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Washington v. Clarke

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

December 7, 2017

Christopher Stephon Washington, Petitioner,
v.
Harold W. Clarke,[1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. ELLIS, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Christopher Stephon Washington, 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 constitutionality of a conviction entered in the Circuit Court of York County. Case No. CR11-6799-01. Before the Court is the respondent's Motion to Dismiss the petition.

         I. Background

         On July 10, 2013, after the first day of a jury trial, Washington entered a plea of guilty pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford. 400 U.S. 25 (1970) to raping a child under the age of thirteen. He received a sentence of forty-seven years' imprisonment with forty years suspended. In exchange for the guilty plea, the Commonwealth moved to nolle prosequi two additional charges of rape.

         Washington pursued a direct appeal before the Court of Appeals of Virginia, raising the following claims:

I. The trial court erred in accepting the Alford plea because he did not enter it knowingly and voluntarily.
II. The trial court erred in admitting hearsay evidence during the first day of his jury trial.

         The petition for appeal was denied in a per curiam order on August 15, 2014. Washington v. Commonwealth. R. No. 0095-14-1 (Va. Ct. App. Aug. 15, 2014) On November 18, 2014, petitioner's request for review by a three-judge panel was denied. Id. Petitioner sought further review by the Supreme Court of Virginia, and his petition for appeal was dismissed and refused on June 4, 2015. Washington v. Commonwealth. R. No. 141701 (Va. June 4, 2015).

         On January 21, 2016, Washington filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia, raising the following claims:

1. Counsel was unethical and unlawful in his efforts to be hired by the petitioner.
2. Counsel was ineffective for: (a) failing to impeach the victim with prior inconsistent statements made to the investigator, and (b) failing to use exculpatory evidence "found by the former prosecutor."
3. Counsel was ineffective for: (a) misleading petitioner regarding the use of evidence and (b) pressuring petitioner to accept the plea agreement.
4. Counsel was ineffective for failing adequately to investigate witnesses known to him prior to trial.
5. Counsel was ineffective for failing to use evidence provided by Lawrence W. Daly.

Doc. 21, Ex. B-l.[2] The petition was dismissed on September 1, 2016. Washington v. Director. Dep't of Corrections. R. No. 160196 (Va. Sept 1, 2016); Doc. 21, Ex. B-3.

         Washington then turned to the federal forum and timely filed the instant petition for relief pursuant to § 2254, reiterating the same claims he exhausted in his state habeas corpus proceeding. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b); Granberry v. Greer, 481 U.S. 129 (1987). On May 11, 2017, respondent filed a Rule 5 Response and a Motion to Dismiss the petition with a supporting brief and exhibits, and provided petitioner with the notice required by Roseboro v. Garrison. 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) and Local Rule 7K. (Doc. 8-11) Petitioner subsequently filed an opposition captioned as a Reply Brief. (Doc. 17) Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         When a state court has addressed the merits of a claim raised in a federal habeas petition, a federal court may not grant the petition based on that claim unless the state court's adjudication is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Whether a state court decision is "contrary to" or "an unreasonable application of federal law requires an independent review of each of those standards of review. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). A state court's determination runs afoul of 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." 14 at 413. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, "a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the state-court decision applied [the law] incorrectly." Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24-25 (2002). Thus, "[t]he question under the AEDPA 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. Mandrisan, 550 U.S. 465, 673 (2007). "As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter. 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). "If this standard is difficult to meet - and it is - 'that is because it was meant to be.'" Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013) (quoting Richter. 562 U.S. at 102).

         When a federal habeas petitioner challenges the reasonableness of the factual basis for a state conviction, the AEDPA "requires federal habeas courts to presume the correctness of state courts' factual findings unless applicants rebut this presumption with 'clear and convincing evidence.'" Schriro. 550 U.S. at 473-74. Under the AEDPA standard, "[t]he focus of federal court review is now on the state court decision that previously addressed the claims rather than the petitioner's free-standing claims ...


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