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Young v. Clarke

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

February 15, 2017

HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.



         Tobias Jamie Young, a Virginia state prisoner proceeding with counsel, brings this petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (''§ 2254 Petition, " ECF No. 1). Young was convicted in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond of murder, attempted robbery, and use of a firearm. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. 7, "State Habeas Opinion, " ECF No. 5-7.) In his § 2254 Petition, Young contends that:

Claim A "Counsel failed to request a jury instruction that prior inconsistent statements of witnesses are not substantive evidence. Counsel failed to ask for the instruction at the time the evidence was presented as well as before the jury deliberation.[1]" (§ 2254 Pet. 13 (emphasis omitted).)
Claim B "Counsel failed to request voir dire of Daquan Kelson outside of the presence of the jury at the moment the Commonwealth attempted to impeach the witness with grand jury testimony after Kelson testified at trial that he was not present when the shooting took place. As the facts were presented, Kelson offered no substantive evidence which was probative of any material fact relating to the charges against the Petitioner, and Kelson's testimony would have been excluded as either wholly irrelevant or because the prejudicial effect greatly outweighed the probative value, if any, of Kelson's testimony.
Counsel compounded this error by failing to object and argue that the impeachment evidence was not substantive evidence, as similarly alleged in Ground A . . . ."

(Id. at 28 (emphasis omitted).)

         Respondent has moved to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) will be granted.

         I. Applicable Constraints Upon Federal Habeas Review

         In order to obtain federal habeas relief, at a minimum, a petitioner must demonstrate that he is "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") of 1996 further circumscribed this Court's authority to grant relief by way of a writ of habeas corpus. Specifically, u[s]tate court factual determinations are presumed to be correct and may be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence." Gray v. Branker, 529 F.3d 220, 228 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)). Additionally, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), a federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus based on any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudicated claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly-established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The Supreme Court has emphasized that the question "is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000)). Given the foregoing constraints, the findings by the Virginia courts figure prominently in this Court's Memorandum Opinion.

         II. Procedural History

         On July 27, 2009, Quian Huang, a delivery driver for a restaurant, was shot and killed. State Habeas Op. 2 (citation omitted). Following a jury trial, where he was represented by Attorney David Lassiter, Young was convicted of the murder of Huang, attempted robbery, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Id. at 1.

         Young unsuccessfully appealed his convictions. The Court of Appeals of Virginia aptly summarized the evidence of Young's guilt as follows:

[A] t approximately midnight on July 27, 2009, Quian Huang, a delivery driver for a restaurant, was shot once in the forehead and died from the gunshot wound. Investigators found one shell casing near Huang's body.
Jasmine Kirkland attended school with [Young], knew him for approximately six years, and considered him to be her best friend. They regularly spoke on the phone, and during a conversation in August 2009, [Young] told Kirkland that he had something important to tell her. Later, Kirkland saw [Young] and she asked him where his new shoes were. Kirkland testified [Young] replied he shot a deliveryman and he threw away the shoes after the shooting, Kirkland testified she asked if he was serious and [Young] replied, "Yeah, I'm serious. I shot him. I shot the Chinese deliveryman."
Daquan Kelson, [Young's] cousin and a Commonwealth witness, testified at trial that he was not in the area at the time of the shooting and Kelson refused to read the transcript of his earlier testimony before a grand jury. The transcript of Kelson's grand jury testimony showed that Kelson testified before the grand jury that someone said to rob Huang, and Kelson told [Young] not to take part in the robbery. Before the grand jury, Kelson testified [Young] pointed the firearm at Huang's head and the firearm discharged when Huang reached for it. Kelson asserted at trial that the transcript of his grand jury testimony was incorrect.
Devaugh Brown testified he was in the area and he saw [Young] run past him just after hearing a gunshot. Brown's trial testimony differed from his testimony before the grand jury, and the grand jury transcript showed that Brown testified there that he saw [Young] with a black firearm and he saw [Young] tuck "something black" into his pants. Before the grand jury, Brown testified that a few days after the shooting, he saw appellant with a black handgun. Brown asserted at trial that the transcript of his grand jury testimony was incorrect.
Jermaine Washington, a defense witness, testified he was in the vicinity of the shooting, he saw Reginald Lee with a small handgun and he heard gunshots. Washington testified he did not see [Young] in the area. Washington admitted he first spoke with [Young's] attorney the day before [Young's] trial.
[Young] testified he heard a gunshot while playing baseketball and he later walked by the scene after he finished playing basketball. [Young] denied shooting Huang and said that Brown was mistaken when Brown testified he saw [Young] with a firearm. [Young] testified he had a falling out with Kirkland [when] they were still in high school. [Young] admitted he wrote two letters to Kirkland while incarcerated for these crimes that stated she was still his best friend despite the things she was saying about him. [Young] denied telling Kirkland that he shot the Chinese food delivery person.

State Habeas Op. (all alterations, except third to last in original) (quoting Young v. Commonwealth, No. 1586-10-2, at 2-3 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 11, 2011)).

         On August 8, 2012, Young, with counsel, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Circuit Court wherein he raised his two present grounds for relief. Id. at 2. The Circuit Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the claims and ultimately denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Id. at 10. The Court recites the pertinent portions of that opinion infra Part III.B, in conjunction with its analysis of Claims A and B. Young petitioned the Supreme Court of Virginia for an appeal. The Supreme Court of Virginia refused the Petition for Appeal. (ECF No. 5-9.)

         III. Analysis

         A. Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel

         To demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel, a convicted defendant must show first, that counsel's representation was deficient and second, that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To satisfy the deficient performance prong of Strickland, the convicted defendant must overcome the "'strong presumption' that counsel's strategy and tactics fall 'within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'" Burch v. Corcoran, 273 F.3d 577, 588 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689). The prejudice component requires a convicted defendant to "show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Stric ...

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