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Stansberry v. Bowersox

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

August 2, 2016

JHERRIT M. STANSBERRY, Petitioner,
v.
GEORGE LOMBARDI, Director, Missouri Department of Corrections, [1]Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Jherrit M. Stansberry pled guilty in the Circuit Court of St. Louis City, Missouri, to two counts of first degree assault and two counts of armed criminal action and was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment aggregating twenty years. He brings this habeas action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 claiming that his guilty plea was involuntary because of ineffective assistance of counsel. Because this claim does not merit granting habeas relief, I will deny the petition for writ of habeas corpus.

         Procedural History

         On October 26, 2009, Stansberry pled guilty to two counts of assault first degree and two counts of armed criminal action. He was sentenced on December 18, 2009, to a term of twenty years’ imprisonment for the first count of assault and to three fifteen-year terms of imprisonment for the remaining counts, with all sentences to be served concurrently. No appeal was taken. On April 7, 2011, Stansberry filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 24.035, which was denied on April 11, 2012, without an evidentiary hearing. On December 18, 2012, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. Stansberry v. State, 388 S.W.3d 601 (Mo.Ct.App. 2012) (order) (per curiam). Stansberry filed this federal habeas action on April 5, 2013.[2]

         Stansberry is currently incarcerated at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charlston, Missouri. In this petition, he claims that plea counsel provided ineffective assistance by advising him that the court would impose a sentence within the guidelines, which he understood to be no more than fifteen years. Stansberry claims that he would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial if he knew that he was facing a longer term of imprisonment. Stansberry raised this claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in his motion for post-conviction relief and on appeal of its denial. Upon consideration of the merits of the claim, the Missouri Court of Appeals denied relief. Stansberry has thus exhausted this claim in State court and I may address it here. 28 U.S.C. 2254(b)(1); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999).

         Legal Standard

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), [a]n application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in 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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). See also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 379 (2000). A State court’s decision is “contrary to” clearly established Federal law when it is opposite to the Supreme Court’s conclusion on a question of law or different than the Court’s conclusion on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-13; Carter v. Kemna, 255 F.3d 589, 591 (8th Cir. 2001). A State court’s decision is an “unreasonable application” of Supreme Court precedent if it “identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court’s] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner’s case.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. Merely erroneous or incorrect application of clearly established Federal law does not suffice to support a grant of habeas relief. Instead, the State court’s application of such law must be objectively unreasonable. Id. at 409-11; Jackson v. Norris, 651 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2011). Finally, when reviewing whether a State court decision involves an “unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceedings, State court findings of basic, primary, or historical facts are presumed correct unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333, 338-39 (2006); Collier v. Norris, 485 F.3d 415, 423 (8th Cir. 2007). Erroneous findings of fact do not ipso facto ensure the grant of habeas relief. Instead, the determination of such facts must be unreasonable in light of the evidence of record. Collier, 485 F.3d at 423; Weaver v. Bowersox, 241 F.3d 1024, 1030 (8th Cir. 2001).

         The federal court is “bound by the AEDPA to exercise only limited and deferential review of underlying State court decisions.” Lomholt v. Iowa, 327 F.3d 748, 751 (8th Cir. 2003). Therefore, to obtain relief on his habeas claim here, Stansberry must show that the challenged State court ruling “rested on ‘an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.’” Metrish v. Lancaster, 133 S.Ct. 1781, 1786-87 (2013) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)). This standard is difficult to meet. Id. at 1786.

         Discussion

         At the time Stansberry’s conviction became final, the law was clearly established that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to effective assistance of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). In Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52 (1985), the Supreme Court held that a defendant who pled guilty upon the advice of counsel may challenge the voluntariness of that plea through a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 56-57.

         To be entitled to habeas relief on his claim, Stansberry must show that his attorney's performance was not within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases. Hill, 474 U.S. at 56-57. The standard to be applied in assessing counsel's performance is that set out in Strickland. Id. at 58. Accordingly, Stansberry must demonstrate that: 1) his counsel's performance was deficient, and 2) the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. To establish prejudice in the context of a guilty plea, Stansberry must show a reasonable probability that but for counsel’s error, he would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill, 474 U.S. at 59. Stansberry is entitled to habeas relief only if he can show that the State ...


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