United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
Robert E. Jackson, Petitioner,
Larry T. Edmonds,  Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.
Robert E. Jackson, 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 convictions in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond, Virginia of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute heroin. The petition was initially was filed on August 23, 2013. On April 11, 2014, respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss and Rule. 5 Answer, accompanied by a supporting brief and numerous exhibits. Petitioner was given the opportunity to file responsive materials, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and he has not filed a reply. For the reasons that follow, petitioner's claims must be dismissed.
On December 20, 2010, petitioner was found guilty of one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin after a bench trial in the Circuit Court for the City of. Richmond. Commonwealth v. Jackson, Case No. CR10F3653, CR10F3654. On April 14, 2011, the court sentenced him to forty years' imprisonment, with twenty-seven years and four months suspended. Petitioner pursued a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, alleging that the evidence presented was insufficient to sustain his convictions. On December 15, 2011, the Court of Appeals denied the petition for appeal and affirmed petitioner's convictions. Jackson v. Commonwealth, R. No. 0948-11-2 (Va. Ct. App. 2011) (per curiam). On May 2, 2012, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused petitioner's petition for appeal. Jackson v. Commonwealth, R. No. 120075 (Va. 2012).
Petitioner then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia, alleging that the Commonwealth Attorney knowingly used false evidence to obtain petitioner's conviction. On June 25, 2013, the court dismissed the petition. Jackson v. Warden of the Dillwyn Con. Ctr., R. No. 130598. On August 23, 2013, petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition,  alleging that the Commonwealth's Attorney knowingly used false evidence to obtain his convictions, and that the trial court erred in finding sufficient evidence to support petitioner's convictions.
On April 11, 2014, respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss petitioner's claims. Petitioner did not file a response. Based on the pleadings and record before this Court, it is uncontested that petitioner exhausted all of his claims as required under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. However, this Court may not review Claim One on the merits due to the Supreme Court of Virginia's finding of procedural default. The Court will review Claim Two on its merits.
II. Claim One
Petitioner states that the Commonwealth's Attorney knowingly used false evidence to obtain petitioner's conviction, which violated his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights. See Pet., at unnumbered page 4. Petitioner specifically states that "the Commonwealth's Attorney presented evidence of such dubious credibility that serious questions must be asked to ascertain his motivation for pursuing the prosecution...." Memorandum in Support of Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Pet.'s Mem.") [Dkt. 2], at 5.
This claim was the sole ground raised in petitioner's state habeas petition. The Supreme Court of Virginia, reviewing petitioner's claims, dismissed petitioner's claim as barred by Slayton v. Parrigan, 215 Va. 27, 205 S.E.2d 680 (1974) ((holding that a claim is procedurally defaulted if the petitioner could have raised it on direct appeal but did not). See Jackson v. Warden of the Dillwyn Corr. Ctr., slip op., at 1. If a state court finds, based on an adequate and independent state-law ground, that a claim is procedurally defaulted, the claim is not reviewable in federal habeas. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-30 (1991); Williams v. French, 146 F.3d 203, 208-09 (4th Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). A state procedural rule is "adequate" if it is "regularly or consistently applied by the state court, " and is "independent" if its application does not depend on the federal Constitution. Williams, 146 F.3d at 209 (internal citations omitted). The only exception to this rule is if the petitioner can show cause and prejudice for the default, or a fundamental miscarriage of justice, such as actual innocence. See e.g., Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 262 (1989) (internal citations omitted).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has consistently found that "the procedural default rule set forth in Slayton constitutes an adequate and independent state law ground for decision." Mu'min v. Pruett, 125 F.3d 192, 196-97 (4th Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted); see also Vinson v. True, 436 F.3d 412, 417 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Wright v. Angelone, 151 F.3d 151, 159-60 (4th Cir. 1998)). Accordingly, as petitioner has not shown cause and prejudice for the default, nor provided any evidence of a fundamental miscarriage of justice, the Supreme Court of Virginia's finding of procedural default is presumed to be correct. This Court therefore cannot consider Claim One.
III. Claim Two
A. 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 presented at the trial. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). 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 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. When reviewing the state court's findings, the federal court is limited to the record before the state court at the time of the decision. See Cullen v. Pinholster, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011).
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 ...