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Spikes v. State

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 28, 2019


         SECTION: “I” (3)



         Petitioner, Jason Jarrell Spikes, a Louisiana state prisoner, filed the instant federal application seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the following reasons, it is recommended that the application be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         On January 11, 2017, petitioner was convicted under Louisiana law of possession or introduction of contraband in a state correctional facility.[1] On June 26, 2017, he was found to be a fourth offender and was sentenced as such to a term of twenty years imprisonment without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence.[2] On December 21, 2017, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction, habitual offender adjudication, and sentence.[3]

         Petitioner thereafter began seeking federal habeas corpus relief. His first petition, which was filed in September of 2018, was docketed as Civil Action No. 18-08884. He then continued to file additional petitions which were docketed as Civil Action Nos. 18-09422, 18-10470, and 18- 13668. Because all four petitions challenged the same above-referenced state criminal judgment, they were consolidated.

         In its response to the first three petitions, the state argued that petitioner never sought review of his state criminal judgment by the Louisiana Supreme Court and, as a result, his claims were not exhausted as required by federal law.[4] Petitioner then filed a reply conceding that he failed to exhaust his remedies in the state courts but requesting that his case be “kept open” until he had time to do so in order to protect his ability to seek federal relief.[5] Construing that reply as a request that these proceedings be stayed, the Court granted a stay to allow petitioner an additional opportunity to exhaust his remedies in the state courts.[6]

         Petitioner then filed a writ application with the Louisiana Supreme Court challenging the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal's judgment affirming his conviction, habitual offender adjudication, and sentence. On February 18, 2019, the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to consider that writ application on the grounds that it was untimely filed.[7]

         On petitioner's motion, these proceedings were then reopened, and the state was ordered to file a supplemental response to the federal applications.[8] The state has now filed its supplemental response.[9]

         The state first argues that petitioner's claims remain unexhausted. The state is correct.

         “Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (quotation marks omitted). The United States Supreme Court has explained:

The exhaustion doctrine is principally designed to protect the state courts' role in the enforcement of federal law and prevent disruption of state judicial proceedings. Under our federal system, the federal and state courts are equally bound to guard and protect rights secured by the Constitution. Because it would be unseemly in our dual system of government for a federal district court to upset a state court conviction without an opportunity to the state courts to correct a constitutional violation, federal courts apply the doctrine of comity, which teaches that one court should defer action on causes properly within its jurisdiction until the courts of another sovereignty with concurrent powers, and already cognizant of the litigation, have had an opportunity to pass upon the matter.

Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518 (1982) (citations, footnote, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has further explained:

When undertaking review, we ask not only whether a prisoner has exhausted his state remedies, but also whether he has properly exhausted those remedies, i.e., whether he has fairly presented his claims to the state courts. To fairly present the claims, the applicant must present his claims in a procedurally correct manner. Fair presentation does not entertain presenting claims for the first and only time in a procedural context in which its merits will not be considered unless there are special and important reasons therefor. The purposes of the exhaustion requirement would be no less frustrated were we to allow federal review to a prisoner who had presented his claim to the state court, but in such a manner that the state court could not, consistent with its own procedural rules, have entertained it.

Carty v. Thaler, 583 F.3d 244, 254 (5th Cir. 2009) (citations and quotation marks omitted). That requirement applies to all levels of review in the state court system, meaning that a petitioner's federal claims must have been fairly presented to “each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review).” Baldwin, 541 U.S. at 29 (emphasis added). Applying those guiding principles, it is clear that the claims in petitioner's federal applications are unexhausted for the following reasons.

         Petitioner has filed only one writ application with the Louisiana Supreme Court concerning the state criminal judgment challenged herein. With respect to that writ application, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a judgment stating: “WRIT NOT CONSIDERED. Untimely filed pursuant to La.S.Ct.R. X § 5.”[10] Because the Louisiana Supreme Court expressly held that his sole writ application was untimely, petitioner has not “fairly presented” any claims to that court. As a result, the exhaustion requirement has not been met. See, e.g., Jackson v. Vannoy, Civ. Action No. 17-00265, 2018 WL 1441154, at *7 (E.D. La. Feb. 27, 2018) (“[Petitioner]'s writ application to the Louisiana Supreme Court was not considered by the Court because it was not timely filed. It is clear that a claim presented in an untimely writ application has not been ‘fairly presented' for exhaustion purposes. … Therefore, these … claims … were not presented to the Louisiana Supreme Court in a procedurally proper manner and cannot be considered to have been exhausted.”), adopted, 2018 WL 1409270 (E.D. La. Mar. 21, 2018). Therefore, petitioner's claims could be dismissed without prejudice on that basis.

