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Tyler v. Clarke

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

July 27, 2018

HAROLD CLARKE, Respondent.


          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.

         O'Dell 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 22, 2012, a jury convicted Tyler of possessing cocaine with the intent to sell it and discharging a firearm in a public place.[1] 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.[2] 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 habeas petition.

         II. CLAIMS

         Tyler 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.

         Tyler's petition is timely, and all claims are properly exhausted.


         To 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 that adjudication:

(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; or
(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).

         Federal 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).

         Under § 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)).

         To 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.[3] 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).

         Tyler 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)).


         In 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 1.4[4] of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct require an attorney to ...

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