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Smith v. Payne

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

October 7, 2019

ERNEST L. SMITH, Petitioner,
v.
STANLEY PAYNE, [1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Missouri state prisoner Ernest L. Smith's petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. I will deny the petition.

         Procedural History

         On February 14, 2011, Smith was charged by criminal complaint in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri, with murder second degree and armed criminal action. An amended complaint was filed February 15, charging Smith with murder first degree and armed criminal action. A grand jury returned a two-count indictment on March 16, charging Smith with murder first degree and armed criminal action. On March 4, 2013, an information in lieu of indictment was filed, bringing the same charges and adding Smith's status as a prior offender. Trial on the information began that same date. On March 6, 2013, a jury found Smith guilty of murder second degree and armed criminal action. The court sentenced Smith to concurrent terms of thirty years' and fifteen years' imprisonment, respectively. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed Smith's conviction and sentence. State v. Smith, 430 S.W.3d 338 (Mo.Ct.App. 2014) (order) (per curiam).

         Smith thereafter filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15, which was denied after an evidentiary hearing. On March 1, 2016, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. Smith v. State, 482 S.W.3d 825 (Mo.Ct.App. 2016) (order) (per curiam). Mandate issued March 23, 2016.

         Smith timely filed this federal habeas petition on April 13, 2016, raising the following grounds for relief:

1) That he was denied due process when the trial court denied his request for mistrial and gave only an oral instruction to the jury regarding the prosecutor's reference to a voice stress analysis during his cross-examination of Smith;
2) That trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call Tiara Jones and William Stewart as witnesses at trial;
3) That trial counsel was ineffective for failing to argue to the jury that Marquan Prete did not grab the victim from behind during the shooting; and
4) That trial counsel and direct appeal counsel were ineffective for failing to raise a claim that his right to a speedy trial was violated.

         In response, respondent avers that Smith properly raised these claims in state court and that the Missouri Court of Appeals determined the claims to be without merit. Respondent contends that the court of appeals' determinations are objectively reasonable and are thus entitled to deference. For the following reasons, I agree.

         Legal Standard

         Where the state court adjudicated a claim on the merits, federal habeas relief can be granted on the claim only if the state court adjudication “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, ” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); or “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)(2). See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 379 (2000). The federal law must be clearly established at the time petitioner's state conviction became final, and the source of doctrine for such law is limited to the United States Supreme Court. Id. at 380-83.

         A state court's decision is “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court precedent when it is opposite to the Supreme Court's conclusion on a question of law or different than the Supreme Court's conclusion on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-13; Carter v. Kemna, 255 F.3d 589, 591 (8th Cir. 2001). A state court's decision is an “unreasonable application” of Supreme Court precedent if it “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.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. Merely erroneous or incorrect application of clearly established federal law does not suffice to support a grant of habeas relief. Instead, the state court's application of the law must be objectively unreasonable. Id. at 409-11; Jackson v. Norris, 651 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2011). Finally, when reviewing whether a state court decision involves an “unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings, a federal court must presume that state court findings of basic, primary, or historical facts are correct unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Rice v. Collins, 546 U.S. 333, 338-39 (2006); Collier v. Norris, 485 F.3d 415, 423 (8th Cir. 2007). Erroneous findings of fact do not ipso facto ensure the grant of habeas relief. Instead, the determination of these facts must be unreasonable in light of the evidence of record. Collier, 485 F.3d at 423; Weaver v. Bowersox, 241 F.3d 1024, 1030 (8th Cir. 2001).

         The federal court is “bound by the AEDPA [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). To obtain habeas relief from a federal court, the petitioner must show that the challenged state court ruling “rested on ‘an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'” Metrish v. Lancaster, 569 U.S. 351, 357-58 (2013) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011)). This standard is difficult to meet. Id.

         Relevant Factual Background

         Evidence adduced at trial showed that Smith's home was burglarized in early 2011. On February 6, 2011, Anthony Ramsey, an acquaintance of Smith's, went to Smith's home to tell him that Christopher “Merk” Scott was the person who burglarized his home and that there was another plan to rob him. Later that day, Scott arrived at Smith's house to purchase heroin. In addition to Smith, Scott, and Ramsey, Marquan Prete and another individual were present at the house. While Scott was sitting on Smith's couch, Smith grabbed a gun, hit Scott with it, and asked Scott where his “stuff was. Smith and Scott then wrestled over the gun. Smith fired the gun, hitting Scott in the neck. As Scott attempted to flee, the other individual present struck him with a broom handle and Scott fell. When Scott got up and turned back toward Smith, Smith shot him again, striking him in the right eye and killing him.

         Smith wrapped Scott's body in plastic and duct tape. He drove the body to East St. Louis, Illinois, where he discarded it next to some dumpsters, poured gasoline on it, and set it on fire. While crossing the bridge returning to Missouri, Smith ...


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