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Harvey v. Steele

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

September 25, 2017

RODNEY D. HARVEY, Petitioner,
TROY STEELE, Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Rodney D. Harvey's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) The Government has responded. (Doc. 15.) Petitioner had filed a Traverse. (Doc. 23.) For the following reasons, Petitioner's petition is DENIED and this action is DISMISSED with prejudice.

         I. Introduction and Background

         In 2010, following a bench trial, Petitioner was convicted of first-degree robbery, armed criminal action, unlawful possession a firearm, and possession of a controlled substance. (Resp. Ex. B at PageID #: 130-34.) At the sentencing hearing, the trial court announced concurrent terms of thirty years for the robbery, thirty years for the armed criminal action, fifteen years for the gun charge, and fifteen years for the drug charge. (See Resp. Ex. E at PageID #: 208.) The written judgment was the same except that it listed a thirty-year sentence for the drug crime. (Resp. Ex. B at PageID #: 130-34.)

         On appeal, Petitioner advanced two arguments. (Resp. Ex. C.) First, he asserted that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury because his waiver was induced by several misleading statements made by the judge. (Id. at PageID #: 158-67.) Second, Petitioner asserted that the trial court erred in imposing a written sentence that conflicted with its oral pronouncement. (Resp. Ex. C at PageID #: 168-71.) The Missouri Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner's first argument on the merits, but granted relief on the second and modified the trial court's judgement of sentence, holding that, “[i]f there is a material difference between the written judgment and the oral pronouncement of sentence, the oral pronouncement controls.” (Resp. Ex. E at PageID #: 206-08 (citing Zima v. Steele, 301 S.W.3d 510, 514 (Mo. 2010)).) Petitioner did not appeal.

         In 2012, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Missouri Rule of Criminal Procedure 29.15, raising two instances of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, alleging that counsel should have called certain witnesses and should have objected on cross-examination to questions about Petitioner's criminal history. (Resp. Ex. F at PageID #: 225-46.) The motion court denied relief and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed that denial, holding that the decision not to call the witnesses was strategically sound and that the questions were neither improper nor prejudicial. (Resp. Ex. I.)

         Petitioner then filed this 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition, advancing the same four arguments he raised in his direct appeal and post-conviction motion. (Doc. 1.) The government argues that Petitioner's first ground is procedurally defaulted, his second is moot, his third fails on the merits, and his fourth is non-cognizable. (Doc. 15.) Petitioner has filed a traverse in support of his first, third, and fourth grounds. (Doc. 23.)

         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, 1095 (8th Cir. 2007) (alteration in original) (quoting Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003)).

         A state court “unreasonably applies” federal law when it “identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case, ” or “unreasonably extends a legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000). A state court's factual findings are presumed to be correct, and a state court decision may be considered an unreasonable determination “only if it is shown that the ...

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