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Smith v. Steele

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

March 21, 2019

CHARLES SMITH, Petitioner,
TROY STEELE, Respondent.



         This matter is before the undersigned on the petition of Missouri state prisoner Charles Smith (“Petitioner”) for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Doc. 3). For the following reasons, the Court will deny the petition.

         I. Factual Background

         On January 30, 2013, Petitioner pleaded guilty to attempted forcible rape, robbery in the first degree, kidnapping, and three counts of armed criminal action. Resp't Ex. A, at 24; Resp't Ex. B, at 3.[1] On April 25, 2013, the trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment for the attempted forcible rape charge and to concurrent ten-year sentences on each of the remaining charges, to run consecutive to the life sentence. Resp't Ex. A, at 24-26; Resp't Ex. B, at 14.

         On August 22, 2013, Petitioner filed his pro se motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 24.035. Resp't Ex. A, at 31-36. On January 30, 2014, through counsel, Petitioner filed his amended motion for post-conviction relief. Id. at 44-54. In the amended motion, Petitioner asserted a single claim: that his plea counsel was ineffective in failing to sufficiently explain the range of punishment (regarding consecutive sentences) and failing to correct Petitioner's misapprehension that because he had no criminal history, he could expect to receive a sentence between 15 and 25 years. Id. at 46. On February 7, 2014, the motion court denied the motion without an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 55-59. Petitioner raised the same claim on appeal. Resp't Ex. C. On February 3, 2015, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the motion court's denial. Resp't Ex. E. On February 26, 2015, the Missouri Court of Appeals issued its mandate affirming the denial of post-conviction relief. Resp't Ex. F.

         On December 18, 2015, Petitioner filed the instant pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. 1). It is not entirely clear what claims Petitioner is asserting. Reading the petition very broadly, it could be construed to assert several claims of ineffective assistance of plea counsel: (1) failure to explain sentencing issues to Petitioner-in particular, failure to correct Petitioner's belief that he could expect to receive a sentence of no more than twenty to twenty-five years and failure to explain consecutive sentencing-resulting in a plea that was not knowingly and voluntarily entered; (2) failure to check into witness information, including the ethnicity of the victim; (3) failure to follow up with petitioner regarding sentencing prior to the plea date; and (4) failure to obtain letters of personal and professional reference.[2]

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Standard of Review

          Federal habeas review exists only “as ‘a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.'” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (per curiam) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011)). “[I]n the habeas setting, a federal court is bound by AEDPA [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act] to exercise only limited and deferential review of underlying state court decisions.” Lomholt v. Iowa, 327 F.3d 748, 751 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254). Under AEDPA, a federal court may not grant relief to a state prisoner with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in the State court proceedings unless the state court's adjudication of a claim “(1) 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; 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 state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court precedent “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the United States Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the United States Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). A state court decision involves an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law if it “correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case.” Id. at 407-08. See also Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). “Finally, a state court decision involves an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record.” Jones v. Luebbers, 359 F.3d 1005, 1011 (8th Cir. 2004) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). See also Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333, 338-39 (2006) (noting that state court factual findings are presumed correct unless the habeas petitioner rebuts them through clear and convincing evidence) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).

         B. Procedural Default

         To preserve a claim for federal habeas review, a state prisoner “must present that claim to the state court and allow that court an opportunity to address [his or her] claim.” Moore-El v. Luebbers, 446 F.3d 890, 896 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731-32 (1991)). “Where a petitioner fails to follow applicable state procedural rules, any claims not properly raised before the state court are procedurally defaulted.” Id. The federal habeas court will consider a procedurally defaulted 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. (citing Sawyer v. Whitley, 505 U.S. 333, 338-39 (1992)). To demonstrate cause, a petitioner must show that “some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule.” Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986). To establish prejudice, “[t]he habeas petitioner must show ‘not merely that the errors at . . . trial created a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions.'” 494 (quoting United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982)). Lastly, in order to assert the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception, a petitioner must “present new evidence that affirmatively demonstrates that he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.” Murphy v. King, 652 F.3d 845, 850 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Abdi v. Hatch, 450 F.3d 334, 338 (8th Cir. 2006)).

         III. Discussion

         A. The Petition Must Be Dismissed as Untimely

         Respondent argues that the Petition must be dismissed because it was not timely filed. Under AEDPA, “[a] 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court.” 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Absent tolling, failure to file within that one-year window ...

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