United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division
RONNIE W. YORK, Petitioner
DARREL VANNOY, Respondent
ELIZABETH E. FOOTE JUDGE
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
H.L. PEREZ-MONTES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the Court is a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28
U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1) and Supplemental Petition (Doc.
15) filed by pro se Petitioner Ronnie W. York
(“York”) (#600116). York is an inmate in the
custody of the Louisiana Department of Corrections,
incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola,
Louisiana. York challenges his convictions of aggravated rape
and attempted aggravated rape, and the sentences imposed, in
the First Judicial District Court, Caddo Parish.
York's claims are either procedurally defaulted or
meritless, his Petition and Supplemental Petition (Docs. 1,
15) should be DENIED and DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
was convicted of attempted aggravated rape of his mentally
handicapped sister-in-law and aggravated rape of his
five-year-old daughter. See State v. York, 48, 230
(La.App. 2 Cir. 8/7/13), 121 So.3d 1226, 1228. York was
sentenced to fifty years of imprisonment for the attempted
aggravated rape conviction, to run consecutively to a
mandatory life sentence on the aggravated rape conviction.
appeal, York alleged that the trial court erred by: (1)
denying his motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal due
to insufficient evidence to support a conviction on either
count; (2) denying his motion for new trial on grounds that
the verdict was contrary to the law and evidence because the
state had failed to prove all the essential elements of the
crimes; (3) allowing the introduction of an interview of his
daughter; (4) transferring the case to another division for
trial over York's objection; (5) denying York's
motion to sever; (6) allowing the state to make prejudicial
and sympathetic statements against York in its opening and
closing statements, as well as misstatements of the
testimony; (7) allowing a state witness to read verbatim from
the transcript of a victim's statement that was not
introduced into evidence; and (8) by denying York's
motion to reconsider sentence and rendering an excessive
sentence against him. Id. The appellate court
affirmed the conviction and sentence on August 7, 2013.
sought writs in the Louisiana Supreme Court, which were
denied on March 21, 2014. State v. York, 2013-2154
(La. 3/21/14), 135 So.3d 617. York did not seek review in the
United States Supreme Court, so his conviction became final
under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996 (“AEDPA”), 110 Stat. 1214, on June 19, 2014,
90 days after the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs.
filed an application for post-conviction relief on February
18, 2015. See State ex rel. York v. State, 2015-1775
(La. 5/22/15), 206 So.3d 184. York alleged that the trial
court erred in determining that the two victims were
competent to testify, and counsel was ineffective in failing
to file a motion to determine the competency of the two
victims. See id. at 186. York also alleged that his
attorney was ineffective for failing to fully and
sufficiently cross-examine the two victims regarding prior
statements. See id. at 186. Next, York alleged that
he and his attorney were at “serious odds” and
had an “irreconcilable conflict.” See
id. at 187. York also claimed that the trial court
failed to properly charge the jury on circumstantial
evidence. See id. at 188. Finally, York alleged that
his counsel was ineffective “for all the reasons
previously cited.” See id. at 188. York's
application was denied on May 22, 2015. See id. at
sought writs in the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal,
which were denied. York filed a writ application in the
Louisiana Supreme Court, as well as a motion to stay the
application while he sought review of an additional issue in
the lower courts. See State ex rel. York v. State,
2015-1775 (La. 5/22/15), 206 So.3d 184. The motion and
application were denied on November 15, 2016. See
Law and Analysis
Rule 8(a) Resolution
Court is able to resolve York's § 2254 Petition
without the necessity of an evidentiary hearing because there
are no genuine issues of material fact relevant to York's
claims, and the state court records provide an adequate
factual basis. See Moya v. Estelle, 696 F.2d 329,
332-33 (5th Cir. 1983); Easter v. Estelle, 609 F.2d
756, 761 (5th Cir. 1980); Habeas Corpus Rule 8(a).
Standard of Review
application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person
in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court shall be
considered only on the ground that he is in custody in
violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The role of a
federal habeas court is to guard against extreme malfunctions
in the state criminal justice systems, not to apply de novo
review of factual findings and to substitute its own opinions
for the determinations made by the trial judge. See Davis
v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2202 (2015) (citing
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011)).
§ 2254 and the AEDPA, habeas relief is not available to
a state prisoner with respect to a claim that was adjudicated
on the merits in the state court proceedings unless the
adjudication of the claim: (1) resulted in a decision that
was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of
clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme
Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision
that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts
in light of the evidence presented in the state court
proceeding. See Martin v. Cain, 246 F.3d 471, 475-76
(5th Cir. 2001), cert. den., 534 U.S. 885 (2001).
§ 2254(d) demands an initial inquiry into whether a
prisoner's claim has been “adjudicated on the
merits” in state court; if it has, the AEDPA's
highly deferential standards apply. See Davis, 135
S.Ct. at 2198 (citing Richter, 562 U.S. at 103).
federal claim has been presented to a state court and the
state court has summarily denied relief without a statement
of reasons, it may be presumed that the state court
adjudicated the claim on the merits, in the absence of any
indication or state law procedural principles to the
contrary. Richter, 562 U.S. at 99. A habeas court
must determine what arguments or theories supported, or could
have supported, the state court's decision, and then,
whether it is possible fair-minded jurists could disagree
that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the
holding in a prior decision of the Supreme Court. See
Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. Where a state court's
decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas
petitioner's burden must be met by showing there was no
reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.
Richter, 562 U.S. at 98.
to the AEDPA, pure questions of law and mixed questions of
law and fact are reviewed under § 2254(d)(1), and
questions of fact are reviewed under § 2254(d)(2).
See Martin, 246 F.3d at 475-76.
court decision is “contrary to” clearly
established Supreme Court precedent if the state court
applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth
in Supreme Court cases or confronts a set of facts that are
materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme
Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from
Supreme Court precedent. A state court decision falls within
the “unreasonable application” clause when it
unreasonably applies Supreme Court precedent to the facts.
See Martin, 246 F.3d at 476; see also Rivera v.
Quarterman, 505 F.3d 349, 356 (5th Cir. 2007), cert.
den., 555 U.S. 827 (2008).
federal habeas court making the unreasonable application
inquiry should ask whether the state court's application
of clearly established federal law was objectively
reasonable. A federal court cannot grant habeas relief simply
by concluding that the state court decision applied clearly
established federal law erroneously; the court must conclude
that such application was also unreasonable. See
Martin, 246 F.3d at 476. An unreasonable application is
different from an incorrect one. See Bell v. Cone,
535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). When a state court determines that
a constitutional violation is harmless, a federal court may
not award habeas relief under § 2254 unless the
harmlessness determination itself was unreasonable. See
Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 18 (2003); see
also Davis, 135 S.Ct. at 2199 (citing Fry v.
Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 119 (2007)).
Timeliness and Exhaustion
threshold questions on habeas review under the AEDPA are
whether a petition is timely and whether the claims raised by
a petitioner were adjudicated on the merits in state court;
the petitioner must have exhausted state court remedies and
the claims must not be in “procedural default.”
Nobles v. Johnson, 127 F.3d 409, 419-20 (5th Cir.
1997) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c)).
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)). A federal habeas petition should generally be
dismissed if state remedies have not been exhausted as to all
of the federal court claims. Whitehead, 157 F.3d at
387 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A)); Rose,
455 U.S. at 519-20.
test for exhaustion requires that the substance of the
federal habeas claim be fairly presented to the highest state
court in a procedurally proper manner. Whitehead,
157 F.3d at 387 (citing Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S.
270, 275-78 (1971)). “[S]tate prisoners must give the
state courts one full opportunity to resolve any
constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the
State's established appellate review process, ”
including discretionary review when that review is part of
the state's ordinary appellate review procedures.
O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845
(1999). “A federal court claim must be the
‘substantial equivalent' of one presented to the
state courts if it is to satisfy the ‘fairly
presented' requirement.” Whitehead, 157
F.3d at 387 (citing Picard, 404 U.S. at 275-78).
“This requirement is not satisfied if the petitioner
presents new legal theories or new factual claims in his
federal application.” Id., 157 F.3d at 387
(citing Nobles, 127 F.3d at 420); Wilder v.
Cockrell, 274 F.3d 255, 259 (5th Cir. 2001).
exhaustion purposes, it is not enough for a petitioner to
have raised the claims in the lower state courts if the
claims were not specifically presented to the state's
highest court, or to have raise the claims in only the
highest state court, but not the lower courts. See
Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 32 (2004). Furthermore, a
petitioner does not fairly present a claim to the state's
highest court if that court must read beyond the petition or
brief, such as a lower court opinion, to find a claim not
otherwise specifically raised. Id.; 541 U.S. at 32.
claim has not been adjudicated on the merits in state court,
federal review of that claim may be barred by the doctrine of
procedural default if the petitioner has failed to meet state
procedural requirements for presenting his federal claims,
thereby depriving the state courts of an opportunity to
address those claims in the first instance. See Cone v.
