, unless the state
court's decision “ ‘was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
[Supreme Court precedent.]' ” Penry v.
Johnson, 215 F.3d 504, 507 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting
Miller v. Johnson, 200 F.3d 274, 280-81 (5th Cir.),
cert. denied, 531 U.S. 849 (2000)), aff'd in
part, rev'd in part on other grounds, 532 U.S. 782
(2001); Hill, 210 F.3d at 485. The United States
Supreme Court has clarified the Section 2254(d)(1) standard
Under the “contrary to” clause, a federal habeas
court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a
conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a
question of law or if the state court decides a case
differently than this Court has on a set of materially
indistinguishable facts. Under the “unreasonable
application” clause, a federal habeas court may grant
the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing
legal principle from this Court's decisions but
unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06, 412-13,
120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Penry v.
Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792-93, 121 S.Ct. 1910, 150
L.Ed.2d 9 (2001); Hill, 210 F.3d at 485. The
“critical point” in determining the Supreme Court
rule to be applied “is that relief is available under
§ 2254(d)(1)'s unreasonable-application clause if,
and only if, it is so obvious that a clearly established rule
applies to a given set of facts that there could be no
‘fairminded disagreement' on the question.”
(citation omitted) White v. Woodall, ___ U.S. ___,
134 S.Ct. 1697, 1706-07, 188 L.Ed.2d 698 (2014) (citing
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103, 131 S.Ct.
770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011)), and Knowles v.
Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122, 129 S.Ct. 1411, 173
L.Ed.2d 251 (2009). “Thus, ‘if a habeas court
must extend a rationale before it can apply to the facts at
hand, ' then by definition the rationale was not
‘clearly established at the time of the state-court
decision.' ” White, 134 S.Ct. at 1706
(quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 666,
124 S.Ct. 2140, 158 L.Ed.2d 938 (2004)).
‘A federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply
because that court concludes in its independent judgment that
the state court decision applied [a Supreme Court case]
incorrectly.' ” Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S.
634, 641, 123 S.Ct. 1848, 155 L.Ed.2d 877 (2003) (quoting
Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24-25, 123 S.Ct.
357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279 (2002)) (brackets in original); Bell
v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 699, 122 S.Ct. 1843, 152 L.Ed.2d
914 (2002). Rather, under the “unreasonable
application” standard, “the only question for a
federal habeas court is whether the state court's
determination is objectively unreasonable.” Neal v.
Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002), cert.
denied, sub nom, Neal v. Epps, 537
U.S. 1104, 123 S.Ct. 963, 154 L.Ed.2d 772 (2003). The burden
is on the petitioner to show that the state court applied the
precedent to the facts of his case in an objectively
unreasonable manner. Price, 538 U.S. at 641, 123
S.Ct. 1848 (quoting Woodford, 537 U.S. at 24-25, 123
S.Ct. 357); Wright v. Quarterman, 470 F.3d 581, 585
(5th Cir. 2006).
DENIAL OF MOTION TO SUPPRESS (CLAIM NO. 1)
claims that the state trial court erred in denying the motion
to suppress his statement to police. He alleges that the
interview was conducted when he was sleep deprived and under
the influence of pain medication.
counsel asserted this claim on direct appeal. The state
appellate court found that Earl's alleged
“chemically impaired” and “sleep
deprived” state did not negate his comprehension or
make him unconscious of the consequences of what he was
saying. The court held that the trial court's ruling
denying petitioner's motion to suppress the statement was
supported by the evidence. This was the last reasoned
state court opinion on the issue. See Ylst v.
Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 802 (1991) (when the last
state court judgment does not indicate whether it is based on
procedural default or the merits of a federal claim, the
federal court will presume that the state court has relied
upon the same grounds as the last reasoned state court
admissibility of a confession is a mixed question of law and
fact. Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 112 (1985);
ShisInday v. Quarterman, 511 F.3d 514, 522 (5th
Cir.2007) (citing Miller, 474 U.S. at 112). A
federal court on habeas review must respect the state
court's determination of voluntariness as long as it was
not “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court.” 28 U .S.C. §
2254(d)(1); Barnes v. Johnson, 160 F.3d 218, 222
(5th Cir .1998). In doing so, a federal habeas court must
afford a presumption of correctness to state courts'
findings of fact if they are fairly supported by the record.
Miller, 474 U.S. at 117.
are two inquiries to determine whether an accused has
voluntarily and knowingly waived his Fifth Amendment
privilege against self-incrimination. Moran v.
Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 421 (1986); Soffar v.
Cockrell, 300 F.3d 588, 592 (5th Cir. 2002). First,
waiver of the right must be voluntary and not the product of
intimidation, coercion or deception. Moran, 475 U.S.
at 421. Second, the waiver or relinquishment must be made
with full awareness of the nature of the right being waived.
Id. In making these inquiries, the court must
consider the “totality of all the surrounding
circumstances-both the characteristics of the accused and the
details of the interrogation.” Schneckloth v.
Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 224 (1973). Although mental
state or condition may be a significant factor in the
voluntariness determination, “this fact does not
justify a conclusion that a defendant's mental condition,
by itself and apart from its relation to official coercion,
should ever dispose of the inquiry into constitutional
‘voluntariness.' ” Carter v.
Johnson, 131 F.3d 452, 462 (5th Cir.1997) (citing
Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 164 (1986)).
Thus, coercive police conduct is a necessary prerequisite to
a conclusion that a confession was involuntary, and the
defendant must establish a causal link between the coercive
conduct and the confession. Carter, 131 F.3d at 462
(citing Connelly, 479 U.S. at 163-67).
assessing voluntariness, “trickery or deceit is only
prohibited to the extent it deprives the suspect ‘of
knowledge essential to his ability to understand the nature
of his rights and the consequences of abandoning them.'
” Soffar, 300 F.3d at 596 (quoting
Moran, 475 U.S. at 424). Determining whether
officers engaged in coercive tactics to elicit a confession
is a question of fact, and the state court's factual
findings are entitled to deference when supported by the
record. Pemberton v. Collins, 991 F.2d 1218, 1225
(5th Cir.1993); Self v. Collins, 973 F.2d 1198, 1204
(5th Cir.1992); see also Miller, 474 U.S. at 112
(noting that subsidiary questions such as whether the police
engaged in coercive tactics are afforded the presumption of
habeas corpus statute obliges federal judges to respect
credibility determinations made by the state court trier of
fact. Pemberton, 991 F.2d at 1225 (citing Sumner
v. Mata, 455 U.S. 591, 597 (1982)). However, if the
underlying facts as determined by the state court indicate
the presence of some coercive tactic, the impact that factor
had on the voluntariness of the confession is a matter for
independent federal determination and is ultimately a legal
determination. Miller, 474 U.S. at 117;
ShisInday, 511 F.3d at 522.
the confession is deemed involuntary under these standards,
the Supreme Court has held that the admission of an
involuntary confession is a trial error subject to harmless
error analysis. Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279,
310 (1991). Under these standards, to grant federal habeas
relief, the trial error must have a substantial and injurious
effect or influence in determining the verdict. Brecht v.
Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993). Therefore, even if
this court were to find that petitioner's Fifth Amendment
rights were violated, the court must also consider whether
use of the confession at trial was harmless in determining
the verdict. Hopkins v. Cockrell, 325 F.3d 579, 583
Earl's case, as required by Jackson v. Denno,
378 U.S. 368 (1964), the state trial court conducted an
evidentiary hearing on the admissibility of Earl's
inculpatory statements, taking testimony from Captain
Miller. Miller testified that he advised Earl of
his Miranda rights before conducting a recorded
interview of him on January 13, 2011. Miller
identified the form Earl signed, indicating that he
understood his rights, waived them and consented to
questioning. Miller testified that he did not make
any promises to Earl or threaten or coerce him to make a
statement. On cross-examination, Miller admitted
that he asked Earl if he was “under any medication
right now or under the influence of narcotics, alcohol of
anything?” and Earl responded, “Na, I take
medicine for my back.” Miller further admitted that
he had asked Earl if he was sleepy, and Earl responded,
“Yea, I am sleepy.” Miller admitted that he
did not determine the specific pain medication Earl was
taking for scoliosis or when Earl last took the
medication. Miller testified that Earl told him he
was under the influence of marijuana and cocaine at the time
of the crime. After hearing the testimony, the state
trial court denied the motion without stated
reasons. Miller subsequently testified before the
jury about his interview of Earl, and the interview audio
recording was played for the jury.
counsel did not file a writ application in connection with
the trial court's adverse decision, he did raise the
issue on direct appeal. The Louisiana First Circuit entered
its own findings, which constitute the last reasoned decision
on this issue. The appellate court considered and reviewed
the evidence and testimony that was received at the
suppression hearing. After considering the evidence, the
court found that Miller's testimony indicated Earl was
cognizant and able to respond to questions. The court
noted that while Earl may have been under the influence of
marijuana and cocaine at the time of the murder, the
interview occurred seven days later. In addition, it found
The defendant said that he was sleepy and that he took pain
medicine for his scoliosis. But there was nothing in the
interview that suggested the defendant's awareness and
understanding were in any way affected because of sleepiness
or scoliosis medication. While the defendant may have been
tired during the interview, there was no evidence that he was
intoxicated, and his answers to the detective were relevant,
appropriate, and coherent. Throughout the interview, the
defendant was lucid and intelligible.
