United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.
Cornelius Tyler, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro
se, 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 Culpeper County
Circuit Court. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss, and
Tyler responded, making the matter ripe for disposition.
Having reviewed the record, the court concludes that the
motion to dismiss must be granted.
22, 2012, a jury convicted Tyler of possessing cocaine with
the intent to sell it and discharging a firearm in a public
place. The trial court fined Tyler six thousand
dollars and sentenced him to an active term of seven years in
prison plus ninety days in jail. Before trial, the grand jury
had refused to indict Tyler on two counts of unlawfully and
feloniously shooting at an occupied building or dwelling
house, one count of assault and battery, and one count of
possessing a firearm as a violent felon. The trial court
nolle prossed the unindicted charges at Tyler's
arraignment hearing. Tyler's direct appeals were
unsuccessful, and he timely filed a petition for a writ of
habeas corpus in the Culpeper County Circuit Court. The trial
court dismissed his petition, concluding that his ineffective
assistance of counsel claims did not satisfy either prong of
the test enunciated in Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668 (1986). Tyler appealed, but the Supreme Court of
Virginia refused review. On June 29, 2017, Tyler filed the
present petition, raising the same claims as in his state
alleges two multipart claims:
A. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to: (1)
communicate with Tyler; (2) investigate; (3) object to the
admission of prejudicial evidence; and (4) make certain
arguments to the jury; and
B. Appellate counsel was ineffective for: (1) failing to
communicate with Tyler; (2) failing to raise a sufficiency
argument regarding his firearm conviction in the Court of
Appeals of Virginia; (3) inaccurately stating that the jury
found Tyler not guilty of possessing a firearm; and (4)
raising a sufficiency argument regarding his firearm
conviction in the Supreme Court of Virginia.
petition is timely, and all claims are properly exhausted.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
obtain federal habeas relief, Tyler 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
(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;
(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).
courts review the merits of claims decided by the state
courts under the deferential standard mandated by the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The
AEDPA standard is “highly deferential” to both
factual findings and legal conclusions, and the petitioner
bears the burden of proof. Harrington v. Richter,
562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011); Cullen v. Pinholster, 563
U.S. 170, 181 (2011). “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); see also Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000) (“[A]n
unreasonable application of federal law is different
from an incorrect application of federal
law.”) (citing Wright v. West, 505 U.S. 277,
287 (1992)). Under this standard, “[a] state
court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes
federal habeas relief so long as fair-minded jurists could
agree on the correctness of the state court's
decision.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101
(omitting internal quotations).
§ 2254(d), “state-court decisions [must] be given
the benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v.
Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). Additionally, §
2254(d) “refers only to a ‘decision,' which
resulted from an ‘adjudication, '” and does
not “requir[e] a statement of reasons” by the
state court. Harrington, 562 U.S. at 98. “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)).
state a constitutional claim for ineffective assistance,
Tyler must satisfy the two-prong Strickland test by
showing (1) “that counsel's performance was
deficient, ” and (2) “that the deficient
performance prejudiced the defense.” 466 U.S. at
686-87. When reviewing a Strickland claim under the
AEDPA, the court's review is “doubly”
deferential, Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105, because a
petitioner must overcome “a strong presumption”
that counsel's tactical decisions during the
representation were reasonably competent,
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689-90. The court may
adjudge counsel's performance deficient only when a
petitioner demonstrates that “in light of all the
circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside
the wide range of professionally competent assistance.”
Id. at 689-90. Even if a petitioner can establish
deficient performance under this high standard, relief is
unavailable unless he also shows a “reasonable
probability” that, but for counsel's errors, the
outcome of the proceeding would have been different.
Id. at 694-95. The court must deny relief if a
petitioner fails to establish either of the
Strickland prongs. See Spencer v. Murray,
18 F.3d 229, 232-33 (4th Cir. 1994).
also argues that appellate counsel was ineffective. The
“right to effective assistance of counsel extends to
require such assistance on direct appeal.” Bell v.
Jarvis, 236 F.3d 149, 164 (4th Cir. 2000) (en banc).
Effective assistance “does not require the presentation
of all issues on appeal that may have merit, ”
Lawrence v. Branker, 517 F.3d 700, 709 (4th Cir.
2008), but counsel is presumed to have “decided which
issues were most likely to afford relief, ” Pruett
v. Thompson, 996 F.2d 1560, 1568 (4th Cir. 1993).
However, “‘only when ignored issues are clearly
stronger than those presented'” should a federal
habeas court find appellate counsel ineffective. Smith v.
Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 288 (2000) (quoting Gray v.
Greer, 800 F.2d 644, 646 (7th Cir. 1986)).
Claim A(1), Tyler alleges that counsel was ineffective for
failing to communicate with him. Specifically, he alleges
that counsel only met with him once for one hour before trial
and that counsel's failure to communicate with Tyler
caused counsel to be ill-prepared and resulted in the
admission of prejudicial evidence by the Commonwealth.
See Mem. in Supp. of Pet. ¶ 11, Dkt. No. 1-1.
Tyler asserts that the Constitution and Rule
of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct require an
attorney to ...