United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.
David Wallace Jones, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss, and the time for Petitioner to respond expired, making the matter ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, the court dismisses the habeas claims as meritless.
After a bench trial, the Circuit Court for Pittsylvania County sentenced Petitioner to an active sentence of ten years' incarceration for statutory burglary and grand larceny. Petitioner's appeals to the Court of Appeals of Virginia and Supreme Court of Virginia were unsuccessful.
Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court for Pittsylvania County that presented claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Per the Circuit Court's order, Respondent's counsel mailed a motion to dismiss to both Petitioner and the Circuit Court on March 20, 2013. The copy of the motion to dismiss sent to Petitioner allegedly included a proposed final order, but Respondent's counsel explained to the Circuit Court in a letter accompanying the motion to dismiss that a proposed final order would be sent to the Circuit Court approximately fourteen days later.
Petitioner filed a "motion to proceed" on April 8, 2013, that addressed the motion to dismiss and asked the Circuit Court to grant habeas relief. On April 9, 2013, the Circuit Court judge signed and entered Respondent's proposed final order, which was nearly identical to the wording of the motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court of Virginia refused a subsequent petition for appeal.
In the instant, timely-filed petition, Petitioner argues that the Circuit Court violated the United States Constitution by signing the proposed dismissal order prepared by Respondent's counsel. Petitioner further argues that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by not calling Petitioner's mother as an alibi witness and not conducting a pre-trial investigation to effectively cross examine the prosecution's witnesses. Respondent concedes that the claims are exhausted but argues that they do not entitle Petitioner to relief. The court agrees and dismisses the petition.
A federal court may grant habeas relief from a state court judgment "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). After a state court addresses the merits of a claim also raised in a federal habeas petition, a federal court may not grant the petition unless the state court's adjudication of a claim is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law or based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). "[R]eview under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen v. Pinholster , 563 U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011).
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. Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). A state court determination is "contrary to" federal law 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.
A federal court may also issue the writ under the "unreasonable application" clause 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 . This reasonableness standard is an objective one. Id . at 410. A Virginia court's findings cannot be deemed unreasonable merely because it does not cite established United States Supreme Court precedent on an issue if the result reached is not contrary to that established precedent. Mitchell v. Esparza , 540 U.S. 12, 16 (2003).
A federal court reviewing a habeas petition "presume[s] the [state] court's factual findings to be sound unless [petitioner] rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.'" Miller-El v. Dretke , 545 U.S. 231, 240 (2005) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)); see, e.g., Lenz v. Washington , 444 F.3d 295, 300-01 (4th Cir. 2006). Finally, "[a] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance." Wood v. Allen , 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010).
Petitioner argues that due process and equal protection rights were violated when the state habeas court adopted "ex-parte findings of fact and conclusions of law verbatim" by signing and entering the final order proposed by Respondent. "[C]laims of error occurring in a state post-conviction proceeding cannot serve as a basis for federal habeas corpus relief." Bryant v. Maryland , 848 F.2d 492, 493 (4th Cir. 1988); see Pennsylvania v. Finley , 481 U.S. 551, 557 (1987) (holding there is no constitutional right to state post-conviction review). This holding applies even when a ...