United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Petitioner Dajuan Drake's
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 (Doc. 1). The Government responded (Doc. 7), and
Petitioner filed objections and traverse (Doc. 14). For the
following reasons, Petitioner's Section 2254 petition is
DENIED and this action is DISMISSED
Introduction and Background
December 13, 2009, Petitioner shot his girlfriend three
times, killing her. He was charged with first-degree murder
in violation of R.S.Mo. §565.020 and armed criminal
action in violation of R.S.Mo. § 571.015. On September
1, 2011, he pled guilty to an amended charge of murder in the
second degree and to armed criminal action. The State
provided the following factual basis for the charges at the
Your Honor, if this case proceeded to trial the State would
prove beyond a reasonable doubt, as to Count I, that the
defendant committed the Class A felony of murder in the
second degree, in that on or about December 13th, 2009 . . .
the defendant knowingly caused the death of [Victim] by
As to Count II, the State would prove the defendant committed
the felony of armed criminal action, in that on that same
date, at that same location, the defendant committed the
felony of murder in the second degree charged in Count I, and
he committed that felony by the knowing use, assistance, and
aid of a deadly weapon.
Specifically, Your Honor, the State would prove that while at
the defendant's home at 6212 Emma, the defendant took a
revolver, shot [Victim] once in the side, twice in the back
of the head, she died as a result of those injuries.
Ex. A at 98-9). Petitioner admitted that this factual basis
was true and accurate, and the state trial court explained to
Petitioner that there was a range of punishment available for
the counts asserted against him. (Id. at 100).
Petitioner stated that he understood the plea agreement, the
charges against him, and the range of punishment for those
charges. (Id. at 100-01). After confirming with
Petitioner that plea counsel never made any threats or
promises to get Petitioner to plead guilty and that
petitioner was pleading guilty voluntarily and of his own
free will, the state trial court found there was a factual
basis for Petitioner's guilty pleas, accepted the pleas,
and found Petitioner made the pleas voluntarily,
intelligently, and knowingly. (Id. at 100-02). In
accordance with the parties' plea agreement, the state
trial court sentenced Petitioner to two concurrent terms of
life imprisonment. (Id. at 108).
being sentenced, the state trial court engaged in further
questioning of the Petitioner regarding plea counsel.
Petitioner confirmed that he had enough time to discuss the
charges with his attorney before pleading guilty, that plea
counsel did not make any threats or promises to him to get
him to plead guilty, and that plea counsel fully explained
his rights, including the option to plead not guilty and go
to trial. (Id. at 111-12). Petitioner also confirmed
that plea counsel answered all of his questions and did
everything Petitioner asked plea counsel to do. (Id.
at 112). In addition, Petitioner stated that he was aware of
witnesses that could have testified for him had he gone to
trial and that he spoke with plea counsel about those
witnesses and what they would say on Petitioner's behalf.
(Id.). Lastly, Petitioner stated that plea counsel
had done a good job for him and that the sentence imposed was
what he expected under the plea agreement. (Id.).
Before answering any questions, Petitioner was given the
option to speak with the state court judge outside the
presence of plea counsel, which Petitioner refused.
(Id. at 111).
October 12, 2011, Petitioner timely filed a Rule 24.035
motion to set aside his sentence. On May 7, 2012, appointed
counsel filed an amended motion requesting an evidentiary
hearing and alleging inter alia, that Petitioner was denied
his right to effective assistance of counsel because plea
counsel unreasonably pressured Petitioner to plead guilty and
abandon his desire to proceed to trial under a theory of
self-defense. Petitioner claims that he killed the victim in
self-defense after the victim approached him with a knife and
that Petitioner had told officers at the scene that he had
shot the victim in self-defense.
25, 2013, the motion court held an evidentiary hearing on
Petitioner's claims, and plea counsel, Petitioner, and
Petitioner's mother testified. (Resp. Ex. B). Plea
counsel testified that he met with Petitioner approximately
ten times regarding his case, including evidence, defense
strategies, and possible witnesses. (Id. at 6). Plea
counsel recalled discussing with Petitioner the possibility
of proceeding under a theory of self-defense, as well as the
evidence required to prove the defense. (Id. at
7-8). Plea counsel took the depositions of the medical
examiner and the detective present at the crime scene and
communicated what he learned to Petitioner. (Id. at
9). However, after reading the police reports and conducting
those depositions, plea counsel was concerned that the bullet
trajectory refuted Petitioner's claim of self-defense
because the trajectories traveled from the back of the
victim's head to the front. (Id.). Plea counsel
testified that he did not denounce what Petitioner told him,
but would challenge Petitioner's version of events
against the evidence. (Id. at 14-15). Specifically,
Petitioner's account that he shot the victim as she
lunged at him with a knife conflicted with the bullet
trajectories, which showed that the bullets traveled from the
back of the victim's head to the front. (Id.).
Plea counsel advised Petitioner that self-defense was not a
good option and that there was a risk he could be convicted
of first-degree murder if the case proceeded to trial.
(Id. at 30). Plea counsel told Petitioner that it
was Petitioner's decision whether or not to proceed to a
trial, and plea counsel stated he never told Petitioner that
he had to plead guilty. (Id. at 15). Petitioner
asked counsel to negotiate a sentence of 20 years'
imprisonment, and plea counsel subsequently relayed to
Petitioner his negotiations with the State, as well as the
law and possible ranges of punishment. (Id. at
testified that plea counsel's attitude toward
Petitioner's case was nonchalant and that plea counsel
consistently disagreed with the things Petitioner told him
about the events that took place on the night of the murder.
(Id. at 37). He testified that he pled guilty
because he was scared, did not understand the process, and
that he would rather have gone to trial. (Id. at
39-40). Petitioner's mother testified about hiring plea
counsel's firm and the payment agreement. (Id.
motion court determined that the record reflected that
Petitioner understood the charges against him, the range of
punishment on those charges, and the sentencing
recommendation by the State. (Resp. Ex. A at 65). It
concluded that Petitioner's contention that plea counsel
was ineffective because he unreasonably influenced or
manipulated Petitioner into abandoning his self-defense
theory and entering guilty pleas was without merit and
refuted by the record. (Id. at 74). The motion court
noted Petitioner made repeated assurances at his plea and
sentencing hearings that he was satisfied with plea
counsel's performance, that plea counsel had done
everything Petitioner requested, and that plea counsel did
not make any promises or threats which caused Petitioner to
plead guilty. (Id. at 75-77). It also held that
there was credible testimony and evidence at the hearing that
plea counsel had done a thorough investigation of
Petitioner's case and determined, based on the physical
evidence, including the trajectory of the bullet that killed
the victim, and the deposition of the medical examiner, that
Petitioner's contention that he acted in self-defense was
not viable. (Id. at 75). The motion court held that
counsel was not ineffective for advising his client of the
strength of the State's case, which resulted in the
client pleading guilty. (Id. at 76).
Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the state court's
denial of Petitioner's post-conviction motion on
September 30, 2014. (Resp. Ex. E). Deferring to the
credibility determinations made by the state court, the state
appellate court held that Petitioner's assertion that he
received ineffective assistance of counsel was without merit
and that ...