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Moore v. Clarke

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

March 25, 2019

Robert Leroy Moore, Petitioner,
Harold W. Clarke, Respondent.


         Robert Leroy Moore, by counsel, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the constitutionality of his pandering and attempted pandering convictions in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County. Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss and Rule 5 Answer, along with a supporting brief and exhibits. Dkt. No. 5-7. Petitioner filed a Reply. Dkt. No. 8. For the reasons that follow, respondent's Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and the petition will be dismissed, with prejudice.

         I. Background

         Petitioner is detained pursuant to a final judgment of the Circuit Court of Fairfax County, entered April 8, 2015. Nos. FE-2014-1161, 1168. Petitioner entered an Alford plea and was found guilty of one count of pandering, in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-357, and one count of attempted pandering, in violation of Virginia Code §§ 18.2-357, 18.2-26. Id. Petitioner was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment, with five years suspended. Id.

         Petitioner filed a Motion to Withdraw his Plea on April 28, 2015, which was denied by order dated the same day. JdL Petitioner pursued a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Virginia and his convictions were affirmed. Record No. 0706-15-4. On direct appeal, the Court of Appeals of Virginia found the underlying facts of the case to be the following.

In May of 2014, [petitioner] met A.R. at the store where he worked. A.R., then twenty-two years old, had been declared mentally incapacitated by a circuit court order and her parents had been appointed as guardians. She was adopted from Russia and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments originating in childhood. She also has a very low I.Q.
[Petitioner's] relationship with A.R. began as flirtations and ultimately developed into a sexual one. [Petitioner] told A.R. that he needed money and that she could help him. As a result, from May 8 through May 20, 2014, [petitioner] took A.R. to a hotel where she would engage in acts of prostitution with others. [Petitioner] received the proceeds from these transactions.
In time, A.R, 's parents became suspicious and discovered A.R.'s picture in an advertisement for escort services. They contacted their local police department, and the officers responded to A.R, 's advertisement in an undercover capacity. While undercover, Detective Fox learned that A.R. had been prostituting for appellant, who told her what prices to charge, drove her to all her appointments, and kept all of the money she earned.
[Petitioner] was arrested and initially denied that he was involved with any prostitution. He then claimed that he and A.R. were boyfriend and girlfriend. A subsequent search of his cell phone and text communications reveled that he communicated nightly with A.R. through test messages regarding the need to make money and what to charge for specific sexual acts.

Id. The Supreme Court of Virginia subsequently refused his petition for appeal. Record No.

         While pursuing his direct appeal petitioner filed a Second Motion to Reconsider Sentence in the trial court.[1]Nos. FE-2014-1161, 1168. In that motion, petitioner presented new evidence; the same evidence he uses to support the instant petition. Id. Petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied by the trial court by order dated March 14, 2016. Id. In denying the motion, the trial court stated, in part, that

[e]ven if [petitioner] could prove [A.R.] engaged in prostitution both before meeting [petitioner] and after [petitioner] went to jail, it would not alter the Court's judgment that [petitioner's] conduct was extraordinarily predatory, that he used intimidation and coercion to achieve his objectives, that [A.R.] was an especially vulnerable victim due to her mental illness and limited mental capacity, that the [petitioner's] misconduct had a devastating impact on the victim, and that [petitioner] came before the Court with an extensive and violent criminal history.

Id. Petitioner then filed a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia.

         Record No. 160684. The state habeas petition was dismissed on May 8, 2017. Id.

         On December 11, 2017, petitioner filed the instant federal petition, wherein he challenges his convictions. Specifically, he alleges the following.

I. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the actual relationship between [petitioner] and [A.R.] and [A.R, ]'s previous prostitution. [Petitioner] was prejudiced either because he would not have entered a plea had all the facts been readily available or because the evidence would have resulted in a lesser sentence.
II. [Petitioner's] plea was involuntary, because his trial counsel deprived him of any evidence about his case until more than a month after his plea hearing.
III. [Petitioner's] trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective because there was an actual conflict in this case that adversely hurt trial counsel's performance, and thus prejudiced [petitioner].

Dkt.No. 1.

