United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before me on Petitioner Ines Letica's petition
for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
I referred this matter to United States Magistrate Judge
David D. Noce for a report and recommendation on all
dispositive matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).
Judge Noce filed his recommendation that Letica's habeas
petition should be denied. Letica filed objections to Judge
Noce's report. I have conducted a de novo review
of Letica's claims and have carefully reviewed the record
in this case. Based on that review, I agree with Judge Noce
that Letica's petition should be denied.
was convicted of felony assault in the first degree and armed
criminal action. He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of
fifteen years imprisonment. Letica's conviction was based
on a fight he participated in on December 7, 2007, outside a
bar. On direct appeal the Supreme Court of Missouri reciting
the facts of the case noted that Letica approached
victim in the bathroom of the bar and stated that he wanted
to talk to victim outside. (Resp. Ex. I, p. 2) The victim
told Lecita's cousin that he wanted to be left alone and
did not want to fight Lecita. The victim and Lecita went out
the back door and after a short verbal exchange Lecita cut
the victim's throat and neck with a knife. The victim
sustained more knife cuts to his chin, chest, knee, and
abdomen for a total of fifteen cuts. The victim went back
inside the bar and collapsed. (Id.) No one witnessed
first two trials resulted in mistrials. The first mistrial
was based on a lack of prospective jurors in the jury pool.
The second mistrial was based on a deadlocked jury with one
juror “holding out” and refusing to find Letica
guilty based on the lack of a third-party witness to the
grounds for relief in his habeas petition are all based on
ineffective assistance of counsel claims. To prevail on a
claim alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant
must satisfy the two-part test of Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). For a convicted
defendant to prove that his counsel was ineffective, the
defendant must first show that the counsel's performance
was deficient. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. This
requires the defendant to show "that counsel made errors
so serious that counsel was not functioning as the
'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth
Amendment." Id. A defendant can demonstrate
that counsel's performance was deficient where
counsel's performance "'fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness.'" Wiggins v.
Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 522 (2003) (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). But "[s]trategic
choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts
relevant to plausible options are virtually
unchallengeable." United States v. Rice, 449
F.3d 887, 897 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Strickland,
466 U.S. at 690). And "[t]here is a 'strong
presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide
range of reasonable professional assistance.'"
Id. (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689).
If the defendant fails to show that his counsel was
deficient, the court need not address the second prong of the
Strickland test. Brown v. United States,
311 F.3d 875, 878 (8th Cir. 2002).
a defendant must demonstrate that the deficient performance
was "so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair
trial, a trial whose result is reliable."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. "The defendant
must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but
for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different. A reasonable
probability is a probability sufficient to undermine
confidence in the outcome." Id. at 694.
Eighth Circuit has described the Strickland test as
follows: the questions a court must ask are "[w]hether
counsel's performance was in fact deficient and, if so,
whether the defendant was prejudiced by the inadequate
representation. If we can answer 'no' to either
question, then we need not address the other part of the
test." Fields v. United States, 201 F.3d 1025,
1027 (8th Cir. 2000). When evaluating counsel's
performance, the court "must indulge in a strong
presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide
range of reasonable professional assistance."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Considered objectively,
counsel's performance is gauged by "whether it was
reasonable 'under prevailing professional norms' and
'considering all the circumstances.'"
Fields, 201 F.3d at 1027 (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). "[W]e avoid
making judgments based on hindsight." Id. A
reviewing court's "scrutiny of counsel's
performance must be highly deferential."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689.
federal district court's power to review state court
criminal decisions in a federal habeas corpus proceeding is
limited. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 92
(2011)(“Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), the
availability of federal habeas relief is limited with respect
to claims previously “adjudicated on the merits”
in state-court proceedings.”). “As a condition
for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state
prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the
claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in
justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S.
asserts three grounds for relief.
first ground for relief Letica claims that his counsel was
constitutionally ineffective for not calling two of Letica
acquaintances as witnesses in the third trial. They both
testified briefly at the second trial. The first witness
testified that he had witnessed a physical confrontation
between Letica and the victim outside the same bar around
March 2007, nine months before the assault at issue, which
started as a shoving match. The second witness, a
“close friend” of Lecita's, testified that he
saw Letica and the victim get into an altercation at a
different bar at an unknown date or year. A scuffle broke
out between Letica and the victim and the victim and his
friends were escorted out of the bar.
trial counsel at the third trial did not call these
witnesses. Neither of these witnesses saw the incident at
issue in this case. Letica presented a theory of self-defense
at trial. He testified about the two altercations he had with
the victim described by his witnesses at the second trial.
The victim also admitted that he and Letica had altercations
in the past. Letica asserts that his counsel was ineffective
for failing to call Letica's ...