United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
CLAUDE M. HILTON, District Judge.
Khayr Rooks, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the validity of his conviction in the Circuit Court for the City of Newport News, Virginia of robbery and other offenses. On May 5, 2014, Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss and Rule 5 Answer, with a supporting brief. Petitioner was given the opportunity to file responsive materials, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and he filed a reply on May 29, 2014. After reviewing the motions and the relevant state court records, petitioner's claims must be dismissed, for the reasons that follow.
On March 3, 2009, after a bench trial, petitioner was found guilty of one count of conspiracy, one count of wearing a mask in public, one count of burglary, five counts of robbery, one count of attempted robbery, and six counts of use of a firearm during the commission of a felony in the Circuit Court for the City of Newport News. Commonwealth v. Rooks, Case Nos. 07-61771, 61773 through 61775, 07-6177 through 61782, 07-61785, 61788, 61789, 61859. The court sentenced him to ninety-eight years' incarceration, with seventy years suspended, as well as one year of supervised release. Petitioner pursued a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Virginia challenging (1) the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions; and (2) the trial court's finding that it lacked discretion to sentence him to the three-year mandatory minimum for a first offense on all six of his firearm counts, rather than the five-year minimum for subsequent offenses. The Court of Appeals denied the petition for appeal on August 5, 2009, and a three-judge panel denied rehearing on December 16, 2009. Rooks v. Commonwealth, R. No. 0502-09-1 (Va. Ct. App. 2009). On June 11, 2010, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied petitioner's petition for appeal. Rooks v. Commonwealth, R. No. 092516 (Va. 2010).
On June 8, 2011, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court for the City of Newport News, claiming that (1) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the use of a firearm, as no "firearm" was actually used; (2) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the charging of multiple, rather a single, use of a firearm charges; (3) appellate counsel was ineffective for not presenting his arguments as based on both state law and the Constitution; and (4) the trial court erroneously concluded that it lacked discretion to construe each firearms charge as a first offense under the Virginia Code. On May 29, 2012, the court dismissed the petition. Rooks v. Dir., Deo't of Corr., Case No. CR11H01028-00. Petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which refused his appeal on January 29, 2013. Rooks v. Pearson, R. 121465. Petitioner then filed the instant federal habeas corpus petition on May 1, 2013, raising the following claims:
(1) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the charges of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, as there were no "firearms" present during the commission of the underlying crimes.
(2) Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the charging of "multiplicious, " rather than a single, use of a firearm in commission of a felony charges.
(3) The trial court erred in concluding that it lacked the discretion to treat each charge of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony as an initial offense, and sentence petitioner to the mandatory minimum for a first offense.
Respondent filed a motion to dismiss petitioner's claims on May 5, 2014, Petitioner filed a reply on May 29, 2014. Based on the pleadings and state court records before this Court, it is uncontested that petitioner exhausted all of his claims before the Supreme Court of Virginia, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review on the merits.
II. Standard of Review
When a state court has addressed the merits of a claim raised in a federal habeas corpus petition, a federal court may not grant the petition on that particular claim unless the state court's adjudications were contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or were 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 Terry Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). A state court determination violates 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, and does not allow a federal court to review simply for plain error. Id at 409-10; see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003). In addition, a federal court should review the state court determinations with deference; the court cannot grant the writ simply because it concludes that the state court incorrectly determined the legal standard. See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24-25 (2002) (internal citations omitted). 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).