         II. Standard of Review

          A. Review on the Merits

         The proper standard of review depends on whether the state habeas court's decision was an adjudication on the merits. "For AEDPA's deferential standard to apply to the state post-conviction-relief court's dismissal of these claims, the court's decision must qualify as an 'adjudication on the merits' under § 2254(d); otherwise, de novo review is proper. Whether a claim has been adjudicated on the merits is a case-specific inquiry ...." Morva v. Zook. 821 F.3d 517, 527 (4th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted). "A claim is not 'adjudicated on the merits' when the state court makes its decision on a materially incomplete record. A record may be materially incomplete when a state court unreasonably refuses to permit further development of the facts of a claim." Gordon v. Braxton, 780 F.3d 196, 202 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Petitioner asserts that the state habeas court's decision was not an adjudication of the merits because it was made on a materially incomplete record. Petitioner later makes the conclusory allegation that the state habeas court truncated the factual development of the record by denying his requests for discovery and an evidentiary hearing, despite his newly presented evidence. Petitioner's conclusory allegation that the state habeas court did not allow him to develop the facts of his claims further is insufficient. In addition, the record does not establish that the state habeas court ignored any of petitioner's evidence. See Morya, 821 F.3d at 528 ("Although the Supreme Court of Virginia precluded some factual development as to counsel's investigative decisionmaking, the court did not act unreasonably. The record was substantial and contained sufficient evidence to answer the Strickland inquiry.").

         Later in the petition, petitioner argues that there were factual disputes that needed development through an evidentiary hearing. Specifically, petitioner argues that the state habeas court (1) improperly determined that A.R, 's friend's testimony did not establish that this friend knew A.R. was engaged in prostitution prior to meeting petitioner; (2) improperly determined that A.R.'s brother repudiated testimony favorable to petitioner; and (3) treated one affiant's testimony "with inappropriate skepticism." Pet. at 28-29.

         Petitioner's examples are not of facts in dispute, rather, they are examples of why petitioner believes the state habeas court unreasonably determined the facts in light of the evidence presented. Petitioner admits as much since he lists these same examples as reasons why the state court unreasonably determined the facts before it. Pet. at 27. Therefore, the state habeas court decision was not made on a materially incomplete record and it was a decision on the merits. Petitioner also claims that the state habeas court's decision is not entitled to deference because the lack of an evidentiary hearing made the process employed by the state court defective. However, he provides no law to support this specific claim and the Court has not found any legal support for this argument. Therefore, the state court's decision is entitled to deference because it was a decision on the merits and the process employed by the state court was not defective.

         When a state court has addressed the merits of a claim raised in a federal habeas corpus petition, a federal court may not grant the petition on that particular claim unless the state court's adjudication was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts presented at the trial. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). This test erects a "formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for claims adjudicated on the merits. Burt v. Titlow. 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013). Under this standard, for a state prisoner to obtain habeas relief, he "must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter. 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011).

         The evaluation of whether a state court decision is "contrary to" or "an unreasonable application of federal law is based upon an independent review of each standard. See Williams v. Tavlor. 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). A state court determination violates the "contrary to" standard if it "arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the United States Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the United States Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Id. at 413.

         Under the "unreasonable application" clause, the writ should be granted if the federal court finds that the state court "identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the United States Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413. A federal court should review the state court determination with deference; a federal court cannot grant the writ simply because it concludes that the state court incorrectly applied the legal standard. Woodford v. Visciotti. 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). Rather, "the federal habeas scheme ... authorizes federal court intervention only when a state-court decision is objectively unreasonable." Id. at 27.

         In determining whether the state court's decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts presented at the trial, a federal court reviewing a habeas petition "presume[s] the [state] court's factual findings to be sound unless [petitioner] rebuts 'the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.'" Miller-El v. Dretke.545 U.S. 231, 240 (2005) (quoting 28 U.S.C. 2254(e)(1)); see, e.g., Lenz v. Washington.444 F.3d 295, 300-01 (4th Cir. 2000). "The Supreme Court has found state factual findings unreasonable under ยง 2254(d)(2) when the direction of the evidence, viewed cumulatively, was 'too powerful to conclude anything but [the petitioner's factual claim],' and when a state court's finding was ...

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