United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
E. Payne Senior United States District Judge
Phillip Goodson, a Virginia prisoner proceeding pro
se, brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28
U.S.C. § 2254 ("§ 2254 Petition," ECF No.
2.). In his § 2254 Petition, Goodson argues that he is
entitled to relief on the following ground:
Claim One: "The trial court abused its discretion in
sentencing [Goodson] to armed robbery instead of
robbery." (Id. at 6.)
has moved to dismiss on the ground that Goodson's claim
is procedurally defaulted and barred from review here, or in
the alternative, that his claim lacks merit. Goodson has
responded. (ECF No. 18.) The matter is ripe for disposition. For
the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the Motion to
Dismiss and dismiss the action.
Circuit Court for the City of Chesapeake, Virginia
("Circuit Court") Goodson pled guilty,
pursuant to a written plea agreement, to one count of robbery
and to one count of conspiracy to commit robbery, in
violation of sections 18.2-22 and 18.2-58 of the Virginia
Code. (ECF No. 16-2, at 1.) In exchange for his guilty plea,
the Commonwealth agreed to nolle prosequi a charge
of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
(Id.) Goodson faced a sentence of between five years
and life imprisonment for robbery and up to ten years for the
conspiracy count. See Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-58
(West 2018); id. § 18.2-10. The Circuit Court
sentenced Goodson to forty-five years of imprisonment with
twenty-five years suspended. (ECF No. 16-1, at 2.) Goodson
noted an appeal; however, the Court of Appeals of Virginia
dismissed the appeal because he failed to file a timely
petition for appeal. (ECF No. 16-3, at 1.)
Goodson filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus in
the Circuit Court. In that petition, Goodson raised Claim One
here, along with a second claim alleging ineffective
assistance of counsel with respect to sentencing. (ECF No.
16-6, at 2.) As relevant here, the Circuit Court found that
Goodson could have raised Claim One on direct appeal, but did
not, and, thus, found it barred by the rule in Si ay ton
v. Parrigan, 205 S.E.2d 680 (Va. 1974). (IdL at 3.)
Although Goodson noted an appeal, the Supreme Court of
Virginia refused the appeal because Goodson failed to comply
with the rules of that court. (ECF No. 2-3, at 1.)
NO FEDERAL QUESTION
Claim One, Goodson argues that "the trial court abused
its discretion in sentencing [Goodson] to armed robbery
instead of robbery." (§ 2254 Pet. 6.) As explained
in Part IV.A, Goodson contends that the Circuit Court
erroneously enhanced his sentence based on a sentencing
guideline provision for his use of a firearm in the
commission of robbery. Thus, distilled to its essence,
Goodson is attempting to challenge his sentence pursuant to
the discretionary Virginia sentencing guidelines. Goodson
identifies no constitutional violation, and instead
challenges the Circuit Court's determination of state
law. The Circuit Court's alleged "error"
provides no basis for federal habeas corpus relief.
Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)
("[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to
reexamine state-court determinations on state-law
questions."); Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764,
780 (1990) (citing cases for the proposition that
"federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of
state law"); Slavek v. Hinkle, 359 F.Supp.2d
473, 483-84 (E.D. Va. 2005) (explaining that a challenge to a
sentence under Virginia's discretionary sentencing
guidelines fails to implicate a federal right). For this
reason alone, Claim One will be dismissed.
extent that Goodson's claim could be seen to somehow
implicate a federal right, the claim is barred from review
here for the reasons set out below. In the alternative, the
claim will be dismissed as frivolous.
EXHAUSTION AND PROCEDURAL DEFAULT
a state prisoner can bring a § 2254 petition in federal
district court, the prisoner must first have "exhausted
the remedies available in the courts of the State." 28
U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). State exhaustion "'is
rooted in considerations of federal-state comity, '"
and in the Congressional determination via federal habeas
laws "that exhaustion of adequate state remedies will
'best serve the policies of federalism.'"
Slavek v. Hinkle, 359 F.Supp.2d 473, 479 (E.D. Va.
2005) (quoting Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475,
491-92 & n. 10 (1973)). The purpose of the exhaustion
requirement is "to give the State an initial opportunity
to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its
prisoners' federal rights." Picard v.
Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Exhaustion has two aspects. First, a
petitioner must utilize all available state remedies before
he can apply for federal habeas relief. See
O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 844-48 (1999)
. As to whether a petitioner has used all available state
remedies, the statute notes that a habeas petitioner
"shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies
available in the courts of the State ... if he [or she] has
the right under the law of the State to raise, by any
available procedure, the question presented." 28 U.S.C.
second aspect of exhaustion requires a petitioner to have
offered the state courts an adequate opportunity to address
the constitutional claims advanced on federal habeas.
"To provide the State with the necessary
'opportunity,' the prisoner must 'fairly
present' his [or her] claim in each appropriate state
court (including a state supreme court with powers of
discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the
federal nature of the claim." Baldwin v. Reese,
541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (quoting Duncan v. Henry, 513
U.S. 364, 365-66 (1995)). Fair presentation demands that
"both the operative facts and the controlling legal
principles" must be presented to the state court.
Longworth v. Ozmint, 377 F.3d 437, 448 (4th Cir.
2004) (quoting Baker v. Corcoran, 220 F.3d 276, 289
(4th Cir. 2000)). The burden of proving that a claim has been
exhausted in accordance with a "state's chosen
procedural scheme" lies with the petitioner. Mallory
v. Smith, 27 F.3d 991, 994, 995 (4th Cir. 1994) .
distinct but related limit on the scope of federal habeas
review is the doctrine of procedural default."
Breard v. Pruett, 134 F.3d 615, 619 (4th Cir. 1998)
. This doctrine provides that ''[i]f a state court
clearly and expressly bases its dismissal of a habeas
petitioner's claim on a state procedural rule, and that
procedural rule provides an independent and adequate ground
for the dismissal, the habeas petitioner has procedurally
defaulted his [or her] federal habeas claim."
Id. (citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S.
722, 731-32 (1991)). A federal habeas petitioner also
procedurally defaults claims when the "petitioner fails
to exhaust available state remedies and 'the court to
which the petitioner would be required to present his [or
her] claims in order to meet the exhaustion requirement would
now find the claims procedurally barred.'"
Id. (quoting Coleman, 501 U.S. at 735
n.1). The burden of pleading and proving that a
claim is procedurally defaulted rests with the state.
Jones v. Sussex I State Prison, 591 F.3d 707, 716
(4th Cir. 2010) (citing cases) . Absent a showing of cause
and prejudice or a fundamental miscarriage of justice, this
Court cannot review the merits of a defaulted claim. See
Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 262 (1989).
on state habeas, the Circuit Court found that Goodson had
procedurally defaulted Claim One pursuant to the rule in
Slayton v. Parrigan, 205 S.E.2d 680, 682 (1974),
because Goodson could have raised, but failed to raise, this
claim at trial and on direct appeal. (ECF No. 16-6, at 3.)
Slayton constitutes an adequate and independent
state procedural rule when so applied. See Mu'Min v.
Pruett, 125 F.3d 192, 196-97 (4th Cir. 1997)
.Goodson fails to advance any basis for
excusing his default of Claim One. Nevertheless, in an
attachment to his § 2254 Petition, Goodson argues that
counsel was the cause of his default because counsel failed
to file a direct appeal. (ECF No. 2-7, at 8.) Later in his
rambling Response to the Motion to Dismiss
("Response," ECF No. 18), Goodson seemingly faults
his counsel for failing to raise the claim during his
sentencing or on appeal. Thus, the Court generously construes
Goodson to argue that ineffective assistance of trial and
appellate counsel serves as the cause for the default of his
claim. As discussed below, counsel cannot be faulted for
failing to advance an argument so lacking in merit.
INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL
demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel, a convicted
defendant must show first, that counsel's representation
was deficient and second, that the deficient performance
prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington,
466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To satisfy the deficient
performance prong of Strickland, the convicted
defendant must overcome the ""strong
presumption' that counsel's strategy and tactics fall
'within the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance.'" Burch v. Corcoran, 273 F.3d
577, 588 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Strickland, 466
U.S. at 689). The prejudice component requires a convicted
defendant to "show that there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
different. A reasonable probability is a probability
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome."