Eaglin v. Louisiana, CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-9659 SECTION: "I"(3)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 19-9659 SECTION: "I"(3)
Decision Date07 January 2020




January 7, 2020


Petitioner, Keefer Lamar Eaglin, is a Louisiana state prisoner incarcerated at the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, Louisiana. He filed this federal application seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the following reasons, it is recommended that the application be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

On November 21, 2013, petitioner was convicted of forcible rape under Louisiana law.1 On March 28, 2014, he was found to be a second offender and was sentenced as such to a term of eighty years imprisonment without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.2 On April 24, 2015, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction, habitual offender adjudication, and sentence.3 The Louisiana Supreme Court then denied his related writ application on April 15, 2016.4

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On March 17, 2017, petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief with the state district court.5 That application was denied on April 27, 2017.6 His related writ applications were then likewise denied by the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal on September 15, 2017,7 and February 20, 2018,8 and by the Louisiana Supreme Court on March 6, 2019.9

On April 18, 2019, petitioner filed the instant federal application seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.10 The state opposes the application.11

I. Timeliness

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a petitioner is generally required to bring his § 2254 claims within one (1) year of the date on which his underlying state criminal judgment became "final." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A).12 With respect to determining the date of finality, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:

The statute of limitations for bringing a federal habeas petition challenging a state conviction begins to run on "the date on which the [state] judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). When a habeas petitioner has pursued relief on direct appeal through his state's highest court, his conviction becomes final ninety days after the highest court's judgment is entered, upon the expiration

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of time for filing an application for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. Roberts v. Cockrell, 319 F.3d 690, 693 (5th Cir. 2003). However, "[i]f the defendant stops the appeal process before that point," ... "the conviction becomes final when the time for seeking further direct review in the state court expires." Id. at 694; see also Foreman v. Dretke, 383 F.3d 336, 338 (5th Cir. 2004) (Section 2244(d)(1)(A) gives alternative routes for finalizing a conviction: either direct review is completed or the time to pursue direct review expires).
Although federal, not state, law determines when a judgment is final for federal habeas purposes, a necessary part of the finality inquiry is determining whether the petitioner is still able to seek further direct review. See Foreman, 383 F.3d at 338-39. As a result, this court looks to state law in determining how long a prisoner has to file a direct appeal. See Causey v. Cain, 450 F.3d 601, 606 (5th Cir. 2006); Roberts, 319 F.3d at 693. Louisiana Supreme Court Rule X, § 5(a) states that an application "to review a judgment of the court of appeal either after an appeal to that court ... or after a denial of an application, shall be made within thirty days of the mailing of the notice of the original judgment of the court of appeal."

Butler v. Cain, 533 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir. 2008).

In its response in this proceeding, the state halfheartedly argues that petitioner's federal application may be untimely because his direct-review writ application may have been untimely filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court. However, the state speculates that the Court may reject that argument because the state bears the burden of proof on this affirmative defense, see Ray v. Clements, 700 F.3d 993, 1006-12 (7th Cir. 2012), and it has no proof that the writ application was in fact untimely.13

The defense should indeed be rejected. Because the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision did not expressly hold that petitioner's direct-review writ application was untimely, and because the state has submitted no evidence showing that the application was in fact untimely, there is not an adequate basis for this Court to conclude that the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the application as untimely.

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Accordingly, pursuant to Butler, the Court finds that petitioner's state criminal judgment became final for AEDPA purposes on July 14, 2016, i.e. ninety days after the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the direct-review writ application on the merits. As a result, his federal limitations period commenced on that date and then expired one year later, unless that deadline was extended through tolling.

Regarding the statute of limitations provided in § 2244, the AEDPA states: "The time during which a properly filed application for State post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim is pending shall not be counted toward any period of limitation under this subsection." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2).

After two hundred forty-five (245) days elapsed, petitioner tolled the federal limitations period by filing a post-conviction application with the state district court on March 17, 2017. That application then remained pending - and the federal limitations period therefore remained tolled - for the duration of the post-conviction proceedings, so long as petitioner continued to seek review at the higher levels of the state court system in a timely manner. Grillette v. Warden, Winn Correctional Center, 372 F.3d 765, 769-71 (5th Cir. 2004). Here, the state does not argue that petitioner's related collateral-review writ applications were untimely. Accordingly, the Court finds that the limitations period remained tolled until the Louisiana Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief on March 6, 2019.

When the limitations period then resumed running at that point, petitioner had one hundred twenty (120) days remaining. Because he filed his federal application a mere forty-three (43) days

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later, it was timely. In light of that fact, and because the state does not allege that petitioner's claims are unexhausted or procedurally barred,14 the Court will review the claims on the merits.

II. Standards of Review

The AEDPA comprehensively overhauled federal habeas corpus legislation, including 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Amended subsections 2254(d)(1) and (2) contain revised standards of review for pure questions of fact, pure questions of law, and mixed questions of both. The amendments modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas 'retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002); accord Langley v. Prince, 926 F.3d 145, 155 (5th Cir. 2019) (noting that the AEDPA imposes a "relitigation bar" on claims adjudicated on the merits by the state court).

As to pure questions of fact, factual findings are presumed to be correct and a federal court will give deference to the state court's decision unless it "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)(2); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) ("In a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.").

As to pure questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact, a federal court must defer to the state court's decision on the merits of such a claim unless that decision "was contrary to, or

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involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Courts have held that the "'contrary to' and 'unreasonable application' clauses [of § 2254(d)(1)] have independent meaning." Bell, 535 U.S. at 694.

Regarding the "contrary to" clause, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:

A state court decision is contrary to clearly established precedent if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in the [United States] Supreme Court's cases. A state-court decision will also be contrary to clearly established precedent if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the [United States] Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [United States] Supreme Court precedent.

Wooten v. Thaler, 598 F.3d 215, 218 (5th Cir. 2010) (footnotes, internal quotation marks, ellipses, and brackets omitted).

Regarding the "unreasonable application" clause, the United States Supreme Court has held: "[A] state-court decision is an unreasonable application of our clearly established precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies that rule unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case." White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 426 (2014). However, a federal habeas court must be mindful that "an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one." Bell, 535 U.S. at 694; accord Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011) ("Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error...

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