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Williams v. Commonwealth

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

April 23, 2018

Curtis Maurice Williams, Petitioner,
v.
Commonwealth of Virginia, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Curtis Maurice Williams, 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 his conviction of arson and threatening to burn a dwelling following a bench trial in the Newport News Circuit Court. On March 8, 2017, respondent filed a Rule 5 Answer and a Motion to Dismiss the petition as unexhausted because a state habeas petition filed by Williams remained pending before the Supreme Court of Virginia. After that state petition was refused on April 5, 2017, the Motion to Dismiss was denied, without prejudice to respondent's ability to file a renewed motion within thirty (30) days. [Dkt. No. 18] On December 15, 2017, respondent filed a renewed Motion to Dismiss with a supporting brief and exhibits, and supplied petitioner with the notice required by Roseboro v. Garrison. 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) and Local Rule 7K. [Dkt. No. 22.] Petitioner has filed no reply. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, respondent's renewed Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and the petition will be dismissed, with prejudice.

         I. Background

         On March 11, 2014, Williams was convicted of one count each of arson of an occupied dwelling and threatening to burn a dwelling, for which he received an active sentence of twenty (20) years in prison. Case Nos. CR13000411-00 and CR 13000412-00.

         Williams prosecuted a direct appeal, raising the sole claim that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the convictions. The Court of Appeals of Virginia denied the appeal on October 22, 2014. Williams v. Commonwealth. R. No. 0509-14-1 (Va. Ct. App. Oct. 22, 2014). A three-judge panel concurred in that result on March 20, 2015. [Dkt. No. 11, Ex. 1] Williams' subsequent petition for appeal was refused by the Supreme Court of Virginia on November 3, 2015, Williams v. Commonwealth. R. No. 150461 (Va. Nov. 3, 2015), and his petition for rehearing of that result was denied on February 4, 2016. Id.

         On February 16, 2016, Williams filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus in the Newport News Circuit Court, arguing again that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions. In a Final Order dated May 5, 2016, the Court held that to the extent Williams was re-arguing the same allegations he made on direct appeal before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Virginia, his claim was foreclosed by the holding of Henry v. Warden. 265 Va. 246, 576 S.E.2d 495, 496 (2003) ("[A] non-jurisdictional issue raised and decided either in the trial [court] or on direct appeal from the criminal conviction will not be considered in a habeas corpus proceeding."). To the extent that petitioner attempted to raise new arguments in support of his position, the Court determined that the claim was barred by the doctrine of Slavton v. Parrigan. 215 Va. 27, 205 S.E.2d 680, 682 (1974) ("A prisoner is not entitled to use habeas corpus to circumvent the trial and appellate process for an inquiry into a non-jurisdictional defect of a judgment of conviction.") Case No. CR16-H00314; Dkt. No. 11, Ex. 1. Williams did not appeal that decision.

         On September 20, 2016, Williams filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia, raising the following claims:

A. The evidence was "insufficient and inconclusive."
B. He received ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel for four reasons.

         On April 5, 2017, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition. Specifically, it held that consideration of Claim A was foreclosed because "[petitioner challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions in his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus and the court rejected that challenge. That judgment is conclusive. Code § 8.01-663." The Court further determined that the four claims of ineffective assistance were barred by Va. Code § 8.01- 654(B)(2) because "[t]hese claims, the facts of which were known prior to petitioner's first petition for a writ of habeas corpus, were not previously raised." Williams v. Commonwealth. R. No. 161385 (Va. Apr. 5, 2017).

         Meanwhile, Williams timely filed the instant federal petition by placing it into his institution's mailing system on January 5, 2017. [Dkt. No. 1 at 15] In it, he reiterates the same claims he made in his habeas corpus application to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

         II. Procedural Default

         Williams' claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are procedurally defaulted from federal review. When petitioner raised these claims in his second state habeas corpus application, the Supreme Court of Virginia expressly found them to be defaulted pursuant to Va. Code § 8.01-654(B)(2). On federal habeas corpus review, § 2254(d) mandates that a state court's finding of procedural default be presumed correct, provided that the state court relied explicitly on procedural grounds to deny petitioner relief and that the procedural rule relied on is an independent and adequate state ground for denying relief. Ford v. Georgia. 498 U.S. 411, 423-24 (1991). Va. Code §8.01-654(B)(2), the basis upon which the Supreme Court of Virginia explicitly relied in defaulting Williams' ineffective assistance claims, has been held to be an adequate and independent state law ground that prevents federal habeas review of procedurally defaulted claims. See Mackall v. Angelone. 131 F.3d 442, 446 (4th Cir. 1997) (determining procedural bar of successive habeas applications in Va. Code §8.01-654(B)(2) to be a well-recognized adequate and independent ground). Therefore, the ineffective assistance claims raised in this petition are procedurally defaulted.

         Federal courts may not review a barred claim absent a showing of cause and prejudice or a fundamental miscarriage of justice, such as actual innocence. Harris v. Reed. 489 U.S. 255, 260 (1989). Here, after respondent asserted in the brief supporting his renewed Motion to Dismiss that the ineffective assistance of counsel claims are procedurally defaulted, Williams made no attempt to demonstrate any of these factors. Accordingly, the claims of ineffective assistance raised in this petition are procedurally barred from federal review.

         III. Merits ...


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