Gentry v. Director, CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:12cv137

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
Decision Date24 March 2015
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 4:12cv137

JAMES H. GENTRY, #1521142

CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:12cv137


March 24, 2015


Petitioner James H. Gentry, a prisoner confined at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas, proceeding pro se, filed the above-styled and numbered petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He claims that he is entitled to relief based on numerous constitutional violations.


Petitioner was charged with three counts of theft over $200,000, and two counts of theft over $100,000, but less than $200,000. After he pleaded guilty, the trial court assessed punishment at confinement for life in each of the theft over $200,000 cases, and 20 years' confinement in each of the theft over $100,000, but less than $200,000 cases. State v. Gentry, Cause Numbers 199-81623-07 through 199-81627-07. The Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions on November 30, 2009. Gentry v. State, Nos. 05-08-01032-CR through 05-08-01036-CR (Tex. App.-Dallas Nov. 30, 2009, pet. ref'd). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused his petition for discretionary review. Gentry, PDR Nos. 1810-09 through 1814-09. He also filed state applications for writ of habeas corpus in each conviction, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied them without written order on September 28, 2011. Ex parte Gentry, Appl. Nos. 76,024-01 through 76,024-06.

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This action was filed separately from the other four convictions, and relates, specifically, to Collin County Cause Number 199-81624-07, Fifth Court of Appeals, Dallas, Cause No. 05-08-01033-CR, and PDR No. 1811-09 and WR76,024-06 from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. For this conviction, Petitioner was sentenced to twenty years' confinement.

In his § 2254 petition, Petitioner asserts numerous grounds for relief:

1. He pleaded guilty involuntarily based on trial counsel's ineffectiveness;

2. He was convicted without a trial, in violation of his due process rights;

3. He was denied effective assistance of counsel when counsel:

a. failed to demand a hearing challenging the admissibility of his confession;

b. helped to fabricate evidence by tricking him into signing a confession;

c. failed to advise him of the availability of Chapter 13 bankruptcy;

d. failed to identify and explain the elements of the charged offense;

e. failed to make pre-trial objections to the indictments;

f. failed to seek exculpatory and impeaching evidence;

g, failed to conduct a pre-trial investigation;

h. "abandoned" him and failed to advise Petitioner of his right to appeal, the necessity to file a notice of appeal, his right to file a motion for new trial, and possible grounds for appeal; and

i. failed to advise Petitioner of the possibility of withdrawing his guilty plea;

4. There was no evidence to support his conviction;

5. The trial court abused its discretion by being biased against him, improperly denying his state habeas application, and failing to give him a full, fair, and adequate hearing;

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6. The prosecutor misled Petitioner and Petitioner's counsel by making promises that were never performed;

7. Petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel on appeal because appellate counsel failed to assist Petitioner with his motion for new trial and failed to assert reversible errors in his appellate brief; and

8. The trial court had no jurisdiction because the document purporting to be a charging instrument completely fails to contain the name of the accused or state that his name is unknown and give a reasonably accurate description of him.

The Government filed a Response, asserting that Petitioner's issues are without merit, to which Petitioner filed a Reply.

Federal Habeas Corpus Relief

The role of federal courts in reviewing habeas corpus petitions by prisoners in state custody is exceedingly narrow. A person seeking federal habeas corpus review must assert a violation of a federal constitutional right. Lowery v. Collins, 988 F.2d 1354, 1367 (5th Cir. 1993). Federal habeas corpus relief will not issue to correct errors of state constitutional, statutory, or procedural law, unless a federal issue is also present. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68, 112 S. Ct. 475, 479-80, 116 L. Ed.2d 385 (1991); West v. Johnson, 92 F.3d 1385, 1404 (5th Cir. 1996). In the course of reviewing state proceedings, a federal court does not sit as a super state appellate court. Dillard v. Blackburn, 780 F.2d 509, 513 (5th Cir. 1986).

The prospect of federal courts granting habeas corpus relief to state prisoners has been further limited by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The provisions of Section 2254(d) provide that an application for a writ of habeas corpus "shall not be granted with

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respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings unless the adjudication of the 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." See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 402-03, 120 S. Ct. 1495, 1517-18, 146 L. Ed.2d 389 (2000); Childress v. Johnson, 103 F.3d 1221, 1224-25 (5th Cir. 1997). The statutory provision requires federal courts to be deferential to habeas corpus decisions on the merits by state courts. Moore v. Cockrell, 313 F.3d 880, 881 (5th Cir. 2002).

A decision by a state court is "contrary to" the Supreme Court's clearly established law if it "applies a rule that contradicts the law set forth in" the Supreme Court's cases. Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06, 120 S. Ct. at 1519-20. A federal court's review of a decision based on the "unreasonable application" test should only review the "state court's 'decision' and not the written opinion explaining that decision." Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc). "Under § 2254(d)(1)'s 'unreasonable application' clause, then, a federal habeas corpus court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Williams, 529 U.S. at 411, 120 S. Ct. 1522-23. Rather, that application must be objectively unreasonable. Id. 529 U.S. at 409, 120 S. Ct. at 1521. The standard is satisfied only if "reasonable jurists considering the question would be of one view that the state court ruling was incorrect." Davis v. Johnson, 158 F.3d 806, 812 (5th Cir 1998) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The trial court's factual findings are entitled to a presumption of correctness unless the petitioner can rebut the presumption with clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Valdez v.

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Cockrell, 274 F.3d 941, 947 (5th Cir. 2001). A federal district court must be deferential to state court findings supported by the record. See Pondexter v. Dretke, 346 F.3d 142, 149-152 (5th Cir. 2003). The AEDPA has 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. Beel v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693, 122 S. Ct. 1843, 1849, 152 L. Ed.2d 914 (2002); see Williams, 529 U.S. at 404, 120 S. Ct. at 1519.

A state application that is denied without written order by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, as in the present case, is an adjudication on the merits. Singleton v. Johnson, 178 F.3d 381, 384 (5th Cir. 1999); Ex parte Torres, 943 S.W.2d 469, 472 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997) (holding a "denial" signifies an adjudication on the merits while a "dismissal" means the claim was declined on grounds other than the merits). Additionally, federal habeas relief is foreclosed if a claim (1) is procedurally barred as a consequence of a failure to comply with state procedural rules, Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 111 S. Ct. 2546, 115 L. Ed.2d 640 (1991); (2) seeks retroactive application of a new rule of law to a conviction that was final before the rule was announced, Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 109 S. Ct. 1060, 103 L. Ed.2d 334 (1989); or (3) asserts trial error that, although of constitutional magnitude, did not have a "substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict." Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637, 113 S. Ct. 1710, 1722, 123 L. Ed.2d 353 (1993).

In the context of § 2254(d), the deferential standard that must be accorded to counsel's representation must also be considered in tandem with the deference that must be accorded state court decisions, which has been referred to as "doubly" deferential. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105, 131 S. Ct. 770, 788, 178 L. Ed.2d 624 (2011). "When § 2254(d) applies, the question is

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not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard." Id. "If the standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be." Id. at 786. Section 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, "stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings. It preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this court's precedents. It goes no farther." Id. "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 correction through appeal." Id.; see also Morales v. Thaler, 714 F.3d 295, 302 (5th Cir. 2013). "As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state...

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