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Trueheart v. Dir., Dep't Corr.

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

August 21, 2014

Latroise Trueheart, Petitioner,
v.
Dir., Dep't Corr., Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEONIE M. BRINKEMA, District Judge.

Latroise Trueheart, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging he was denied due process during the sentencing phase of his state criminal trial. On May 16, 2014, respondent filed a Rule 5 Answer and Motion to Dismiss with a supporting brief and exhibits, and provided Trueheart with the notice required by Roseboro v. Garrison , 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) and Local Civil Rule 7K. After being granted an extension of time to reply, Trueheart timely submitted a reply brief on July 8, 2014. Accordingly, the matter is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration, respondent's Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and the petition will be dismissed with prejudice.

I. Background

Following a bench trial in the Circuit Court for the County of Prince Edward, Trueheart was convicted of robbery, burglary, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Case Nos. CR10-191-00, CR10-192-00, CR10-193-00, CR10-194-00, and CR10-325-00. The court sentenced Trueheart to fifty-three years imprisonment with forty-one years suspended. The facts underlying the conviction were described by the Court of Appeals of Virginia as follow:

[0]n September 19, 2009, Jasmine Morrison answered her door and two men rushed inside and robbed her at gunpoint. The men also took money and a gun from her residence. She called the police, and Lieutenant Epps responded to the scene at which time she told him that two of her boyfriend's friends had robbed her. Within a week of the incident, Morrison was shown a photo of the individuals she originally reported had committed the crime, and realized that they were in fact not the individuals who robbed her. She testified that the two robbers resembled the men she initially but mistakenly identified. She again identified appellant during the trial.
Antonio Haskins testified he participated in the robbery with appellant and Vernon Brookshire. He explained that they had gone to Morrison's house to purchase marijuana from her boyfriend, but he was not there. Then, appellant insisted Haskins knock on Morrison's door and when she opened it, appellant and Brookshire ran inside with the firearm displayed. Brookshire also testified at appellant's trial and confirmed Haskins' account of the events.
Appellant's mother and stepfather, in his defense, testified he was with them at their home at the time the crime was committed.

Trueheart v. Commonwealth, R. No. 2459-11-2 (Va. Ct. App. July 12, 2012); Resp. Ex. 3.

After Trueheart's trial but before he was sentenced, the Commonwealth sought to amend the original indictment to correct an incorrect citation to the Virginia Crime Code. Nov. 30, 2011 Tr. 11-15. On direct appeal, Trueheart raised two claims: the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and the trial court erred when it allowed the Commonwealth to amend the indictments pertaining to the charge of use of a firearm while committing a felony and possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony. Resp. Ex. 2. On July 12, 2012, the Court of Appeals of Virginia denied the appeal. R. No. 2459-11-2. The Supreme Court of Virginia refused a petition for further review on January 14, 2013, and refused a rehearing on March 8, 2013. Trueheart v. Commonwealth, R. No. 121776.

Trueheart then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia on the sole claim that the trial court violated his due process rights when the indictments were amended and his sentence was enhanced without prior notice. The court dismissed the petition on September 30, 2013, applying Henry v. Warden , 265 Va. 246, 576 S.E.2d 495 (2003), to hold that the issue was previously litigated at trial and on direct appeal, and thus was not cognizable in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Trueheart v. Dir., Dep't Corr., R. No. 13112. On March 19, 2014, Trueheart timely filed the instant federal habeas petition raising the sole claim that the trial court violated his due process rights when the indictments were amended and his sentence was enhanced without prior notice. Based on the pleadings and record before this Court, it is uncontested that Trueheart exhausted this claim 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 ...


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