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Sparks v. Circuit Court of Chesterfield Virginia

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

January 26, 2018

CLIFTON SPARKS, Petitioner,
v.
CIRCUIT COURT OF CHESTERFIELD VIRGINIA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          M. HANNAH LAUCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Clifton Sparks, a former Virginia state prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("§ 2254 Petition, ” ECF No. 1) challenging his conviction in the Circuit Court for the County of Chesterfield, Virginia (hereinafter. "Circuit Court"). On November 30, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation that recommended denying Sparks's § 2254 Petition. (ECF No. 17) Sparks filed a "REPLY" that the Court construes as objections. ("Objections, " ECF No. 18.) for the reasons that follow, Sparks's Objections will be OVERRULED, and Sparks's § 2254 Petition will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Magistrate Judge made the following findings and recommendations:

         A. Procedural History and Sparks's Claims

         Following a bench trial, the Circuit Court convicted Sparks of five counts of possession of a schedule I or II controlled substance with the intent to distribute, and one count of possession of a schedule III controlled substance with the intent to distribute, and sentenced him to an active term of three and a half years of incarceration. (ECF No. 12-1. at 3-4.)[1] Sparks appealed. On April 9, 2014, the Court of Appeals of Virginia denied his Petition for Appeal because counsel failed to file the transcripts with the court in a timely fashion. (ECF No. 12-2, at 1-3.) Sparks did not appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

         At this point, Sparks's state procedural history diverts from the typical progression of post-judgment proceedings in state court. On June 11, 2014, Sparks filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court. Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus at 1, Sparks v. Superintendent of Riverside Reg'l Jail, No. CL14HC1907 (Va. Cir. Ct. filed June 11, 2014); (see also ECF No. 12-3, at 1-14). In his habeas petition, Sparks raised the following claims:[2]

Claim a: "Ineffective assistance of counsel, incompetency, negligence" (ECF No. 12-3, at 4), when counsel failed to call witnesses to demonstrate that Sparks did not live at the address where the search warrant was executed, failed to pursue an argument that the officer lied about breaking into a safe, continued Sparks's sentencing without his consent, failed to communicate with Sparks before sentencing, ignored Sparks's request for a mistrial, and failed to file the Circuit Court transcripts with the Court of Appeals of Virginia in a timely manner. (Id. at 7-9.)
Claim b: "Constitutional and Brady [v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)] violations." (Id. at 4.) The prosecution failed to disclose to Sparks information, which was subsequently contained in the presentence report, about how Officer Duquette obtained the search warrant before the suppression motion was filed or before trial. (Id. at 10-11.)
Claim c: "Insufficient evidence to convict." (Id. at 4.)
Claim d: "Jurisdictional defects." (Id.)
Claim e: "Extraordinary dereliction." (Id.)

         By Order entered on September 3, 2014, the Circuit Court granted the portion of Claim a wherein Sparks alleged his counsel was ineffective for failing to perfect his appeal, and dismissed the remainder of his claims. (ECF 12-4, at 3, 14-15.) Sparks did not appeal the Circuit Court's decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia. On September 22, 2014, the Court of Appeals of Virginia granted Sparks the ability to file a belated appeal. Sparks v. Commonwealth, No. 1977- 14-2, at 1 (Va. Ct. App. Sept. 22, 2014).

         On October 1, 2014, Sparks filed a second petition for writ of habeas corpus, this time in the Supreme Court of Virginia. (ECF No. 12-5, at 1-4.) In his second habeas petition, Sparks raised the following claims:[3]

Claim a: "Constitutional and Brady violations." (Id. at 3.) A different judge presided over portions of Sparks's criminal proceedings and that allowed errors to occur. (Id. at 9-11.)
Claim b: "Ineffective assistance of counsel." (Id. at 3.)
Claim c: "Perjury (amendment)." (Id.) Officer Regan lied about how he got into the safe. (Id. at 15-16.)
Claim d: "Insufficient Evidence." (Id. at 3.)
Claim e: "Jurisdictional Defect." (Id.) The Court of Appeals of Virginia and the Circuit Court prejudiced Sparks with their rulings pertaining to the filing of transcripts. (Id. at 17.)
Claim f: "Extraordinary Dereliction." (Id. at 3.) Many procedural errors happened in his criminal and civil cases. (Id. at 18-19.)

         On July 9, 2015, the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed Sparks's second habeas petition as successive and barred from review, pursuant to section 8.01-654(B)(2) of the Virginia Code. Sparks v. Superintendent of Riverside Reg'l Jail, No. 141441, at 1 (Va. July 9, 2015).[4]

         On February 23, 2015, Sparks filed a Petition for Appeal in the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Sparks v. Commonwealth, No. 151608 (Va. Ct. App. filed Feb. 23, 2015). On March 26, 2015, Sparks filed an Amended Petition for Appeal in the Court of Appeals of Virginia raising the following claims:

Claim I: "The Court erred by denying Petitioner's motion to suppress evidence produced by a search warrant that was unduly delayed and for which probable cause no longer existed." (ECF No. 12-6, at 9 (capitalization corrected).)
Claim II: "The trial court abused its discretion by admitting lab reports over Petitioner's objection that the chain of custody was broken." (Id. (capitalization corrected).)
Claim III: "The Commonwealth failed to provide sufficient evidence that Petitioner possessed the items found in the residence or that the items were contraband." (Id. (capitalization corrected).)

         On June 23, 2015, the Court of Appeals of Virginia denied Sparks's Petition for Appeal. (Id. at 1.) Sparks appealed, raising only what appears to be Claim 1 from his Petition for Appeal filed in the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Petition for Appeal at i, Sparks v. Commonwealth, No. 151608 (Va. filed Oct. 22, 2015). On June 15, 2016, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused the petition for appeal. (ECF No. 12-7, at 1.)

         In his § 2254 Petition, Sparks argues that he is entitled to relief based upon the following claims, stated here in sum:

Claim One: "The petitioner['s] Sixth and Fourteenth U.S.C.A were violated. Representation violated numerous state and federal statutes, such as excluding favorable mitigating witnesses testimony and evidence, violated the contraction [sic] clause, made sentencing phase 'fundamentally unfair' to the petitioner, and representation degates [sic] at conviction made in itself." (§ 2254 Pet. 6.)
Claim Two: "Petitioner['s] Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth United States Constitutional Amendment Right[s] were violated. Petitioner was subjected to misconduct, conflicting prosecution testimony and omitted mertious [sic] evidence. By obtaining omitted evidence led to numerous violation[s] of due process and civil liberties protected by state and federal law and statutes. The entities representing the state of Virginia ignored law and statutes in obtaining and maintaining the conviction in case #CR12FO2462-01-06." (Id. at 8.)
Claim Three: "Evidence presented by state of Virginia was constitutionally insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The conviction obtained by state of Virginia in case #CR12F02462 01-06 lacked support of interferences [sic] and insufficient evidence. Which was in direct conflict of state and federal law and statutes ...

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