476 F.3d 260 (5th Cir. 2007), 02-21245, Moody v. Quarterman

Docket Nº:02-21245.
Citation:476 F.3d 260
Party Name:Stephen Lindsey MOODY, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Nathaniel QUARTERMAN, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellant.
Case Date:January 17, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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476 F.3d 260 (5th Cir. 2007)

Stephen Lindsey MOODY, Petitioner-Appellee,

v.

Nathaniel QUARTERMAN, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellant.

No. 02-21245.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

Jan. 17, 2007

Page 261

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 262

Philip Harlan Hilder, James Gregory Rytting (argued), Hilder & Associates, Houston, TX, for Moody.

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Carla Elaina Eldred (argued), Austin, TX, for Quarterman.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

Before JONES, Chief Judge, and STEWART and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

CARL E. STEWART, Circuit Judge:

The Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Nathaniel Quarterman ("the State"), appeals from the district court's provisional grant of habeas relief in favor of Stephen Lindsey Moody ("Moody"). Moody filed the underlying petition for habeas relief asserting ineffective assistance of counsel and violation of his equal protection rights pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). The district court denied relief on Moody's ineffective assistance of counsel claims and denied his request for a COA; however, the court granted Moody's request for habeas relief based on his Batson claim. The district court held that the Texas trial court improperly denied Moody's request for a Batson challenge to contest the State's use of peremptory strikes during jury voir dire. The district court reasoned that the Texas trial court failed to properly apply the Supreme Court's holding in Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 111 S.Ct. 1364, 113 L.Ed.2d 411 (1992). Because we conclude that the district court failed to give proper deference to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' findings of fact pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the order granting Moody's petition for habeas corpus on his equal protection claim is VACATED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Because our review of this appeal pertains solely to the issue of whether the Texas trial court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals committed reversible error in failing to allow Moody's Batson challenge, we limit our recitation of the facts and proceedings to those germane to the resolution of that issue.

In 1993, Moody was indicted on a charge of capital murder for the death of Joseph Franz Hall. The death occurred during the commission of a botched armed robbery in 1991. A jury subsequently found Moody guilty of the offense in 1993. After answering Texas's special issues in the affirmative during a separate punishment phase of the trial, the jury sentenced Moody to death by lethal injection.

During voir dire, the State used four of its thirteen peremptory challenges to strike four out of eight (50%) of the African-Americans on the venire. Moody objected to one of those strikes when the State used a peremptory strike to exclude Jerome Hightower. At the close of the voir dire, Moody requested a Batson hearing to challenge the propriety of the State's exclusion of Hightower. The trial judge denied Moody's request, explaining that because Moody was white he had no standing to raise a Batson equal protection claim when the excluded venireperson was of a different race. The State agreed with the state trial court's reasoning, but nevertheless volunteered a race-neutral explanation for its striking of Hightower; mainly, that Hightower had two brothers-in-law in prison. The State argued that Hightower's family circumstances would have adversely affected his beliefs concerning whether a defendant could be rehabilitated by a long prison sentence. Disregarding Moody's request for a Batson hearing, the trial court dismissed Hightower without conducting any step of the three-part Batson analysis, solely on the basis that Moody had no standing to challenge the striking of a black juror.

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On direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Moody raised seven claims of error, including the equal protection claim at issue here. Moody argued that the state trial court failed to conduct a Batson hearing as he requested in violation of the Supreme Court's decision in Powers v. Ohio, which has long since resolved the issue of whether a defendant could raise a Batson claim to contest the State's use of a peremptory strike when a venireperson is of a different race from the challenging defendant. In 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Moody's conviction and sentence, stating that although the state trial court improperly failed to conduct a proper Batson hearing, the prosecutor's race-neutral proffer was sufficient for a lawful exclusion of Hightower and that the prosecutor did not strike Hightower because of his race. Moody v. State, No. 71, 687 (Tex. Crim. App. January 17, 1996) (unpublished).

