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Hall v. Edmonds

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

August 10, 2016

BURRELL REID HALL, Petitioner,
v.
LARRY T. EDMONDS, WARDEN, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Burrell Reid Hall brings this 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas petition challenging his convictions in Alleghany County Circuit Court for involuntary manslaughter and reckless handling of a firearm while hunting. He challenges his convictions on three grounds, only one of which-sufficiency of the evidence-he presented to the Supreme Court of Virginia. That court rejected Hall’s sufficiency challenge, and this court finds that the decision was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. This court further finds that Hall’s remaining claims are procedurally defaulted and that Hall has not demonstrated grounds to excuse his default. Accordingly, the court will grant respondents’ motion to dismiss the petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 5, 2012, the Alleghany County Circuit Court convicted Hall of involuntary manslaughter and reckless handling of a firearm while hunting.[1] Hall filed several post- conviction motions to dismiss or set aside the verdicts, each of which the trial court denied. (Va. Cir. Ct. Crim. R. 94-114, Dkt. No. 12.) He then appealed to the Virginia Court of Appeals claiming that the trial court erred by (1) denying his motion to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial for jury misconduct, (2) allowing the joinder of his involuntary manslaughter and reckless handling of a firearm charges with his subsequent charge of hunting under the influence, [2] (3) denying his motion to suppress his blood evidence, (4) refusing to admit the results of the victim’s blood test, and (5) denying his motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence. (Va. Ct. App. R., Pet. 4-5, Dkt. No. 13.) The appeals court, in an order dated December 12, 2012, found no errors or abuses of discretion by the trial court, and concluded that the jury had sufficient evidence to find Hall guilty of involuntary manslaughter and reckless handling of a firearm while hunting. (Va. Ct. App. R. 64.)

         Although Hall informed his trial attorney that he wished to exhaust all available appeals, his attorney did not appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.[3] Instead, Hall’s attorney sent him a letter after the expiration of the deadline for filing an appeal explaining that Hall had the option to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in state court alleging ineffective assistance at trial. (Va. Cir. Ct. Civ. R., Pet. 6, Dkt. No. 12.) Upon Hall’s inquiry as to the availability of additional direct appeals, his trial attorney failed to mention a belated appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia, and explained that “we are not aware of a basis to challenge your incarceration on habeas grounds.” (Id.) As a result, Hall did not file a direct appeal.

         On March 31, 2014, Hall timely filed a habeas petition with the Alleghany County Circuit Court, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel as to both pre-trial preparation and on appeal. The court determined that Hall’s trial counsel failed to provide effective assistance on appeal and ordered the Commonwealth to petition the Supreme Court of Virginia for Hall’s right to seek a delayed appeal. (Va. Cir. Ct. Civ. R., Order 9.)

         Hall, through appellate counsel, appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, claiming only that

[t]he Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s denial of Hall’s motion to strike (and motion to set aside) the charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless handling of a firearm, where the evidence was plainly insufficient to prove Hall committed those offenses, or that he acted in a criminally negligent manner with a wanton and culpable disregard of human life.

(Va. R. 58, Dkt. No. 14.) The court denied Hall’s appeal on January 13, 2015, and dismissed his subsequent petition for rehearing as “late.”

         Hall now challenges his conviction in this court, alleging that:

I. The trial court erred as a matter of law when it denied the appellant’s motion to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charge for insufficient evidence.
. . . .
II. The trial court erred as a matter of law in denying the appellant’s motion to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial, based upon [juror] misconduct.
. . . .
III. Ineffective assistance of counsel and procedural errors violated due process and created a fundamental miscarriage of justice.

(Pet. 1, 22, 58, Dkt. No. 1-1.) Because he failed to present the last two claims to the Supreme Court of Virginia, and has not offered evidence to excuse his procedural default, the court will dismiss them as barred from federal habeas review. The court also rejects Hall’s claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, concluding that the state-court decision was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. ...


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