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Clayton v. Steele

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

March 16, 2018

KENNETH CLAYTON, Petitioner,
v.
TROY STEELE, [1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Petition of Kenneth Clayton for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Petition is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         I. Procedural History

         Petitioner Kenneth Clayton is currently incarcerated at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center located in Bonne Terre, Missouri ("ERDCC") pursuant to the judgment and sentence of the Circuit Court of St. Louis City, Missouri. (Resp't's Ex. D pp. 51-54) On February 11, 2009, a jury found Petitioner guilty of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. (Resp't's Ex. B p. 48) On April 3, 2009, the court sentenced him to concurrent terms of twenty-five (25) years' imprisonment on each count. (Resp't's Ex. D pp. 51-54) Petitioner filed a direct appeal, and on April 6, 2010, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. (Resp't's Ex. E) Petitioner then filed Motions to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Judgment or Sentence pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. (Resp't's Ex. F pp. 5- 18) Appointed counsel filed an amended Rule 29.15 motion on February 8, 2010. (Id. at pp. 30-49) On September 27, 2010, Petitioner filed a pro se amended Rule 29.15 motion to be added to the motion. (Id. at pp. 50-66) On October 9, 2011, the motion court denied Petitioner's motion for post-conviction relief. (Id. at pp. 67-71) The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the motion court in a decision dated November 5, 2013. (Resp't's Ex. I) On November 5, 2014, Petitioner filed the present petition for habeas relief in federal court.

         II. Factual Background[2]

         On August 29, 2005 at approximately 2:00 a.m., Chauncey Walker ("Walker" or "Victim") was walking to a store located a few blocks from his home. A man driving a Taurus approached Walker, and Walker declined what he perceived was an offer to sell him drugs. The man stated, "dude up the street tripping off you" and drove away. Walker then decided to return home. While walking home Petitioner rode a bicycle toward Walker and was holding a revolver. Petitioner asked Walker what he was doing, and Walker answered that he was going to the store. Walker began running away, and Petitioner shot him in the right forearm. At the hospital, Walker provided information to the police about the incident and who he believed shot him. Based on conversations with a neighborhood friend, Walker thought the shooter's name was Kenneth Smith. Walker also informed the detective that he and a friend Brian Mabins encountered the shooter a week and half before, and the shooter was driving the same Taurus Walker saw on the day of the incident. Walker was shown two photo line-ups. The first included a photograph of a Kenneth Smith. Walker was unable to identify the shooter in that line-up. However, during the second line-up, Walker positively identified Petitioner as the shooter.

         III. Petitioner's Claims

         In his Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, Petitioner raises three claims for federal habeas relief. Petitioner argues in Ground One that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of prior bad acts and uncharged crimes and that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to admission of this evidence. In Ground Two, Petitioner asserts that the trial court erred in admitting identification testimony procured through impermissibly suggestive law enforcement procedures and that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the identification evidence. Ground Three alleges that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecuting attorney to use a peremptory strike to remove an African-American venireperson.

         IV. Legal Standards

         Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), federal courts review state court decisions under a deferential standard. Owens v. Dormire, 198 F.3d 679, 681 (8th Cir. 1999). "[A] district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus . . . only on the ground that [the petitioner] is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Further, a federal court may not grant habeas relief unless the claim adjudicated on the merits in state court '"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.'" Owens, 198 F.3d at 681 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)). Findings of fact made by a state court are presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See also Gee v. Groose, 110 F.3d 1346, 1351 (8th Cir. 1997) (state court factual findings presumed to be correct where fairly supported by the record).

         "Under the 'contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-413 (2000). With regard to the "unreasonable application" clause, "a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413; see also Bucklew v. Luebbers 436 F.3d 1010, 1016 (8th Cir. 2006); Rousan v. Roper, 436 F.3d 951, 956 (8th Cir. 2006). In other words, "a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather that application must also be unreasonable." Williams, 529 U.S. at 411.

         To preserve a claim for federal habeas review, a petitioner must present the claim to the state court and allow that court the opportunity to address petitioner's claim. Moore-El v. Luebbers, 446 F.3d 890, 896 (8th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). "Where a petitioner fails to follow applicable state procedural rules, any claims not properly raised before the state court are procedurally defaulted." Id. A federal court will consider a defaulted habeas claim "only where the petitioner can establish either cause for the default and actual prejudice, or that the default will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Id.

         V. Discussion

         In the instant case, Respondent contends that all three grounds are barred from federal habeas review because they are procedurally defaulted. Further, Respondent asserts that the claims are without merit.

         A. Ground One

         At the outset, the Court notes that Petitioner appears to raise two separate claims: (1) trial court error in admitting evidence of prior bad acts and uncharged crimes; and (2) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to object to the admission of this evidence. As such, the Court will discuss each separately.

         Respondent contends that Petitioner's claim of trial court error is procedurally barred from federal review because he failed to raise this claim on direct appeal. In his Traverse, Petitioner does not address Respondent's procedural default argument with respect to the admission of evidence of prior bad acts by the trial court. The Court finds that this claim is procedurally defaulted. Petitioner did not raise a claim of trial court error regarding the admission of prior bad acts in his direct appeal. Petitioner's evidentiary claims challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and the identification testimony, not the admission of prior bad acts. (Resp't's Ex. E pp. 2-5, 11-13) Failure to present claims to the Missouri courts at any stage of the direct appeal or post-conviction proceedings constitutes procedural default. Sweet v. Delo,125 F.3d 1144, 1149 (8th Cir. 1997). A federal court lacks the authority to reach the merits of procedurally defaulted claims unless petitioner can show cause and prejudice for the default or demonstrate ...


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