         That said, the state argues that the Court should nevertheless consider the claims on the merits and simply deny them as meritless. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2) (“An application for a writ of habeas corpus may be denied on the merits, notwithstanding the failure of the applicant to exhaust the remedies available in the courts of the State.”). Because the claims are indeed meritless for the following reasons, and because a denial on the merits would be with prejudice, the undersigned agrees that is the best course in the interest of judicial economy.

         I. Standards of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) comprehensively overhauled federal habeas corpus legislation, including 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Amended subsections 2254(d)(1) and (2) contain revised standards of review for pure questions of fact, pure questions of law, and mixed questions of both. The amendments modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas ‘retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002).

         As to pure questions of fact, factual findings are presumed to be correct and a federal court 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.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) (“In a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.”).

         As to pure questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact, a federal court must defer to the state court's decision on the merits of such a claim unless that decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Courts have held that the “‘contrary to' and ‘unreasonable application' clauses [of § 2254(d)(1)] have independent meaning.” Bell, 535 U.S. at 694.

         Regarding the “contrary to” clause, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:

A state court decision is contrary to clearly established precedent if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in the [United States] Supreme Court's cases. A state-court decision will also be contrary to clearly established precedent if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the [United States] Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [United States] Supreme Court precedent.

Wooten v. Thaler, 598 F.3d 215, 218 (5th Cir. 2010) (footnotes, internal quotation marks, ellipses, and brackets omitted).

         Regarding the “unreasonable application” clause, the United States Supreme Court has held: “[A] state-court decision is an unreasonable application of our clearly established precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies that rule unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case.” White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 426 (2014). However, the Supreme Court cautioned:

Section 2254(d)(1) provides a remedy for instances in which a state court unreasonably applies this Court's precedent; it does not require state courts to extend that precedent or license federal courts to treat the failure to do so as error. 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. AEDPA's carefully constructed framework would be undermined if habeas courts introduced rules not clearly established under the guise of extensions to existing law.

Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). Therefore, when the Supreme Court's “cases give no clear answer to the question presented, let alone one in [the petitioner's] favor, it cannot be said that the state court unreasonably applied clearly established Federal law.” Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 126 (2008) (quotation marks and brackets omitted). The Supreme Court has also expressly cautioned that “an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one.” Bell, 535 U.S. at 694. Accordingly, a state court's merely incorrect application of Supreme Court precedent simply does not warrant habeas relief. Puckett v. Epps, 641 F.3d 657, 663 (5th Cir. 2011) (“Importantly, ‘unreasonable' is not the same as ‘erroneous' or ‘incorrect'; an incorrect application of the law by a state court will nonetheless be affirmed if it is not simultaneously unreasonable.”).

         While the AEDPA standards of review are strict and narrow, they are purposely so. As the United States Supreme Court has held:

[E]ven a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.
If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be. As amended by AEDPA, § 2254(d) stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings. It preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this Court's precedents. It goes no farther. Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal. As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011) (emphasis added; citations omitted); see also Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 779 (2010) (“AEDPA prevents defendants - and federal courts - from using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts.”).

         The Supreme Court has expressly warned that although “some federal judges find [28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)] too confining, ” it is nevertheless clear that “all federal judges must obey” the law and apply the strictly deferential standards of review mandated therein. White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 417 (2014).

         II. Facts

         On direct appeal, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal summarized the facts relating to petitioner's conviction as follows:

On February 27, 2016, officers with the Washington Parish Sheriff's Office noticed a few inmates, including the defendant, behaving in an unusual manner. The defendant was “staggering around” toward his bunk and appeared to be impaired. The defendant was later found passed out on his bunk. In response to the unusual behavior, the officers cleared the inmates from their cell block and searched the cells. During the search, the officers pulled back the blankets on the defendant's bunk, flipped back the mat, and found a homemade knife. When the defendant was told that the officers found his knife, he responded, “That's okay. I'll just make another one.”[11]

