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Lawson v. Young

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

June 20, 2016


          Jeffery Thomas Lawson, Pro Se Petitioner;

          Christopher P. Schandevel, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, Virginia, for the Respondent.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         The petitioner, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The petitioner attacks his 2014 convictions for the assault and battery and unlawful wounding of his girlfriend. Upon review of the parties’ submissions and records from the trial court and the Supreme Court of Virginia, I conclude that the respondent’s Motion to Dismiss must be granted.


         In the early morning hours of August 12, 2013, Darcie G. Flanary, an officer of the Big Stone Gap, Virginia, Police Department, lodged a Criminal Complaint against Jeffery Thomas Lawson in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (“J&DR court”) for Wise County, reciting as follows:

On 12 August 2013 I was dispatched to Lonesome Pine Hospital in reference to an assault that had already taken place. Upon arrival I spoke with Marcie Evans who is a patient at Lonesome Pine Hospital. Evans is covered in bruises and has two black eyes. Her chest is black and blue. Her left ear has been bleeding but has since stopped. There are bruises around her right collar bone, on her left shoulder and arm, her back and right buttocks. There are numerous bruises on the front and back of both legs. Evans stated that she was at her apartment yesterday when Jeffery Thomas Lawson came in and started beating on her. There have been numerous accusations of assault by Evans in the past. Evans and Lawson used to live together as boyfriend and girlfriend but have been apart for approximately one month. While I was at the hospital, Lawson called Evans’ phone 5 times. I answered the phone the second time it rang and told Lawson who I was and asked him not to call Evans again. He called 3 more times after that. Myself and Officer Taylor went to Lawson’s residence. Lawson denied having assaulted Evans. I observed faint marks on Lawson’s hands that could have been obtained in an assault. At first Lawson stated that he hadn’t been out of the house during the day and then he stated that he and his girlfriend had been fishing earlier. Placed Lawson under arrest for domestic assault. I am also requesting an emergency protective order. After having been read his rights Lawson stated he has assaulted Evans more times than he could count.

(Criminal Compl., ECF No. 16-1, p. 6-7.)

         At Lawson’s preliminary hearing, Officer Flanary testified about events at the hospital and at Lawson’s home on August 11, 2013.[1] Flanary also showed the court the photographs she had taken of Evans’ injuries. Evans testified that Lawson had beaten her on two occasions - August 9 and 11, 2013. She testified that on the earlier occasion, Lawson had thrown her into a door and then to the floor, causing an injury to her right shoulder and bruises all over her body, which two neighbors had observed. Evans testified that on August 11, 2013, Lawson had punched her in the eye, slapped her face and ear, causing it to bleed, and shoved her around. Evans testified that although the shoulder injury had occurred on August 9, she went to the emergency room after the August 11 incident, because her shoulder started “hurting real bad.” (Prelim. Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 15-1, p. 65.) Medical records presented to the court indicated that Evans’ right collar bone was broken.

         The J&DR court found probable cause to bind over Lawson’s case to the grand jury. After the hearing, Flanary filed a supplemental report about the fact that Evans’ collar bone was broken. Flanary notified Lawson’s attorney that as a result of this injury, a charge of malicious wounding would be presented to a grand jury.

         On October 21, 2013, the grand jury returned an Indictment, charging Lawson with assault and battery of a family or household member, third offense, “on or about August 11, 2013, ” in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-57.2 (Count One), and malicious wounding “by use of his fists, with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable or kill, “on or about August 11, 2013, ” in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-51 (Count Two). (Indictment, ECF No. 16-1, p. 19.) Count One carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison, while Count Two carried a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.

         Lawson entered into a written Plea Agreement under which the prosecution agreed to amend the malicious wounding charge to unlawful wounding, with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, in exchange for Lawson’s pleas of guilty to Count One and Count Two as amended. Under the agreement, Lawson would be sentenced to five years on each offense, but with all but three years of the total ten-year sentence suspended Lawson, with counsel, came before the Circuit Court for Wise County on January 13, 2014. The judge read aloud Count One and Count Two as amended, reviewed the elements the Commonwealth would have to prove at trial, stated the maximum punishment of five years in prison, and asked Lawson, “How do you plead to that charge?” (Sentencing Tr., ECF No. 16-1, p. 90.) On each count, Lawson answered, “Guilty.” (Id.)

         Before accepting the guilty pleas, the judge questioned Lawson and told him to ask the judge or his attorney for an explanation of anything that he did not understand. Lawson affirmed his age, his completion of the eleventh grade, and his understanding of the charges and what the Commonwealth would have to prove. He affirmed that he had discussed with his attorney the charges, their elements, possible defenses, and whether or not he should plead guilty. Lawson also affirmed that after these discussions, he had decided for himself to plead guilty, and that he was doing so freely and voluntarily because he was “in fact guilty of the crimes charged.” (Id., ECF No. 16-1, p. 92.)

         The judge then reviewed with Lawson the trial and appeal rights that he was waiving by entering guilty pleas, the possibility that the convictions would result in revocation of his probation, and the maximum sentences he faced, and Lawson affirmed that he understood. Lawson denied that anyone had threatened him or forced him to enter his guilty pleas or made any promises about the guilty pleas. Lawson affirmed that he understood the terms of the Plea Agreement and denied having any questions about them. At this point, through counsel, Lawson stipulated that the facts were sufficient to support a finding of unlawful wounding and of assault and battery of a household member, third offense.

         Based on the foregoing colloquy and stipulation, the judge told Lawson, “I’m making a finding here on the record that you know what you’re doing in taking this plea, so I’m going to accept it. . . . [and] find you guilty” of the charges. (Id., ECF No. 16-1, p. 96.) By Order entered January 16, 2014, the state court convicted Lawson of assault and battery of a family member, third offense, and unlawful wounding and sentenced him to an active term of three years in prison, pursuant to the Plea Agreement. Lawson did not appeal.

         Lawson filed a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia on November 13, 2014.[2] (Record No. 150094, ECF No. 15.) The Supreme Court construed his petition as alleging a double jeopardy violation, involuntary guilty pleas, and ineffective assistance of counsel. Based on the record and an affidavit from defense counsel, the Supreme Court found no basis for habeas relief, granted the Motion to Dismiss, and denied Lawson’s motion seeking to set aside the judgment and grant a rehearing.

         Lawson next filed this timely § 2254 petition, alleging the following grounds for relief:

(a) The petitioner’s convictions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution because the underlying acts for both offenses occurred on the same date, at the same location, and involved the same victim;
(b) The petitioner’s guilty pleas were not knowing and voluntary because the psychotropic medication he was taking and his unspecified mental illness prevented him from having the ...

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