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Williams v. Clarke

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

August 2, 2019

VINCENT EUGENE WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert E. Payne, Senior United States District Judge.

         Vincent Eugene Williams, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, brings this petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("§ 2254 Petition," ECF No. 1)[1] challenging his convictions in the Circuit Court for the County of Henrico, Virginia ("Circuit Court") for grand larceny and possession of burglary tools with intent to commit larceny. Williams contends that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel by counsel's failure to properly challenge the loss of stationary camera video footage in a motion for a new trial. (Id. at 16.) Respondent moves to dismiss on the ground that Williams's claim lacks merit. For reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) will be granted.

         I. APPLICABLE CONSTRAINTS UPON FEDERAL HABEAS REVIEW

         In order to obtain federal habeas relief, at a minimum, a petitioner 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). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") of 1996 further circumscribed this Court's authority to grant relief by way of a writ of habeas corpus. Specifically, "[s]tate court factual determinations are presumed to be correct and may be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence." Gray v. Branker, 529 F.3d 220, 228 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (e) (1)). Additionally, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d), a federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus based on any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudicated claim:

(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) (1) - (2) . The Supreme Court has emphasized that the question "is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410 (2000)). Given the foregoing standard, the opinion of the Circuit Court with respect to Williams's claim figures prominently in this Court's analysis.

         II. PERTINENT PROCEDUAL HISTORTY

         On March 30, 2017, a jury convicted Williams of grand larceny and possession of burglary tools. (ECF No. 16-1, at 1.) "Following the trial, Williams filed a motion to set aside the verdict. At a sentencing hearing on September 26, 2017, the Court denied the motion to set aside and sentenced Williams to two years and 12 months in prison." Id. On October 25, 2017, Williams filed a habeas petition with the Circuit Court wherein he claimed "his counsel at the sentencing hearing was constitutionally ineffective for failing to present the correct argument 'in order to have the conviction vacated for being [an] unconstitutional malicious prosecution in violation of the Brady rule.'" Id. at 2 (alteration in original) (footnote omitted).

         The Circuit Court provided the following summary of the relevant facts pertaining to the above claim:

On October 3, 2016, loss prevention officers at a Target store suspected Williams of shoplifting boxer shorts and headphones. The loss prevention officers called the police, who immediately arrested Williams outside the store and recovered the stolen items from his backpack.
At trial, surveillance footage was played for the jury, which showed Williams's movements in the store. Loss prevention officer, Kevin Woods, testified that footage from the store's stationary cameras had unfortunately not been saved. (Trial Tr. 60). Woods, however, testified to what he observed on those cameras, including Williams removing security devices from the headphones. (Tr. 56, 66).
In his post-trial motion to set aside the verdict, Williams argued, in part, that Target's failure to preserve the stationary camera footage was spoliation. Williams further argued that allowing Woods to testify as to what he had seen on the stationary cameras violated the best evidence rule.
After considering defense counsel's arguments at the sentencing hearing, the Court denied the motion to set ...

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