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Costello v. Steele

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

September 25, 2017

TROY STEELE, Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Keith Costello's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) The government has responded. (Doc. 15.) For the following reasons, Petitioner's petition is DENIED and this action is DISMISSED with prejudice.

         I. Introduction and Background

         In November 2010, a jury found Petitioner guilty of first-degree robbery. (Resp. Ex. I at PageID #: 1016.) The court sentenced him to life in prison. (Id. at PageID #: 1016-17.) While in custody awaiting trial, Petitioner filed a request for a speedy trial, giving the state 180 days to begin its prosecution. (Id. at PageID #: 1016.) Petitioner was appointed counsel from the St. Louis County Public Defender's Office-attorney Nancy Pew. (Id.) However, it was later determined that the Office was already representing Petitioner's co-defendant, whom the prosecution intended to present as a witness against Petitioner, leading Ms. Pew to withdraw based on the conflict of interest. (Id.) Before she withdrew, she advised Petitioner that his replacement counsel would have only about two months to prepare for trial and recommended that he withdraw his request for, and waive his right to, a speedy trial. (Resp. Ex. G at PageID #: 986.) Petitioner did so, signing what appears to be a waiver he wrote himself. (Doc. 16-1 at PageID #: 1028.)

         After the original 180-day deadline had elapsed, Petitioner, represented by new appointed counsel, moved to dismiss the charges as time-barred, arguing that his speedy-trial waiver was unenforceable as the result of ineffective assistance of counsel and that therefore the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. (Doc. 1 at PageID #: 18-19.) The trial court held a hearing, heard testimony from the attorneys involved, and denied the motion. (Id. at PageID #: 19.)

         On direct appeal, Petitioner argued, among other things, that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss. (Resp. Ex. E at PageID #: 829.) The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence, finding that Ms. Pew's conflict had no effect on her advice to waive his right to a speedy trial. (Id. at PageID #: 830.) “Instead, ” the court held, “the record reflects [Petitioner] was advised of the advantages and disadvantages of waiving his right to speedy trial, and he chose to do so.” (Id. at PageID #: 830-31.)

         Thereafter, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Missouri Rule of Criminal Procedure 29.15, raising the denial of his motion to dismiss as his only point relied on. (Resp. Ex. G.) The trial court denied relief and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed. (See Resp. Ex. I.)

         Petitioner then filed this § 2254 petition, arguing that the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss violated his rights to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel. (Docs. 1, 16.) Under Missouri Revised statute § 217.460, the state must try a defendant within 180 days after receiving his request for trial. The failure to timely try a defendant divests the state courts of jurisdiction. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 217.460. The government argues that Petitioner's due-process ground is not cognizable on habeas review and that, in any event, the trial court's denial of the motion was not unreasonable. (Doc. 15.)

         II. Analysis

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a district court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Federal courts may not grant habeas relief on a claim that has been decided on the merits in state court unless that adjudication:

(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)(1)-(2).

         “A state court's decision is contrary to . . . clearly established law if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a [Supreme Court] decision . . . and nevertheless arrives at a [different] result.” Cagle v. Norris, 474 F.3d 1090, ...

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