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Anderson v. Walrath

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

March 5, 2018

JOHN A. ANDERSON, Petitioner,
v.
JOHN F. WALRATH, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELIZABETH K. DILLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         John Anderson, a Virginia inmate proceeding by counsel, filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the validity of his confinement on a judgment by the Appomattox County Circuit Court. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss, and Anderson responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After review of the record, the court grants the motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 7, 2015, Anderson pleaded guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to a marijuana possession misdemeanor charge and six felonies: possession of a firearm while in possession of a Schedule I or II drug, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of Adderall, possession of amphetamine/dextroamphetamine, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The trial court imposed a $50 fine for the misdemeanor and sentenced Anderson to twenty-five years' imprisonment for the felonies, with seventeen years suspended. Anderson did not appeal.

         However, Anderson did file a state habeas petition, in the Appomattox County Circuit Court, alleging a single claim: that trial counsel misadvised him to plead guilty by erroneously telling him that, if he declined the Commonwealth's plea offer, he would be exposed to additional charges with a potential mandatory minimum aggregate sentence of twenty-to-twenty-five years. The circuit court denied his petition, and the Supreme Court of Virginia refused review.

         Anderson then filed the current petition for a writ of habeas corpus, raising the same claim as in his state petition.

         Respondent acknowledges that Anderson's petition is timely and properly exhausted, but moves to dismiss the petition as without merit.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         To obtain federal habeas relief, 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). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), however, the federal habeas court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus based on any claim that a state court decided on the merits unless that adjudication:

(1) [R]esulted 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) [R]esulted 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). “Where, as here, the state court's application of governing federal law is challenged, it must be shown to be not only erroneous, but objectively unreasonable.” Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 5 (2003).[1] Under this standard, “[a] state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). “In reviewing a habeas petition, federal courts must presume the correctness of a state court's factual determinations unless the habeas petitioner rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” Green v. Johnson, 515 F.3d 290, 299 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).

         Meanwhile, to state a constitutional claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must satisfy the two-pronged Strickland v. Washington test by showing (1) “that counsel's performance was deficient, ” and (2) “that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). “Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential, ” id. at 689, and counsel is “permitted to set priorities, determine trial strategy, and press those claims with the greatest chances of success.” United States v. Mason, 774 F.3d 824, 828 (4th Cir. 2014). When reviewing a Strickland claim under the AEDPA, the court's review is doubly deferential. See Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105.

         For Strickland's first prong, a petitioner must show “that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. “The question is whether an attorney's representation amounted to incompetence under ‘prevailing professional norms, ' not whether it deviated from best practices or most common custom.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690). For the second prong, a petitioner must demonstrate that there is a ‚Äúreasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the ...


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