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Brown v. Jennings

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

January 10, 2020

BOYCE BROWN Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD JENNINGS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RODNEY W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before me on Petitioner Boyce Brown's application for a writ of habeas corpus, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. [1]. Brown argues that his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments have been violated. ECF No. [1]. For the reasons discussed below, I deny Brown's petition for habeas relief.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 27, 2013, in the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis, Brown was convicted of robbery in the first degree. He was sentenced to life in prison on November 1, 2013. Brown filed a timely appeal. His appeal was denied on October 21, 2014. Brown then filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. The trial court held a hearing on the petition and denied each of the claims. Brown filed an appeal and on May 15, 2018, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District affirmed the lower court's decision.

         After exhausting his state remedies, Brown filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his petition, Brown argues (1) the trial court abused its discretion or plainly erred by overruling defense objections to the State's closing argument, (2) the trial court abused its discretion or plainly erred by admitting the victim's testimony that an unidentified female caller gave her Brown's name, (3) the trial court abused its discretion by overruling Brown's motion to suppress evidence gained in a search of Ms. Davis's home, and (4) Brown's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call Lynda Kilgore as an alibi witness.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         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 federal court conducting habeas review, 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)). The Supreme Court considered what “contrary to” means in Williams v. Taylor. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000). The Court held that a state court decision is contrary to clearly established Federal law “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] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. A state court decision constitutes an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law if “the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme Court's] cases but unreasonably applies [the principle] to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case.” Id. Without providing a specific standard, the Court noted that federal courts conducting habeas review should ask “whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 409 . “[A]n unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.” Id. at 410. Specifically, “[a] state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as “fairminded jurists could disagree” on the correctness of that decision. Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664, 124 S.Ct. 2140, 158 L.Ed.2d 938 (2004). Additionally, 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 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).

         ANALYSIS

         In his petition, Brown argues that he is entitle to habeas relief for four reasons: (1) the trial court erred in overruling defense counsel's objections to the State's closing argument, (2) the trial court erred by admitting testimony that an unidentified female caller gave the victim Brown's name, (3) the trial court erred by overruling Brown's motion to suppress evidence gained in a search of Ms. Davis's home, and (4) Brown's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call Lynda Kilgore as a witness. I will discuss each of these claims in turn.

         I. TRIAL COURT DID NOT ERR BY OVERRULING BROWN'S OBJECTIONS TO THE STATE'S CLOSING ARGUMENT

         Brown raised the issue of the trial court's ruling on his objections to the State's closing arguments in his direct appeal. After reviewing the trial court's decision, the State appellate court held that the trial court did not err by overruling Brown's objections.

         In his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Brown claims the prosecutor's statements during the State's closing argument warrant habeas relief. In particular, he objects to the prosecutor's characterization of defense counsel's argument as “offensive.” Brown argues that these statements were unwarranted, constituted improper personalization, and disparaged defense counsel. ECF No. [1] at 5. At trial, the prosecutor made a number of statements during their closing argument that Brown challenges. The relevant portion of the transcript is provided below:

[Prosecutor]: Ladies and gentlemen, you heard all of the evidence and the defense attorney did exactly what I said to you he would do. It is unpalatable to say [Victim] lied. Why is it unpalatable? Because he knows what you know. She is credible….The ...

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