Clemons v. LeBlanc, CIVIL ACTION NO. 20-1465 SECTION P

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Louisiana
Writing for the CourtMAG. JUDGE KAREN L. HAYES
Decision Date29 December 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 20-1465 SECTION P




December 29, 2020




Petitioner Charles Clemons, a prisoner in the custody of Louisiana's Department of Corrections proceeding pro se, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He attacks the sentence that the Third Judicial District Court, Lincoln Parish, imposed for his second-degree murder conviction. For reasons below, the Court should deny Petitioner's claim and dismiss his Petition.


The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal recounted the underlying state court procedural history as follows:

In November of 1976, Charles Clemons ("Clemons") pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence for the first 40 years. In accordance with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S. Ct. 2455, 183 L. Ed. 2d 407 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, — U.S. —, 136 S. Ct. 718, 193 L. Ed. 2d 599 (2016), Clemons was resentenced to life with parole eligibility. Clemons was granted an out-of-time appeal, and seeks review of his sentence. For the following reasons, we affirm.


The record shows that Clemons was indicted for the August 26, 1976, first degree murder of J.W. Sandifer ("Sandifer"), committed when Clemons was 17

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years old.1 Clemons was charged with killing Sandifer after robbing and shooting him while the two were alone in rural Lincoln Parish. A sanity commission was ordered by the trial court, and Clemons was found competent to stand trial and to assist counsel in his defense. On November 19, 1976, Clemons pled guilty to second degree murder as charged by amended indictment. He was sentenced as a first-felony offender by the trial Court "in accordance with the statute to life imprisonment."2 The case minutes show that on the day of his guilty plea, Clemons was sentenced to life and was not "eligible for parole, probation or pardon for a period of 40 years."

On October 31, 2016, Clemons filed a "Motion Pursuant to C. Cr. P. art. 882(A) To Correct An Illegal Sentence," pursuant to Miller/Montgomery.3 Clemons argued that his sentence was illegal and that under Miller/Montgomery he should be sentenced to a term less than life. Specifically, Clemons argued that he should be sentenced to a term of years specified for manslaughter, the next lesser included offense, which in 1976 carried a maximum sentence of 21 years at hard labor, and that he should be released.

Clemons' motion to correct illegal sentence was heard on January 17, 2017. Clemons was present and represented by counsel. Following a "meeting in chambers," the trial court noted that the state and defense had "come to an agreement on this," and that the state had provided the defense "with an order of the Court." The defense indicated its agreement to the sentence "with that stipulation based on this order," but "with certain amendments." The state addressed the trial court as follows:

We're here today for a Re-Sentencing of Mr. Clemons who is presently serving a life sentence for a homicide committed when he was a—when he was a juvenile. And under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller versus Alabama, he is entitled to be re-sentenced. And I believe we're going to stipulate to the Court pursuant to 878.1 of Code of Criminal Procedure that Mr. Clemons be re-sentenced to life imprisonment with the eligibility of parole pursuant to 15:574.4(E) and that the Court is going to sign a judgment to the affect with the additional language that the Court recommends that once Mr. Clemons is

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qualified under 574.4(E) for parole consideration that the Parole Board give him a hearing as quickly as possible.

* * *

The trial court did not orally amend Clemons' sentence or resentence him, instead stating that it would "incorporate that language in the final Order of the Court," which was signed on the day of the hearing and filed on January 12, 2017. In the written order, the trial court stated in relevant part:

After a thorough review, the parties agree that the Defendant's sentence of life shall be imposed with eligibility for parole consideration pursuant to the provisions of La. R.S. 15:574.4(E).

WHEREFORE, the Defendant's Motion to Correct an Illegal Sentence is GRANTED and the Defendant is hereby sentenced to life with eligibility for parole consideration consistent with La. C. Cr. P. art. 878.1 and La. R.S. 15:574.4(E). As soon as the Defendant satisfies the eligibility requirements of the aforesaid statu[t]es, it is the recommendation and request of the Court that the Parole Board schedule a hearing as soon as possible to consider getting the Defendant parole. This is in consideration of the 41 years the defendant has already served under the original sentence.

State v. Clemons, 289 So. 3d 1165, 1166-67 (La. Ct. App.) (footnotes in original), writ denied, 300 So. 3d 399 (La. 2020).

After the trial court granted Petitioner's motion and amended his sentence, Petitioner appealed, raising the following claims:

[1] an excessive sentence claim, arguing that the trial court failed to consider mitigating factors, including the fact that Clemons has completed many self-help programs, accepted responsibility for his actions and expressed remorse prior to resentencing. Additionally, Clemons contends that he has been rehabilitated by his many years of incarceration and has apologized to the victim's family. Ultimately, Clemons argues that based upon these facts, a downward departure from the mandatory life sentence was justified under State v. Dorthey, 623 So. 2d 1276 (La. 1993).

[2] In his pro se brief, Clemons raises a claim that his guilty plea was constitutionally infirm because the trial court failed to inform him of his Eighth Amendment right "as announced by Miller and Montgomery." Clemons argues that these cases have expanded Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S. Ct. 1709, 23 L. Ed. 2d 274 (1969), to include a "fourth" right to a Miller sentencing hearing which must be waived during a guilty plea involving a juvenile.

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Clemons, 289 So. 3d at 1168 (footnotes omitted). On January 15, 2020, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Petitioner's sentence. Id. at 1170.

On July 31, 2020, the Supreme Court of Louisiana denied Petitioner's subsequent application for writ of certiorari. State v. Clemons, 300 So. 3d 399 (La. 2020).

Petitioner filed this Petition on approximately November 9, 2020,4 claiming: (1) "The trial court deprived [him] his liberty without the due process protection of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee against a disproportionate sentence as required by Miller and Montgomery [sic]"; and (2) his "guilty plea is null and void as a result of Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana's substantive constitutional rule change [sic]." [doc. # 1-1, p. 1].

Law and Analysis

I. Standard of review

Federal courts may provide habeas corpus relief to a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). Under Section 2254(d), after a state court has adjudicated a prisoner's claims on the merits, an application for a writ of habeas corpus may be granted only if the petitioner shows that the 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)(1)-(2).

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Review under § 2254(d)(1) is "limited to the record that was before the state court." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). A decision is "contrary to" clearly established law if the state court "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases," or "confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] but reaches a different result." Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). A decision involves an "unreasonable application" of clearly established law "if the state court applies [the Supreme Court's] precedents to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner." Id. (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407-08). "Clearly established law" refers to "the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of relevant state-court decision." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412.

Section 2254(d)(2) involves a challenge to factual determinations made by state courts. Hoffman v. Cain, 752 F.3d 430, 437 (5th Cir. 2014). Federal courts presume such determinations to be correct; however, a petitioner can rebut this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(1).

A federal court must defer to a state court adjudication on the merits. Valdez v. Cockrell, 274 F.3d 941, 950 (5th Cir. 2001). "As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner 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 fair-minded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). An adjudication is "on the merits" when "the state court resolves the case on substantive grounds, rather than procedural grounds." Id. at 946-

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47. A federal court reviews de novo a claim not adjudicated on the merits in state court. Hoffman, 752 F.3d at 437.

II. Summary Dismissal

Under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, "If it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is...

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