court concluded that “nothing in the record before us
suggests that the defendant's alleged ‘chemically
impaired' or ‘sleep deprived' state was of such
a degree as to negate his comprehension or make him
unconscious of the consequences of what he was saying to
federal habeas review, this court must presume that the
factual determinations of the state courts supporting its
legal conclusion were correct, including that Earl failed to
demonstrate that he was not aware of the consequences of his
statements to police officials as a result of his medicated
and sleepy condition. To overcome the presumption of
correctness as to the state court's factual findings,
Earl must rebut them by clear and convincing evidence, which
he has not done. In his federal habeas petition, Earl merely
repeats his allegation that his “chemically impaired
and sleep deprived” state rendered his inculpatory
statements involuntary. These allegations are unsupported by
any evidence adduced at the motion hearing, on appeal or
otherwise. Such allegations, in and of themselves, do not
render Earl's statements involuntary. See Scott v.
Michael, No. 08-1262, 2011 WL 1235223, *9 (E.D. La.
2011) (“statements made while the accused was in pain
and/or under the influence of painkillers or other narcotics
are not involuntary per se”); Reinert v.
Larkins, 379 F.3d 76, 91-92 (3rd Cir. 2004), cert.
denied, 546 U.S. 890 (2005) (defendant's
post-surgery inculpatory statement provided while under
sedation was voluntary).
state court's factual determinations regarding
voluntariness are supported by the record. Therefore, this
court on habeas corpus review must accept as conclusive the
state court's factual determination that Earl knew the
consequences of his statements. The state court's legal
conclusion that Earl offered the statements voluntarily is
reasonably based upon these facts. Since the statements were
voluntary as a matter of fact and law, harmless error
analysis is unnecessary. The denial of relief on this issue
was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of Supreme
Court precedent. Earl is not entitled to relief on this
INSUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE AND DENIAL OF THE
POST-VERDICT MOTION (CLAIM NO. 2)
claims that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he
was guilty of manslaughter and, as a result, the state trial
court erred in denying his motion for post-verdict judgment
of acquittal. He points to inconsistent evidence about the
shooting to establish the existence of reasonable doubt as to
presented this claim to the Louisiana First Circuit on direct
appeal. The court considered the claim under the standards
set forth in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307
(1979), and related state case law, and found that the
identification of the shooter presented a credibility issue
and that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury
could have reasonably concluded that Earl was guilty of the
indicted offense of second degree murder, notwithstanding the
jury's legislatively authorized responsive verdict of
manslaughter and, therefore, the conviction was valid
regardless whether the responsive verdict was supported by
the evidence. In addition, the appellate court found that,
even if the jury rendered a compromise verdict, there was
sufficient evidence to find Earl guilty of
manslaughter. This was the last reasoned opinion by a
state court on this issue. Y1st, 501 U.S. at 802.
Jackson, a federal habeas court addressing an
insufficiency of the evidence claim must determine, after
viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prosecution, whether a rational trier of fact could have
found that the essential elements of the crime were proven
beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319;
Williams v. Cain, 408 Fed.Appx. 817, 821 (5th Cir.
2011); Perez v. Cain, 529 F.3d 588, 594 (5th Cir.
2008). Thus, to determine whether the commission of a crime
is adequately supported by the record, the court must review
the substantive elements of the crime as defined by state
law. Perez, 529 F.3d at 594 (citing
Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324 n. 16).
court's consideration of the sufficiency of the evidence
extends only to what was presented at trial. See McDaniel
v. Brown, 558 U.S. 120, 131, 134 (2010) (recognizing
that a reviewing court must consider the trial evidence as a
whole under Jackson); Johnson v. Cain, 347
Fed.Appx. 89, 91 (5th Cir. 2009) (Jackson standard
relies “upon the record evidence adduced at the
trial”) (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324).
Review of the sufficiency of the evidence, however, does
not include review of the weight of the
evidence or the credibility of the witnesses,
because those determinations are the exclusive province of
the jury. United States v. Young, 107 Fed.Appx. 442,
443 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Garcia,
995 F.2d 556, 561 (5th Cir. 1993)); see Jackson, 443
U.S. at 319 (noting that it is the jury's responsibility
“to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh ...