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Smalley v. Pash

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

May 15, 2015

JAMES H. SMALLEY, Petitioner,
v.
RHONDA J. PASH, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CATHERINE D. PERRY, District Judge.

James Smalley was convicted by a Missouri jury of trafficking drugs in the second degree. He was sentenced as a prior and persistent offender to fifteen years imprisonment. Smalley challenges his conviction by bringing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254.

Smalley's four grounds for relief all fail. His fourth amendment claim is not cognizable in a federal habeas proceeding. Two of his claims - improper chain of custody and improper comments by prosecutor during closing argument - are procedurally barred. Finally, his claim that his due process rights were violated when the trial court sustained the prosecutor's objections during the defense closing argument is without merit. Therefore, I will deny his petition for the writ of habeas corpus.

I. Background

On February 26, 2007, police officers patrolling in the City of St. Louis observed a man exit a vehicle alongside the curb. As the officers drove toward the car, the man took off running down the street, attracting the officers' attention. The officers then decided to speak with the occupants of the car, turned on their emergency lights and parked their patrol car alongside the car.

James Smalley sat in the driver's seat. The officers approached the vehicle on foot and commanded Smalley and a passenger to exit the vehicle. Smalley exited and informed the officers that he had outstanding warrants. The officers placed Smalley under arrest and performed a pat down search, finding nothing. The officers transported Smalley to the police station, where a custodial search was performed. During this search, officers found cocaine in the lining of Smalley's pants. The officers placed Smalley under arrest.

Smalley was charged with trafficking cocaine in the second degree. At trial, the prosecution's case consisted of testimony from the two arresting officers as well as testimony from the two chemists who tested the cocaine found in the lining of Smalley's pants. Smalley did not testify and no other defense witnesses were called. The jury found Smalley guilty of trafficking drugs in the second degree, and the court sentenced him to fifteen years in prison as a prior and persistent offender.

Smalley's conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. Missouri v. Smalley, No. ED91540, slip op. at 2 (Mo.Ct.App. Sept. 8, 2009) (per curiam) (included in Resp. Exh. F). Smalley then filed a pro se motion in the trial court for post-conviction relief under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. The motion court appointed counsel, who filed an amended motion. The court held an evidentiary hearing and denied Smalley's claims that his counsel was ineffective forfeiting to investigate and call two witnesses and failing to strike for cause a venireperson who served on the jury. Smalley v. Missouri, No. ED97900, slip op. at 2 (Mo.Ct.App. Feb. 26, 2013) (per curiam) (included in Resp. Exh. L). The denial of post-conviction relief was affirmed. Id.

II. Grounds Raised

Smalley now seeks federal habeas corpus relief, asserting the following four grounds:

(1) His right to be free from illegal search and seizure was violated because he was detained without reasonable suspicion, so the physical evidence should have been suppressed.
(2) His right to due process was violated when the trial court admitted evidence and testimony relating to the cocaine seized from his pants without proper chain of custody.
(3) His right to due process was violated by the trial court's sustaining the prosecution's objections to defense counsel's closing argument, unduly prejudicing the jury.
(4) His right to protection against self-incrimination was violated by the trial court's overruling defense counsel's objection to prosecution's closing argument because it ...

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