United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
RULING ON OBJECTIONS
R. SUMMERHAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
James Duplantis, Petitioner in this matter, filed a Petition
for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254
[Doc. No. 1] on November 28, 2017, asserting several
assignments of error by the trial court in his state criminal
proceeding. The matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge,
who issued a Report and Recommendation [Doc. No. 16] on July
8, 2019. Petitioner filed an "Objection to the
Magistrate's [sic] Judge Report and Recommendation"
[Doc. No. 17], assigning errors by the Magistrate Judge.
Defendant Darrel Vannoy filed a memorandum in support of the
Report and Recommendation [Doc. No. 18] on August 5, 2019.
The Court finds only one portion of one objection asserting
ineffective assistance of counsel warrants further
discussion. For the reasons stated in the Report and
Recommendation, as supplemented herein, the Petition for writ
of habeas corpus is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
recited in the Report and Recommendation, Jessie James
Duplantis was convicted on September 12, 2012 of sexual
battery of a minor, and was sentenced to life in prison.
[Doc. No. 16 at 7] He filed a direct appeal in the Third
Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the sentence and
conviction. Duplantis applied for a writ of certiorari in the
Louisiana Supreme Court, which was denied. Id. at
7-8. Duplantis applied to the state district court for
post-conviction relief on June 27, 2015, which was denied on
November 19, 2015. Id. at 8.
asserts several grounds for habeas relief, including the
insufficiency of his trial counsel. Duplantis argues that his
counsel, among other things, failed sufficiently to impeach
the victim witness, who was nine years old at the time of
trial [Doc. No. 10-109 at 154], with purported
inconsistencies in the witness' testimony. [Doc. No. 1-4
at 32-35] After an independent review of the record and law,
this Court agrees with the findings in the Report and
Recommendation under the applicable law. Duplantis, however,
objects to the findings with respect to his ineffective
assistance claim and the sufficiency of defense counsel's
cross-examination of the victim. [Doc. No. 17]
contends that there were material discrepancies within the
victim's trial testimony, between the victim's trial
testimony and an interview he gave during the criminal
investigation, and between the testimony of the victim and
other witnesses. [Doc. No. 1-4 at 32-33] Duplantis argues
that because his attorney failed sufficiently to
cross-examine the victim witness regarding these
inconsistencies, Duplantis was denied a fundamentally fair
trial and effective assistance of counsel, as guaranteed by
the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution. Id. at 35.
order to be entitled to habeas relief for ineffective
assistance of counsel, a petitioner must demonstrate: (1)
that his counsel's performance was deficient, which
requires a showing that counsel made errors so serious that
the attorney failed to function as "counsel" as
guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, and (2) that the
deficiency so prejudiced the defendant that it deprived him
of a fair trial. [Doc. No. 16 at 29 (citing Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064
(1984))]. To satisfy the first prong, the petitioner must
demonstrate that counsel's representation fell beneath an
objective standard of reasonableness. Id. The court
should "indulge a strong presumption that counsel's
conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable
professional assistance." Id. The second prong
requires the petitioner to show "a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
different." Strickland, 104 S.Ct. at 2055-56.
The petitioner must show prejudice great enough to create a
substantial, rather than conceivable, likelihood of a
different result. Pape v. Thaler, 645 F.3d28l,
288(5th Cir.2011) (quoting Cullen v. Pinholster, 563
U.S. 170, (2011)). "Both of [Stricklands]
prongs must be proven, and the failure to prove one of them
will defeat the claim, making it unnecessary to examine the
other prong." Williams v. Stephens, 761 F.3d
561, 566-67 (5th Cir. 2014).
review of the trial transcript [Doc. No. 10-110 at 163-74],
the Court finds that defense counsel's cross-examination
of the victim witness does not fall below an objective
standard of reasonableness, and thus Petitioner does not meet
the first prong of the Strickland analysis. Whether
and how to emphasize inconsistencies in testimony is a
strategic or tactical choice, as antagonizing the victim runs
the risk of alienating the finder of fact. It is not
objectively unreasonable for counsel to err on the side of
caution in an attempt not to alienate a jury in such a
situation. See Pitts v. Tanner, No. 6:14-CV-3415,
2015 WL 10045174, at *18 (W.D. La. Dec. 14, 2015), report
and recommendation adopted, No. 6:14-CV-3415, 2016 WL
554884 (W.D. La. Feb. 10, 2016); see also Landry v.
Cain, No. CV 14-0372-SDD-EWD, 2017 WL 4545212, at *7-8
(M.D. La. Aug. 28, 2017), report and recommendation
adopted, No. CV 14-372-SDD-EWD, 2017 WL 4544604 (M.D.
La. Oct. 11, 2017)). Furthermore, defense counsel addressed
any alleged inconsistencies through the examination of other
witnesses, [see, e.g., Doc. No. 10-110 at 203-05]
Defense counsel's closing argument also centered on
undermining the victim's credibility, and specifically
drew attention to the kinds of inconsistencies of which
Petitioner complains. [Doc. No. 10-110 at 240-44] Therefore,
the Court finds no merit in the contention that defense
counsel's performance failed an objective test of
reasonability, or that a more vigorous cross-examination
would have caused a different result. Petitioner's
request for relief based on his counsel's
cross-examination of the victim witness is denied.
stated above, the Court agrees with the findings and
conclusions in the Report and Recommendation of the
Magistrate Judge. For those reasons and for the reasons given
above, and considering the objections to the Report and
Recommendation in the record, the Court will issue a ...