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Baker v. Dir., Va. Dep't of Corrections

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

April 1, 2014

Elijah Temel Baker, Petitioner,
v.
Dir., Va. Dep't of Corrections, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEONIE M. BRINKEMA, District Judge.

Elijah Temel Baker, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging multiple convictions entered in the Circuit Court of the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss and Rule 5 Answer, with a supporting brief and numerous exhibits. Baker was given the opportunity to file responsive materials, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison , 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and has filed a reply. For the reasons that follow, Baker's claims will be dismissed.

I. Background

Baker was convicted of multiple crimes. Specifically, on March 16, 2009, Baker pleaded guilty and was convicted of eluding police causing endangerment, mistreating a police animal, reckless driving, and driving with a suspended operator's license. Trial Tr. 6, 16-17, Mar. 16, 2009. On March 17, 2009, a jury found Baker guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, carjacking, robbery, and conspiracy. Trial Tr. 406-07, Mar. 17, 2009. That same day, the court found Baker guilty of one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Id . at 410. On May 5, 2010, the court sentenced Baker to a total of thirty-four years' incarceration with eight years suspended. Trail Tr. 35, May 5, 2010.

Baker pursued a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, which denied the petition for appeal on December 9, 2010. Baker v. Commonwealth, R. No. 1068-10-1 (Va. Ct. App. Dec. 9, 2010). On August 25, 2011, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused Baker's petition for appeal. Baker v. Commonwealth, R. No. 110470 (Va. Aug. 25, 2011).

Baker then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court of the City of Virginia Beach claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The court dismissed the petition on August 31, 2012. Baker v. Dir., Dep't Corr., Case No. CL12-2904. On April 3, 2013, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused Baker's petition for appeal. Baker v. Commonwealth, R. No. 122001 (Va. Apr. 3, 2013). On August 2, 2013, Baker timely filed the instant federal habeas petition raising the following ineffective assistance of counsel claims, in which he argues counsel was ineffective for failing to:

1. Preserve the record and argue that a separate act of violence to gain possession of the vehicle was necessary to prove carjacking.
2. Object to the court's failure to advise the jury of the difference between carjacking, joyriding, and larceny.
3. Raise the issue of lack of a separate act of violence to gain possession of the car.
4. Review the elements of the charged offenses with Baker.
5. Object to the court's denial of Baker's motion to represent himself.
6. Argue that Baker was intoxicated at the time of his offenses.
7. Object when objecting was necessary.
8. Show the assistance guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

Based on the pleadings and record before this Court, it is uncontested that Baker exhausted all of his claims as required under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

II. Standard of Review

When a state court has addressed the merits of a claim raised in a federal habeas petition, a federal court may not grant the petition based on the claim unless the state court's adjudication is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The evaluation of whether a state court decision is "contrary to" or "an unreasonable application of" federal law is based on an independent review of each standard. See Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

A state court determination runs afoul of the "contrary to" standard if it "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." Id . at 413. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, the writ should be granted if the federal court finds that 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 . Importantly, this standard of reasonableness is an objective one. Id . at 410. Under this standard, "[t]he focus of federal court review is now on the state court decision that previously addressed the claims rather than the petitioner's freestanding claims themselves." McLee v. Angelone , 967 F.Supp. 152, 156 (E.D. Va. 1997), appeal dismissed, 139 F.3d 891 (4th Cir. 1998).

III. Analysis

Baker's claims all allege ineffective assistance of counsel. To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show that (1) "counsel's performance was deficient" and (2) "the deficient performance prejudiced the defendant." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. To prove that counsel's performance was deficient, a petitioner must show that "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, " id. at 688, and that the "acts and omissions" of counsel were, in light of all the circumstances, "outside the range of professionally competent assistance." Id . at 690. Such a determination "must be highly deferential, " with a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance." Id . at 689; see also Burket v. Angelone , 208 F.3d 172, 189 (4th Cir. 2000) (reviewing court "must be highly deferential in scrutinizing [counsel's] performance and must filter the distorting effects of hindsight from [its] analysis"); Spencer v. Murray , 18 F.3d 229, 233 (4th Cir. 1994) (court must "presume that challenged acts are likely the result of sound trial strategy.").

To satisfy Strickland's prejudice prong, a "defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 694. In this respect, "[a] reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id .; accord Lovitt v. True , 403 F.3d 171, 181 (4th Cir. 2005). The burden is on the petitioner to establish not merely that counsel's errors created the possibility of prejudice, but rather "that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with errors of constitutional dimension." Murray v. Carrier , 477 U.S. 478, 494 (1986) (citations omitted, emphasis original). The two prongs of the Strickland test are "separate and distinct elements of an ineffective assistance claim, " and a successful petition "must show both deficient ...


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