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Morales v. Cassady

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

September 27, 2017

JAY CASSADY, Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Ricardo Morales' Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. [Doc. 1.] Respondent filed a response to the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. [Doc. 7.] The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). [Doc. 6] For the reasons set forth below, Robinson's petition for writ of habeas corpus will be denied.

         I. Background

         The state appellate court found the following facts to be true[1]. Beginning in October 1998, P.L. lived with her mother, siblings, and Morales. During that time, Morales statutorily raped P.L. on numerous occasions. Morales does not contest the factual findings that, during the same time period and beginning when P.L. was ten years old, Morales touched P.L.'s vagina and clitoris on multiple occasions. The abuse took place while P.L. was living with Morales in a number of different locations.

         In 2009, when she was about twenty years old, P.L. moved out of the home occupied by Morales and reported the abuse to the police. After an investigation, the State charged Morales with thirteen counts of statutory rape in the first and second degree and statutory sodomy in the first and second degree. (Resp't Ex. C at 12-15.) Morales moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the trial. The trial court granted Defendant's motion as to Count XI and denied it in all other respects. (Resp't Ex. A at 446.) A jury convicted Morales of twelve counts of the indictment and the trial court sentenced him to 15 years in counts I, III, and IV, to run consecutively, and 10 years on counts V, VI, VII, and VIII to run concurrently, and 7 years on counts IX, X, XII, and XIII to run concurrently. (Resp't Ex. C. at 118-125.)

         II. Standard of Review

         “The writ of habeas corpus stands as a safeguard against imprisonment of those held in violation of the law. Judges must be vigilant and independent in reviewing petitions for the writ, a commitment that entails substantial judicial resources.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 91 (2011). “In general, if a convicted state criminal defendant can show a federal habeas court that his conviction rests upon a violation of the Federal Constitution, he may well obtain a writ of habeas corpus that requires a new trial, a new sentence, or release.” Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911, 1917 (2013). The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (AEDPA) applies to all petitions for habeas relief filed by state prisoners after this statute's effective date of April 24, 1996. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326-29 (1997). In conducting habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings (1) resulted in a decision that is contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, 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). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed to be correct unless the petitioner successfully rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), the phrase “clearly established federal law refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state court decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71 (2003). “In other words, clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) is the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision.” Id. at 72. To obtain habeas relief, a habeas petitioner must be able to point to the Supreme Court precedent which he thinks the state courts acted contrary to or unreasonably applied. Buchheit v. Norris, 459 F.3d 849, 853 (8th Cir. 2006).

         A state court's decision is “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court precedent “if the state court either ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases' or ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the] precedent.'” Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000)).

         A state court decision is an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case. Id. (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407-408). “A federal habeas court making the unreasonable application inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable.” Penry, 532 U.S. at 793. “A state court decision involves ‘an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings, ' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record.” Evanstad v. Carlson, 470 F.3d 777, 782 (8th Cir. 2006). A “readiness to attribute error is inconsistent with the presumption that state courts know and follow the law.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). AEDPA's highly deferential standard demands that state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt. Id.

         III. Discussion

         Morales presents one claim for review. He asserts that the trial court erred in denying his motion for acquittal, because the State did not present sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable jury could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of statutory sodomy in Counts I, VIII, X, and XIII. Morales contends that there was not sufficient evidence of penetration of the victim's sexual organ to support his convictions.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment provides that no one can be deprived of liberty without due process of law and the Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” U.S. Const. amend. V, VI. “[These] provisions require criminal convictions to rest upon a jury determination that the defendant is guilty of every element of the crime with which he is charged, beyond a reasonable doubt.” U.S. v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 510 (1995).

         “In the interests of finality and federalism, federal habeas courts are constrained by [AEDPA] to exercise only a limited and deferential review of underlying state court decisions.” Sera v. Norris, 400 F.3d 538, 542 (8th Cir. 2005). State law defines the elements of state law crimes. Fenske v. Thalacker, 60 F.3d 478, 480 (8th Cir. 1995). “A judgment by a state appellate court rejecting a challenge to evidentiary sufficiency is of course ...

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