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Howard v. Vannoy

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 27, 2019

RONNIE HOWARD SR.
v.
DARREL VANNOY

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Petitioner Ronnie Howard Sr. filed a pro se petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 2254 for a writ of habeas corpus. Rec. Doc. 1. In a Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Wilkinson recommended that the petition be dismissed with prejudice. See Rec. Doc. 13. Petitioner timely filed objections to the latter Recommendations, as well as a “supplemental objection”. See Rec. Doc. 14-15.

         For the reasons below, it is ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation are ADOPTED as the opinion of the court, overruling Petitioner's objections, and dismissing the instant habeas corpus petition.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Petitioner is currently incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. On December 14, 2011, Petitioner was indicted by a Terrebonne Parish grand jury and charged with aggravated rape of a juvenile male, J.V.[1] See St. Rec. Vol. 2 of 3, Indictment, 12/14/11; Grand Jury Return 12/14/11.

         A. State Trial

         On May 15, 2014, a jury found Petitioner guilty of aggravated rape of a juvenile male. See St. Rec. Vol. 2 of 3, Trial Minutes; Jury Verdict; Trial Transcript. Petitioner filed a timely motion for a new trial based on alleged problems with jurors. See St. Rec. Vol. 2 of 3, Appeal Brief, 2014-KA-1048, 9/19/14. It was denied on June 12, 2014. See Id. The court sentenced Petitioner to life in prison without benefits of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. See Id.

         Petitioner appealed his sentence to the Louisiana First Circuit, asserting that the victim's mother should not have been exempted from the witness sequestration order because of the victim's age at the time of trial[2]. See Id. On March 9, 2015, the First Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence, finding no merit in the claim. See State v. Howard, No. 2014-KA-1048, 2015 WL 1019513, at *1 (La.App. 1st Cir. Mar. 9, 2015)(unpublished); St. Rec. Vol 2. of 3. 1st Cir. Opinion, 2014-KA-1048, 3/9/15.

         On April 8, 2016, The Louisiana Supreme Court denied Petitioner's related writ application, without stated reasons.[3] State v. Howard, 191 So.3d. 583 (La. 2016); St. Rec. Vol. 3 of 3, La. S.Ct. Order, 2015-KH-0761, 4/8/16; St. Rec. Vol 2 of 3, La. S.Ct. Letter, 2015-KH-761, 4/16/15 (showing postmark 4/14/15). 90 days after the Louisiana Supreme Court denial, on July 8, 2016, Petitioner's conviction became final due to Petitioner's failure to file a timely writ application with the United States Supreme Court. See Ott v. Johnson, 192 F.3d 510, 513 (5th Cir. 1999) (holding that the period for filling certiorari with the United States Supreme Court is considered in the finality determination under 28 U.S.C. 2244(1)(1)(A)), cert. denied. 529. 529 U.S. 1099(2000); U.S. Sup. Ct. Rule 13(1).

         B. State Collateral Review

         On April 19, 2016, Petitioner requested post-conviction relief from the state trial court, asserting that: (1) he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to (a) develop a pretrial strategy, (b) challenge the indictment and raise the issue of untimely prosecution, (c) obtain a medical analysis to refute the charges, and (d) effectively cross-examine the State's witness; (2) he was denied effective assistance of counsel when appellate counsel failed to (a) assert ineffective assistance of trial counsel and (b) challenge the insufficiency of evidence; (3) the state trial court erred in exempting the victim's mother from the witness sequestration order; (4) the state trial court erred in denying the motion for mistrial based on the multiple juror issues; (5) the evidence at trial was insufficient; (6) the state trial court erred in denying the motion for new trial based on the juror issues; (7) the state trial court was without jurisdiction to commence trial because the statutory prescriptive period had expired. See Rec. Doc. 13.

         On June 22, 2016, the state trial court denied the application. See St. Rec. Vol. 2 of 3, Trial Court Judgment, 6/22/16. Regarding Petitioner's first two claims, the state trial court found that under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688 (1984) and related state law, there was no ineffective assistance of counsel at trial or on appeal. St. Rec. Vol. 2 of 3, Trial Court Judgment, 6/22/16; Reasons for Judgment, 6/22/16. The court declined to consider the third claim regarding the sequestration order exemption because the substance of the claim had been fully litigated on direct appeal, citing La. Code Crim. P. art. 930.4(A). See Rec. Doc. 13. The court found review of the fourth, fifth and sixth claims barred under La. Code Crim. P. art. 930.4(C) because Petitioner failed to assert the claims on direct appeal. See Rec. Doc. 13. The court also found that the seventh claim of prescription was barred from post-conviction review as untimely under La. Code Crim. P. art. 930.4(B). Rec. Doc. 13.

         C. Petition for Federal Habeas Corpus Relief

         On December 9, 2016 Petitioner filed the instant petition for federal habeas corpus relief. See Rec. Doc. 1. Petitioner's habeas allegations are as follows:

1) He received ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to consult with him, effectively investigate the facts and present a viable defense in light of insufficient evidence;
2) He was denied effective assistance of counsel when appellate counsel failed to assert claims regarding insufficient evidence, time-barred prosecution and prejudicial juror problems;
3) The state trial court erred in exempting the victim's mother from the witness sequestration order;
4) The state trial court erred in denying the motion for mistrial based on multiple juror issues;
5) The evidence at trial was insufficient;
6) The state trial court erred in denying the motion for new trial based on the juror issues; and
7) The state trial court erred in commencing trial after the limitations period expired. See Rec. Doc. 1.

         The State filed a response in opposition to the Petition, arguing that Petitioner failed to establish entitlement to relief and that the claims are barred from review in this court as procedurally defaulted in part because they were dismissed based on independent and adequate state law grounds. See Rec. Doc. 7; Rec. Doc. 13.

         On July 24, 2017, this Court granted Petitioner's motion to stay proceedings to allow him to completely exhaust state court review. Rec. Doc. No. 10, 2. At the time he filed this federal petition, his post-conviction writ application was pending before the Louisiana Supreme Court. See Rec. Doc. 13. After receiving the Louisiana Supreme Court's November ...


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