         III. Petitioner's Claims

         In the Order staying these proceedings, this Court noted: “[B]ecause petitioner's claims are not concisely stated, once this case is reopened he will be required to supplement his filings with a pleading which clearly identifies each claim he is asserting ….”[12] Petitioner has now complied with that requirement by listing the claims he is asserting in these consolidated proceedings in his motion to reopen.[13] He identifies his claims as follows:

1. The assistant district attorney made false statements in his appellate brief;
2. The assistant district attorney engaged in misconduct in the trial court;
3. The trial judge misstated petitioner's sentence;
4. There was insufficient evidence to support petitioner's conviction;
5. The state's witnesses committed perjury;
6. Petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective; and
7. “The supervisor was personally involved.”

         For the following reasons, petitioner's claims do not warrant federal habeas corpus relief.

         A. Prosecutorial Misconduct on Appeal

         Petitioner claims: “The assistant district attorney, Matthew Caplan, made false statements in his brief on direct appeal.”[14] However, petitioner's claim is wholly conclusory - he fails to identify even a single statement in the brief which was allegedly false. That alone is obviously fatal to his claim because, in federal habeas proceedings, “[t]he petitioner carries the burden of proof.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). In any event, the Court has reviewed the brief[15] and found no demonstrably false statements therein.

         B. Prosecutorial Misconduct in the Trial Court

         Petitioner claims that Assistant District Attorney Lewis Murray engaged in the following purported misconduct in the trial court.

         First, petitioner argues: “Murray offered me ten with the bill for two counts of contraband possession violations of R.S. 14:402. Where he could've offered me is five with the bill for one count, and five with the bill for the other count in violations of R.S. 14:402.”[16] This argument appears to be based on the fact that, except for drug-related contraband offenses, the maximum penalty for a single count of violating La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:402 was only five years at the time of petitioner's offenses in 2016. However, that is of no moment, because petitioner was not charged with a single count; he was charged with two counts, one of which involved drug-related contraband which carried a longer potential sentence.[17] Moreover, he faced enhanced penalties as a habitual offender. Therefore, even if the prosecutor did in fact offer a “package deal” of ten years total if petitioner pleaded guilty to both charged offenses, that offer was not inappropriate.

         Second, petitioner alleges that Murray “challenged all black people off [petitioner's] jury.”[18] The Court will liberally construe that allegation as an attempt to assert a claim pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). In Batson, the United States Supreme Court held that “the Equal Protection Clause forbids the prosecutor to challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race or on the assumption that black jurors as a group will be unable impartially to consider the State's case against a black defendant.” Id. at 89.

         The record reflects that Murray used peremptory challenges to remove Cassandra Jones, Sylvia Burkhalter, Sylvia Brumfield, Trevor Truax, Jon Sorey, and Rebecca Toler from the first voir dire panel. At that point, defense counsel raised a Batson challenge:

MR. KNIGHT [defense counsel]:
Judge, I'm not sure when I make a Batson objection, but I think Mr. Murray is indicating that he's taken off all the black people, with the exception of Ms. [Toscha] Harry. I would, at this point, for the record, make a Batson objection. I've never done it before and I don't know the procedure.
Let the record reflect of the twenty-four prospective jurors who were seated six of those individuals are black, or appear to be from visual observation. Ms. [Ernestine] Abrams was jointly moved to be excused for cause, and Ms. Abrams is a black female. The other black potential jurors were Ms. Jones, Mr. Burkhalter, Mr. Brumfield, Ms. Harry, and Ms. Toler. Mr. Murray has made challenges on all of those, except Ms. Harry. So as to each juror, beginning with Ms. Jones, if you would articulate the State's race neutral reasons.
Your Honor, the State does not believe that there is a pattern of exclusion, but I will give you my reasons. Ms. Cassandra Jones at first did not want to serve, and at one point explained that she was with Mr. Knight. She seemed to be very responsive to talking to Mr. Knight. Ms Sylvia Burkhalter had served as a juror in a drug case where the defendant was found not guilty. Ms. Brumfield clearly did not want to serve and looked very disinterested in the process. She maybe was not as exuberant as Ms. Jones was, but she did not want to serve. And, Ms. Toler, the defendant's either mother or grandmother was a Toler, Lynn Toler from Bogalusa. So even though she denied knowing Mr. Spikes -
I'm not sure what the Toler connection is.
His mother or grandmother was a ...

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