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Muhammad v. Clarke

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

February 16, 2018

YUSELF MUHAMMAD f/k/a BRUCE WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RODERICK C. YOUNG UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Yuself Muhammad, formerly known as Bruce Williams, a Virginia state prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("§ 2254 Petition, " ECF No. 1) challenging his 2013 conviction in the Circuit Court of the City of Portsmouth, Virginia ("Circuit Court"). Muhammad argues that he is entitled to relief on the following grounds:

Claim One: "[His] Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated when the police ignored [his] requests for an attorney prior to soliciting a statement that was later used against [him]."[1] (§ 2254 Pet. 3.)
Claim Two: "The evidence was . . . insufficient as a matter of law to support a conviction of second-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt[] . . . [because his] substantial right to due process was violated when the trial court rejected the mental health expert's testimony that [he] suffered from disorders that would otherwise have excused criminal liability." (Id. at 6.)

         Respondent moves to dismiss ("Motion to Dismiss, " ECF No. 15), [2] arguing that Muhammad's claims lack merit. Muhammad has responded. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 15) will be GRANTED and the § 2254 Petition (ECF No. 1) will be DENIED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         After a bench trial, Muhammad was convicted of second-degree murder, and was sentenced to forty years of incarceration. (ECF No. 17-1, at 1.)

         Muhammad appealed, raising the following two assignments of error that are relevant here:

1. "The trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress' Defendant's statement because the police did not stop the interrogation of Defendant after he requested to speak with an attorney in violation of Defendant's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel."
2. "The trial court erred in finding Defendant guilty of second degree murder and in not finding Defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, because Defendant acted out of an irresistible impulse when he killed Carroll."

         Petition for Appeal 14, Williams v. Commonwealth, No. 0502-13-1 (Va. Ct. App. filed on Aug. 23, 2013) (capitalization corrected). The Court of Appeals of Virginia denied the petition for appeal. (ECF No. 17-2, at 1.) A three-judge panel also denied the petition for appeal. Williams v. Commonwealth, No. 0502-13-1, at 1 (Va. Ct. App. Feb. 14, 2014). Subsequently, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused the petition for appeal. (ECF No. 17-3, at 1.)

         On October 6, 2015, Muhammad filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court, raising two claims that were similar to those he raised on direct appeal. Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Attach. 2(A), 3(B), Muhammad v. Clarke, No. 15-3655 (Va. Cir. Ct. filed Oct. 6, 2015). On October 6, 2016, the Circuit Court dismissed Muhammad's petition, concluding that his claims were barred in habeas corpus because he had raised the same claims on direct appeal. Muhammad v. Clarke, No. 15-3655, at 2-3 (Va. Cir. Ct. Oct. 6, 2016) (citing Henry v. Warden, 265 Va. 246, 249, 576 S.E.2d 495, 496 (2003)). Muhammad did not appeal the dismissal of his state habeas petition. On September 28, 2016, the Court received the instant § 2254 Petition.

         II. 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, "[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)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         In Muhammad's instant § 2254 Petition, he raises two claims. (§ 2254 Pet. 3-9.) Muhammad raised nearly identical claims on direct appeal and in his state habeas petition.[3] (ECF No. 17-2, at 1-6); Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Attach. 2(A), 3(B), Muhammad v. Clarke, No. 15-3655 (Va. Cir. Ct. filed Oct. 6, 2015). On direct appeal, the Court of Appeals of Virginia denied Muhammad's petition for appeal (ECF No. 17-2, at 1), and the Supreme Court of Virginia refused the petition for appeal (ECF No. 17-3, at 1). Muhammad's state habeas petition was dismissed on the ground that he had raised his claims on direct appeal, and therefore, his claims were barred in habeas corpus. Muhammad v. Clarke, No. 15-3655, at 2 (Va.Cir.Ct.Oct.6, 2016).

         The decision of the Court of Appeals of Virginia was the last reasoned state court decision addressing these claims, and its reasoning is imputed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which refused further review without discussion of the claims. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991). For the reasons set forth below, the Court discerns no unreasonable application of the law and no unreasonable determination of the facts in the Court of Appeals of Virginia's rejection of Muhammad's claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2).

         A. Claim One

         In Claim One, Muhammad contends that his "Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated ... [because] the police ignored [his] requests for an attorney prior to soliciting a statement that ...


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