In 1997, Moody filed an application for a state writ of habeas corpus in the Texas trial court. Moody did not assert his Batson claim in his state habeas petition. In 1999, the state trial court denied Moody's request for habeas relief and entered findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its ruling. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied relief holding that the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law were supported by the record. Ex parte Moody, No. 71,687 (Tex. Crim. App. November 3, 1999) (unpublished).

Moody subsequently petitioned for habeas relief in federal court. Moody raised the same claims he raised on direct appeal–two ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims and the equal protection claim at issue here. The State filed a motion for summary judgment, and Moody filed a cross motion for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to the State on Moody's ineffective assistance of counsel claim and denied Moody's request for a COA;1 however, it ordered additional briefing on the equal protection issue, including evidence and arguments as to the proper remedy that should be ordered to rectify the error, i.e., whether it should issue an order of remand to conduct a proper Batson hearing or an order of remand for a new trial.

In a renewed motion for summary judgment, the State argued that the state trial court's decision denying Moody's request for a Batson hearing should be affirmed because (1) the erroneous ruling did not prevent Moody from fully developing his Batson claim in the state trial court; (2) Moody did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination; and (3) Moody did not meet his burden of establishing discriminatory intent. In response to the State's arguments the district court concluded that:

[w]ell after the Supreme Court had ruled on the issue [of the irrelevance of a prospective juror's race when a defendant raises a Batson claim,] the trial court committed the error denounced by Powers. The trial court abdicated its duty to make an inquiry into alleged racial discrimination by failing to recognize Petitioner's standing to contest the issue. [The State] now argues that, the trial court's erroneous ruling notwithstanding, Petitioner should have proceeded to a Batson inquiry by attempting to prove intentional discrimination. [The State] trivializes the practical effect of the trial court's ruling that Petitioner

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lacked standing to raise a Batson issue. As a practical matter, any attempt to analyze the merits of a Batson claim in that forum would have been pointless; the trial court had already erroneously prevented Petitioner from developing the issue. Any attempt to make an extensive record or persist in his claim would have been a waste of judicial resources.

As part of the Batson analysis, a "trial court . . . will have the duty to determine if the defendant has established purposeful discrimination." Batson, 476 U.S. at 98, 106 S.Ct. 1712. In ignoring its obligation through an inaccurate standing ruling, the trial court disabled Petitioner's efforts to comply with his burden. [The State] now asks this Court, on the basis of a cold record alone, to consider the Batson framework and the petition. [However,] [t]he trial court prevented Petitioner from making a case under Batson ; [furthermore,] the record is silent as to the prosecutor's true intent, demeanor, or credibility. [Therefore,] [t]he Court of Criminal Appeals' failure to apply fully Powers to this case was both contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent.

Moody v. Dretke, H-00-CV-1450, at 2 (S.D. Tex. Sep. 30, 2002) (supplemental memorandum opinion and order). Based on these findings, the district court provisionally granted habeas relief on the equal protection claim.

In the same supplemental memorandum opinion and order, the district court addressed the issue of the correct remedy needed to rectify the state trial court's violation of Moody's equal protection rights. The court stated:

In its earlier order, this Court instructed the parties to address what relief is available in this case. [The State] only argues that a federal evidentiary hearing is unavailable. Petitioner contends that this Court should order a new trial. In support of his argument, Petitioner submits an affidavit by the trial prosecutor.... There, the prosecutor states that any hearing would be unproductive as he has no recollection of his motive in peremptorily striking [Mr. Hightower] eight years ago. As it appears that a hearing at this late date would not be feasible, the State of Texas must retry Petitioner.

Id. at 3. Faced with the futility of ordering a remand to reconstruct the Batson hearing, the district court ordered the State to either retry Moody within 180 days from its ruling, or release him from custody. In December of 2002, that order was stayed by the district court pending the...

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