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Daniels v. Kelley

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 1, 2018

James E. Daniels, Jr., Plaintiff- Appellant,
Wendy Kelley, Director, Arkansas Department of Correction (originally named as Ray Hobbs), Defendant-Appellee.

          Submitted: September 20, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before COLLOTON, BENTON, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         James Daniels, an Arkansas inmate serving a 65-year sentence for drug trafficking offenses, appeals an order of the district court[1] denying his application for a writ of habeas corpus. Daniels complains that the decision of the Arkansas courts upholding his conviction involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law concerning the right to counsel and an unreasonable determination of the facts of his case. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the district court.


         In 2011, Daniels was convicted in Arkansas state court of two drug trafficking offenses, and the Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed. Daniels v. State, 2012 Ark.App. 9, at 6-7, 2012 WL 11276, at *3. Daniels sought post-conviction relief, but the trial court denied his petition, and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. Daniels v. State, 2013 Ark. 208, at 2, 2013 WL 2149901, at *4.

         Daniels's claim in this federal proceeding centers on an alleged violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, so we recount the procedural history of his state criminal proceeding. After the State arrested and charged Daniels in August 2010, the Arkansas trial court appointed counsel for him as an indigent defendant. Daniels remained in custody due to a parole violation. A co-defendant, Justin Jones, was also detained when he was unable to post sufficient bond for pretrial release.

         Daniels and Jones were arraigned in October 2010. Jones was still unable to post bond, so the trial court decided to "fast track" the case and set it for trial on December 14, 2010. At the end of the hearing, Daniels asked the court's permission to retain private counsel. The court acknowledged Daniels's right to do so, but informed him that it would not grant a continuance to accommodate a new attorney. Two days later, Daniels's parents consulted with a private attorney, but this attorney did not enter an appearance or work on Daniels's case.

         The court held another pretrial hearing on November 15. Appointed counsel appeared for Daniels. The private attorney with whom Daniels's parents had consulted was also present, but he informed the court that after talking to a friend in law enforcement about the case, he was unwilling to represent Daniels. Daniels's appointed counsel apparently had been expecting private counsel to assume representation of Daniels, so she requested a continuance of the December 14 trial date. The court largely denied the motion, explaining in part that the next available trial date was in February and that delay would unnecessarily prolong the pre-trial detention of co-defendant Jones. After discussion, the court rescheduled the trial for December 16, 2010.

         Six days before trial, appointed counsel again moved for a continuance so that Daniels would have time to hire a private attorney. The court summarily denied the motion. On the date of trial, counsel renewed the motion to continue, arguing that Daniels had not had ample time to find an attorney of his choosing. The court denied the motion, observing that the private attorney consulted by Daniels's parents had never entered an appearance and stating that the court gave priority to cases where the defendants were in jail. The case then proceeded to trial with Daniels as the only defendant, and he was convicted on two drug trafficking charges. The court sentenced him to 65 years' imprisonment. The record suggests that Jones gave a statement to the prosecution on the day before trial, but it does not show a plea agreement or otherwise explain why Jones was not tried with Daniels.

         Daniels appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court's refusal to grant a continuance denied him his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice. The Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed. On the issue of right to counsel, the court held "that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion and that Daniels failed to demonstrate prejudice amounting to a denial of justice." Daniels, 2012 WL 11276, at *3. The court observed that Daniels "identified no new attorney he desired to retain, attempted to retain, or who was willing to be retained, in the month prior to trial." Id. The court continued that Daniels was "represented at all times by a public defender whose qualifications were never questioned, and the trial judge made clear from the outset that no continuance would be granted on the basis of a change of attorneys." Id. Daniels raised the denial of a continuance again in a state post-conviction proceeding, but the trial court denied relief, and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the court of appeals decision on direct appeal was law of the case.

         Daniels then petitioned the district court for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A magistrate judge recommended granting the writ, but the district court rejected the recommendation and denied relief. The court concluded that the Arkansas Court of Appeals did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal ...

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