Carroll v. Director, CASE NO. 7:17CV00502

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtBy: Norman K. Moon Senior United States District Judge
Decision Date02 August 2018
PartiesJOHN J. CARROLL, Petitioner, v. DIRECTOR, V.D.O.C., Respondent.
Docket NumberCASE NO. 7:17CV00502

JOHN J. CARROLL, Petitioner,
DIRECTOR, V.D.O.C., Respondent.

CASE NO. 7:17CV00502


August 2, 2018


By: Norman K. Moon Senior United States District Judge

John J. Carroll, 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 Warren County Circuit Court. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss Carroll's § 2254 petition, and Carroll responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After review of the record, I dismiss the petition.

I. Background

On November 12, 2013, the Warren County Circuit Court entered final judgment, pursuant to a plea agreement, convicting Carroll of aggravated sexual battery and indecent liberties. The trial court imposed a five year active sentence. Carroll's direct and collateral appeals were unsuccessful.

On November 3, 2017, Carroll timely filed the present petition, stating two claims:

1. The trial court erred in refusing to suppress the petitioner's custodial statements to police which were made without Miranda1 warnings and without a waiver; and

2. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to (a) object or impeach the officer's inconsistent testimony during the motion to suppress and (b) allow the petitioner to testify to rebut the testimony of the officer.

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Respondent moves to dismiss Carroll's claims as without merit, and Carroll responded to the motion.

In his response to the motion to dismiss, Carroll appears to allege additional ineffective assistance claims:

3. Counsel failed to recognize and object to the alleged victim's inadmissible statements;
4. Counsel failed to investigate the DNA evidence;
5. Counsel failed to argue that Carroll's confession was inadmissible because Carroll was on drugs at the time of the interview; and
6. Counsel failed to investigate the case more thoroughly.

Resp. in Opp. of Mot. to Dismiss 11-16, ECF No. 21. Even though Carroll did not request permission to file an amended petition, I address his new claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). For relief, Carroll seeks vacation of his convictions and a new trial.

II. Standards of Review

To obtain federal habeas relief, 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). 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) [R]esulted 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) [R]esulted 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). "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). Under this standard, "[a] state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded

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jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).

To state a constitutional claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must satisfy the two-pronged Strickland v. Washington test by showing (1) "that counsel's performance was deficient," and (2) "that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense." 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). "Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential," Id. at 689, and counsel is "permitted to set priorities, determine trial strategy, and press those claims with the greatest chances of success." United States v. Mason, 774 F.3d 824, 828 (4th Cir. 2014). When reviewing a Strickland claim under the AEDPA, the court's review is doubly deferential. See Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105.

For Strickland's first prong, a petitioner must show "that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. "The question is whether an attorney's representation amounted to incompetence under 'prevailing professional norms,' not whether it deviated from best practices or most common custom." Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690). For the second prong, a petitioner must demonstrate that there is a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. In the guilty plea context, the prejudice inquiry "focuses on whether counsel's constitutionally ineffective performance affected the outcome of the plea process." Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985). The petitioner "must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Id. Further, the

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"resolution of the 'prejudice' inquiry will depend largely on whether the [petitioner's argument underlying the ineffective assistance claim] likely would have succeeded at trial." Id.

III. Discussion

In Claim 1, Carroll contends that the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion, arguing officers obtained his confession in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights under Miranda. Specifically, Carroll challenges the state court's determination that the interrogation was not "custodial." In the motion to dismiss, the respondent argues that Carroll's Miranda claim is incognizable under Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976). The Stone doctrine is a procedural bar that precludes federal habeas review of Fourth Amendment search and seizure claims if "the State has [previously] provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation." Grimsley v. Dodson, 696 F.2d 303, 304 (4th Cir. 1982). However, the Supreme Court has specifically addressed Stone's application to Miranda claims: "Stone's restriction on the exercise of federal habeas jurisdiction does not extend to a state prisoner's claim that his conviction rests on statements obtained in violation of the safeguards mandated by Miranda." Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 682 (1993). While the respondent's argument fails, I will review the record to determine whether petitioner's claim has merit. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Miranda "does not apply outside the context of the inherently coercive custodial interrogations for which it was designed." Roberts v. United States, 445 U.S. 552, 560 (1980). To determine "custody" for Miranda purposes, two discrete inquiries are essential: (1) "what were the circumstances surrounding the interrogation," and (2) "given those circumstances, would a reasonable person have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112 (1995); see also Alvarado, 541 at 663.

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Custodial circumstances "are thought generally to present a serious danger of coercion." Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499, 508-09 (2012). "The warnings protect persons who, exposed to such interrogation without the assistance of counsel, otherwise might be unable to make a free and informed choice to remain silent." Roberts, 445 U.S. at 560-61 (citations omitted). However, Miranda warnings are not required "simply because the questioning takes place in the station house, or because the questioned person is one whom the police suspect." Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 495 (1977). Instead, Miranda mandates warnings if the Court can objectively determine that there was "a formal arrest or restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest." Alvarado, 541 U.S. at 663.

"Fidelity to the doctrine announced in Miranda requires that it be enforced strictly, but only in those types of situations in which the concerns that powered the decision are implicated." Howes, 565 U.S. at 508-09 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Lastly, "[v]oluntary confessions are not merely a proper element in law enforcement, they are an unmitigated good, essential to society's compelling interest in finding, convicting, and punishing those who violate the law." Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98, 108 (2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Carroll argues at length that the interrogation was custodial because: (1) the investigation occurred in a non-public room behind several locked doors; (2) the door was closed during the questioning; (3) the interrogation was related to a criminal investigation; (4) the investigation was "lengthy"; (5) when Carroll asked for a break, it was delayed twice; and (6) the investigating officer, Detective Jason Lethcoe ("Det. Lethcoe"), made various statements to Carroll that allegedly indicated custody. Specifically, Det. Lethcoe told Carroll the following: he knew Carroll was lying, Carroll was "irritating" for refusing to confess, Det. Lethcoe was "trying not

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to come unhinged," "If you ask for a lawyer, this interview never happened," and if Carroll left, Carroll was "done," Carroll would see "a different side of [Det. Lethcoe]," and the rules would change.

The trial court discussed Miranda extensively. See State Habeas R. 116-29, Carroll v. Gilmore, No. 160806 (Va. Aug. 3, 2017).2 After weighing the factors, the trial court specifically acknowledged that the issue was a "close call," but found no Miranda violation. State Habeas R. 134. On direct review, the Court of Appeals of Virginia3 scrutinized the trial court's decision and...

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