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Diggins v. Vannoy

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 30, 2019

ROBERT DIGGINS
v.
DARREL VANNOY, WARDEN

         SECTION: “B” (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court are the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to dismiss Robert Diggins's (“Petitioner”) petition for habeas corpus relief (Rec. Doc. 16) and petitioner's objections to the Report and Recommendation (Rec. Doc. 17). For assigned reasons below, IT IS ORDERED that petitioner's objections are OVERRULED and the Report and Recommendation are ADOPTED as the opinion of the Court; and

         It IS FURTHER ORDERED the petition for issuance of a writ of habeas corpus is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Petitioner is a state prisoner incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. See Rec. Doc. 16 at 1. On May 11, 2010, a jury found him guilty of attempted second-degree murder. See Id. According to the record, petitioner shot Daniel Leban (“Leban”) in an attempt to regain access to his truck located inside A.J. Messina's (“Messina”) auto shop. See Rec. Doc. 16 at 5-6. Petitioner became a suspect based on information gathered from Leban, Messina, and a FEMA letter bearing petitioner's name found in Messina's auto shop. See id. Leban subsequently identified petitioner in a photographic lineup. See Id. Dr. Mark Dominguez (“Dr. Dominguez”), the trauma surgeon attending to Leban, informed officers that Leban was alert, responsive, and had not been administered any medication at the time of the identification. See id.

         On May 18, 2011 after previously being found a fourth-felony offender, the trial court sentenced petitioner to life imprisonment. See id. at 2. On October 23, 2013, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction and sentence. See id. On May 23, 2014, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied petitioner's application for writ of certiorari. See id. at 2-3.

         On or about July 20, 2015 petitioner submitted an application for post-conviction relief to the state district court. See id. at 3. On August 26, 2015, the state district court denied the application. See Id. On October 19, 2015, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal denied a related supervisory writ application. See id. On April 7, 2017, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied relief. See id.

         On April 12, 2017, petitioner filed the instant federal application for habeas relief alleging that: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained in the warrantless search of his vehicle; (2) the State suppressed exculpatory photographic evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland; (3) he was denied a fair trial based on prejudicial comments by the court, infringement on his right to present a defense, and biased hearsay rulings; (4) the trial court erred in allowing improper comments by the prosecutor during closing argument; (5) the life sentence was excessive; and (6) his counsel was ineffective because he provoked the trial court's prejudicial rulings, failed to file a motion for new trial, failed to object to jury charges, and failed to adequately prepare for the multiple bill hearing. See id. at 3-4. On October 2, 2017, the respondent filed a response to the habeas petition. See Rec. Doc. 13. On June 19, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation. See Rec. Doc. 16. On July 6, 2018, petitioner filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. See Rec. Doc. 17.

         MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS

         The Magistrate Judge recommended that petitioner's petition for habeas corpus relief be dismissed with prejudice. See Rec. Doc. 16 at 1. The Report deemed petitioner's motion to suppress claim procedurally barred and found that petitioner failed to establish judicial bias or substantial prejudice in his claims concerning allegedly prejudicial comments and evidentiary rulings. See id. at 6-11, 20-43. The Report concluded that petitioner's claims of Brady violations, improper closing arguments, and ineffective assistance of counsel did not establish the state court's decision was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of federal law. See id. at 43-70. The Report further found that petitioner's life sentence was not contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of federal law. See id. at 57-60.

         LAW AND FINDINGS

         A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal habeas corpus proceedings are subject to the rules prescribed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). See 28 U.S.C. §2254; see also Poree v. Collins, 866 F.3d 235, 245 (5th Cir. 2017). For pure questions of fact, factual findings are presumed to be correct. See § 2254 (e) (1). The applicant has the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. See id. However, a habeas writ may be granted if the claim's adjudication resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of facts in light of the evidence presented. See § 2254 (d) (2); see also Hankton v. Boutte, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126899 *1, *10 (E.D. La June 29, 2018).

         For pure questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact, state court determinations receive deference unless the decision was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of federal law. See § 2254 (d) (1); see also Hill, 210 F.3d at 485. A state court decision is contrary to federal law if: (1) it applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or (2) it decides a case differently than the Supreme Court when there are “materially indistinguishable facts.” See Poree, 866 F.3d at 246; see also Wooten v. Thaler, 598 F.3d 215, 218 (5th Cir. 2010). A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of federal law when it applies a correct legal rule unreasonably to the facts of the case. See White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 425 (2014). An unreasonable application of federal law must be objectively unreasonable; clear error will not suffice. See Boyer v. Vannoy, 863 F.3d 428, 453 (5th Cir. 2017)(“The question under AEDPA is not whether a federal court believes a state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold.”).

         A district court reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation may accept all sections of the report not objected to as long as those sections are not clearly erroneous. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72 (b); see also Gilker v. Cain, 2006 WL 1985969 (E.D. La. May 30, 2006). However, de novo review applies to “specific, written objections” of a magistrate's report made within 10 days after being served with a copy of the report. See 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b) (1) (c); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72 (b). A district court may then “accept, reject, or ...


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