Bell, 556 U.S. 449, 465 (2009) (noting that,
“[w]hen a petitioner fails to properly raise his
federal claims in state court, he deprives the State of
‘an opportunity to address those claims in the first
instance' and frustrates the State's ability to honor
his constitutional rights”) (quoting Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 732 (1991)). When state court
remedies are rendered unavailable by the petitioner's own
procedural default, federal courts are normally barred from
reviewing those claims. See Coleman, 501 U.S. at
722. “[I]f the petitioner failed to exhaust state
remedies and the court to which petitioner would be required
to present his claims in order to meet the exhaustion
requirement would now find the claims procedurally barred,
... [then] there is a procedural default for purposes of
federal habeas” review. Id. at 735 n. 1.
petitioner has “technically exhausted” his claims
if he fails to properly and timely present them to each level
of the Louisiana courts and thereafter would be barred from
seeking relief in those courts. Magouirk v.
Phillips, 144 F.3d 348, 358 (5th Cir. 1998) (citing
Coleman, 501 U.S. at 731-33 and Sones v.
Hargett, 61 F.3d 410, 416 (5th Cir. 1995)); Fuller
v. Johnson, 158 F.3d 903, 905-06 (5th Cir. 1998). In
such a case, there is no difference between non-exhaustion
and procedural default. Magouirk, 144 F.3d at 358.
Accordingly, when a petitioner fails to exhaust state court
remedies because he has allowed his federal claims to lapse,
those claims are “technically” procedurally
defaulted and may be dismissed. Id.
concedes that York's Petition was timely filed. (Doc.
21-1, p. 12). However, as Respondent points out, some of
York's claims are procedurally defaulted.
There was no unreasonable application of federal law as
to York's insufficient evidence claims.
first two claims, York alleges there was insufficient
evidence to convict him of attempted aggravated rape of his
“mentally retarded former sister-n-law, ” Y.P.,
and aggravated rape of his daughter, R.Y. State v.
York, 48, 230 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/7/13); 121 So.3d 1226,
1228, writ denied, 2013-2154 (La. 3/21/14); 135
So.3d 617. York cites Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S.
307 (1979), in support of his claim. York presented the
sufficiency of the evidence claim to all levels of the state
courts through direct appeal to the Second Circuit Court of
Appeal and his application for supervisory relief to the
Louisiana Supreme Court. Thus, this claim was exhausted for
purposes of federal habeas review. (Doc. 22-2, p. 153).
of insufficient evidence present a mixed question of law and
fact. Perez v. Cain, 529 F.3d 588, 594 (5th Cir.
2008). The Court must give deference to the state court's
findings unless the decision was contrary to or involved an
unreasonable application of Supreme Court law. See Miller
v. Johnson, 200 F.3d 274, 281 (5th Cir. 2000).
appropriate standard for determining the sufficiency of
evidence is set forth in Jackson, which was relied
on by the state appellate court. Jackson requires a
court to determine whether, after viewing the record and the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, a
rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319; Perez, 529 F.3d
at 594; Williams v. Cain, 408 Fed.Appx. 817, 821
(5th Cir. 2011).
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 is to consider all of the trial
evidence as a whole under Jackson); Johnson v.
Cain, 347 Fed.Appx. 89, 91 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324) (Jackson standard
relies “upon the record evidence adduced at the
trial”). A 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) (per curiam) (citing United States v.
Garcia, 995 F.2d 556, 561 (5th Cir. 1993)); see also
Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319 (noting that it is the
jury's responsibility “to resolve conflicts in the
testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable
inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts”).
Therefore, a reviewing federal habeas court is not authorized
to substitute its interpretation of the evidence or its view
of the credibility of witnesses for that of the fact-finder.
Weeks v. Scott, 55 F.3d 1059, 1062 (1995) (citing
Alexander v. McCotter, 775 F.2d 595, 598 (5th Cir.
1985)). All credibility choices and conflicting inferences
must be resolved in favor of the verdict. Ramirez v.
Dretke, 398 F.3d 691, 695 (5th Cir. 2005).
addition, “[t]he Jackson inquiry ‘does
not focus on whether the trier of fact made the correct guilt
or innocence determination, but rather whether it made a
rational decision to convict or acquit.'”
Santellan v. Cockrell, 271 F.3d 190, 193 (5th Cir.
2001) (quoting Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 402
(1993)). Thus, to determine whether the commission of a crime
is adequately supported by the record, a 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).
Second Circuit Court of Appeal was the highest state court to
issue a reasoned opinion on this issue. Therefore, this Court
must look through the Louisiana Supreme Court's summary
denial of the Second Circuit's reasoning. Ylst ...