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Goodson v. Director of Vdoc

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

July 10, 2018



          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge

         Duane 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.)[1]

         Respondent 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.)[2] The matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss and dismiss the action.


         In the Circuit Court for the City of Chesapeake, Virginia ("Circuit Court") Goodson pled guilty, [3] 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.)

         Thereafter, 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.)


         In 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.

         To the 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.


         Before 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. § 2254(c).

         The 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) .

         ''A 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).[4] 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).

         Here, 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) .[5]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.[6] 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.


         To 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." Stricklan ...

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