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Collins v. Clarke

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

June 19, 2014



JOHN A. GIBNEY, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the respondent Harold Clarke's Motion to Dismiss Clifton Collins' Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. (Dk. No. 5.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Collins, a Virginia state prisoner, challenges his convictions for attempted abduction, in violation of Va. Code §§ 18.2-26 and 18.2-47, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, in violation of Va. Code § 18.2-53.1. (Dk. No. 1.)

Collins presses four claims in his habeas petition, none of which state a valid claim for relief. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the respondent's motion to dismiss and DISMISSES the petitioner's § 2254 petition.

I. Statement of Facts

Collins, a bail bondsman licensed by the state of North Carolina, posted bond for a criminal defendant, James Sydnor. Sydnor fled North Carolina in violation of his bond. Collins traveled to Virginia after learning that Sydnor would be there attending a funeral. At the funeral, Collins accosted a suspect at gunpoint whom he believed to be Sydnor. Unfortunately, this caused two problems for Collins. First, Virginia has adopted a licensure statute for bondsmen, and Collins does not have a Virginia license. Second, Collins did not confront Sydnor but rather his cousin, Spruill, the assistant police chief of a Virginia locality.[1]

These events led to Collins' convictions and the resulting prison sentence. Collins appealed, but both the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed his convictions. Collins v. Com., 283 Va. 263, 720 S.E.2d 530 (2010); Collins v. Com., 57 Va.App. 355, 702 S.E.2d 267 (2010).

Collins then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court denied his petition. Collins v. Clarke, No. 130099, at p. 3 (Va. 2013). Collins subsequently filed the instant petition in this Court.

II. Legal Standard

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") of 1996 limits this Court's authority to grant relief from state court convictions by way of a writ of habeas corpus. AEDPA restricts the scope of federal review of both the factual findings and the legal conclusions made by state courts.

As to factual findings, "[s]tate court factual determinations are presumed to be correct and may be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence." Gray v. Branker, 529 F.3d 220, 228 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)); Tucker v. OzminI, 350 F.3d 433, 439 (4th Cir. 2003). In order to overturn a state conviction, a federal court must find that the state court rendered "a decision that 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). The relevant question in reviewing factual findings is whether, "after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at 319 (citing Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356, 362 (1972)).

Similar limitations apply to this Court's power to review a state court's legal conclusions. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), a federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus based on any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudicated claim "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). The question "is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000)).

Consequently, "state-court judgments must be upheld unless, after the closest examination of the state-court judgment, a federal court is firmly convinced that a federal constitutional right has been violated." Williams, 529 U.S. at 387. "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 [objectively] unreasonable." Id. at 411.

A final check on the Court's authority applies in this case. If the underlying state court habeas decision denied relief based on an adequate and independent state law ground, the federal court cannot reverse the state court's decision based on a violation of ...

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