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Jones v. Griffith

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

March 27, 2019

GEORGE JONES, Petitioner,
v.
CINDY GRIFFITH, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner George Jones' (“Jones” or “Petitioner”) pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [Doc. 1-1.] Respondent filed a response to the Petition. [Doc. 11.] Jones filed a traverse. [Doc. 12.] The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). [Doc. 5.] For the reasons set forth below, Jones' petition for writ of habeas corpus will be denied.

         I. Background

         Jones is currently an inmate at the Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri. He was charged with one count of domestic assault in the second degree, one count of assault in the first degree on a law enforcement officer, and two counts of armed criminal action. These charges stemmed from an attack, on April 8, 2010, on a woman with whom Jones was then living (“M.P.”) and to which Officer Matt Crosby (“Officer Crosby”) responded in the course of his patrol.

         The Missouri Court of Appeals found the following facts to be true. During the April 8 incident, Jones punched M.P. in the face, hit her over the head with a handgun, and threatened to kill her and her daughter. M.P. called the police for assistance, and two officers responded. A witness in the stairwell of the apartment building where the altercation occurred stated that upon the officers' arrival on the scene, Jones shot at Officer Crosby. One bullet grazed Officer Crosby's head and another lodged in his spine, permanently paralyzing him. [Doc. 11-5 at 2-3.]

         Jones originally proceeded to trial on these charges, but changed course after one day of testimony. On July 31, 2012, he entered an Alford plea[1] because he did not feel he would have been able to refute the State's evidence. At the plea hearing, as required under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 24.02(b), the court inquired whether Jones understood each charge against him or had questions regarding the charges. Jones indicated he understood his rights and the charges against him. The State recited the evidence it contends established Jones' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The court then accepted Jones' plea. On September 11, 2012, Jones filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which the court denied. On September 24, 2012, the court sentenced him as a prior and persistent offender to concurrent sentences of 15 years imprisonment for second-degree domestic assault, 15 years for each of the two counts of armed criminal action, and life for first-degree assault of a law enforcement officer. [Doc. 11-1 at 25-28, 37.]

         On March 18, 2013, Jones filed his pro se motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 24.035, raising the following four claims for relief: (1) he was denied the right to fire his attorney two weeks before trial; (2) his plea counsel was ineffective by advising him that he felt Jones would receive a sentence of between twenty to twenty-five years if he plead guilty; (3) his plea counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate the credibility of his expert witness; and (4) his plea counsel was ineffective in advising him that the trial court may be likely to consider a sentence of twenty to twenty-five years if he pled guilty “right then and there.” [Doc. 11-3 at 44.] On July 16, 2013, through counsel, Jones filed his amended motion for post-conviction relief, and that motion was subsequently denied. Jones appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, pursuing only one of his claims regarding ineffective assistance of trial counsel. [Doc. 11-3.] Specifically, Jones asserted that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to diligently investigate the credibility of his expert forensic witness, Chris Robinson (“Robinson”), who he had planned to use at trial. [Doc. 11-5 at 5.] Jones asserted that his trial counsel should have discovered that Robinson had been dismissed from the Atlanta police department for misappropriation of state funds. Id. He further asserted that there was an alternative expert witness who would have provided “the same useful testimony, ” and who did not have any credibility issues. Id. He finally alleged that if his trial counsel had found an alternative witness with no credibility issues, he would have proceeded with trial, and therefore, his plea was not knowing and voluntary. Id. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the motion court's ruling and denied Jones' appeal.

         Jones subsequently filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court, raising four claims: Ground One, that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the credibility of his expert witness; Ground Two, that the trial court and his counsel failed to inform him of his right to appeal; Ground Three, that his trial counsel was ineffective for advising Jones that he would probably receive a sentence of between twenty to twenty-five years if he pled guilty; and Ground Four, that the Missouri rules of criminal procedure are unconstitutional because they do not require trial courts to inform criminal defendants of their right to appeal during a guilty plea colloquy, thus depriving them of their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. [Docs. 1 and 1-1.]

         II. Standard of Review

         A. Standard for Reviewing Habeas Corpus Claims on the Merits

         A federal judge may issue a writ of habeas corpus freeing a state prisoner, if the prisoner is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). However, the judge may not issue the writ if an adequate and independent state-law ground justified the prisoner's detention, regardless of the federal claim. See Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 81-88 (1977).

         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)). Accordingly, “[i]n the habeas setting, a federal court is bound by the 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 the 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 the 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 States 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, 412-13 (2000). “[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 the opportunity to address the 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) and Abdullah v. Groose, 75 F.3d 408, 411 (8th Cir. 1996) (en banc)). “The procedural default doctrine and its attendant ‘cause and prejudice' standard are ...


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