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Roberts v. Lewis

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

September 11, 2019

JASON LEWIS, [1] Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on the Petition of Carlos Roberts for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1) The Petition is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition will be denied.

         I. Procedural History

         Petitioner Carlos Roberts ("Petitioner" or "Roberts") is currently incarcerated at the Southeast Correctional Center ("SECC") located in Charleston, Missouri pursuant to the judgment and sentence of the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. (Resp't's Ex. H pp. 101-04, ECF No. 5-8) On April 13, 2012, a jury found Petitioner guilty of second-degree murder, armed criminal action, and unlawful use of a weapon. (Id. at pp. 93-95) On May 25, 2012, the court sentenced him to two concurrent terms of life imprisonment on the second-degree murder and armed criminal action counts, and a concurrent term of 4 years on the unlawful use of a weapon count. (Id. at pp. 101-04) Petitioner filed a direct appeal, and on December 3, 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court.[2](Resp't's Ex. D, ECF No. 5-4) Petitioner then filed apro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Judgment or Sentence pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15 in June, 2014. (Resp't's Ex. M pp. 4-9, ECF No. 5-20) Appointed counsel filed an amended Rule 29.15 motion on October 3, 2014. (Id. at pp. 13-29) On November 17, 2014, the motion court denied Petitioner's motion for post-conviction relief. (Id. at pp. 30-37) The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the motion court in a decision dated October 6, 2015.[3] (Resp't's Ex. L, ECF No. 5-19) On April 18, 2016, Petitioner filed the present petition for habeas relief in federal court. (ECF No. 1)

         II. Factual Background[4]

         Petitioner Roberts and the victim, V.T. ("Victim") had a common law marriage and raised six children together. Defendant has a low IQ and history of substance abuse. Victim ended the relationship and moved into their adult daughter's apartment in early 2008. Defendant followed the Victim and moved in with his daughter and the Victim, so the Victim left. Defendant directed numerous threats toward Victim after they separated. On March 16, 2008, the daughter's apartment caught fire while her children were there in Petitioner's care. Her son died in the fire, and her daughter was taken to St. Louis Children's Hospital. As the family gathered at the hospital the next day, a witness heard Petitioner demand that Victim return home with him. Victim replied that she wanted to stay at the hospital with her daughter and granddaughter. That evening, Petitioner and Victim left the building to smoke. Petitioner wielded a knife and stabbed Victim about her head, neck, and chest. Petitioner also cut his own wrists and throat. When security officers intervened, Petitioner pointed his knife at them until one officer drew his firearm. Police officers responded to the scene and arrested Petitioner, who admitted that he drank alcohol and smoked crack that day. Petitioner stated that he did not remember what occurred but later alleged that another man attacked the couple. The Victim did not survive, and the State charged Petitioner with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, and unlawful use of a weapon.

         III. Petitioner's Claims

         In his Petition, Roberts raises four grounds for federal habeas relief. These grounds are as follows:

(1) The evidence was insufficient to find Petitioner competent to stand trial;
(2) The evidence was insufficient to establish the requisite mental state to convict him;
(3) Petitioner was deprived of a fair trial because a juror was distracted; and
(4) Direct appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise on direct appeal a claim that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on a lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter.

         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).

         V. Discussion

         In the instant case, Respondent asserts, while Petitioner properly raised all claims in the state court proceedings, they are all without merit.

         A. Claim One

         Petitioner first claims the evidence was insufficient to find him competent to stand trial. Petitioner asserts that he presented evidence of a low IQ, indicating mild mental retardation and lack of sufficient reasoning skills to confer with his attorney and assist in his defense. Respondent maintains that the state court determinations that Petitioner was competent to stand trial were reasonable.

         The Missouri Court of Appeals addressed Petitioner's claim of incompetency and found:

First, Defendant contends that the evidence presented in his pre-trial competency hearing was insufficient to support the court's determination that Defendant was competent to stand trial. "The trial court's determination of competency is one of fact and must stand unless there is no substantial evidence to support it." State v. Anderson,79 S.W.3d 420, 433 (Mo. 2002). "In assessing sufficiency of evidence, this Court does not independently weigh the evidence but accepts as ...

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