Jefferson v. Vannoy

Decision Date01 December 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action 21-471
CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)




This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to conduct a hearing including an evidentiary hearing if necessary, and to submit proposed findings and recommendations for disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), and as applicable, Rule 8(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. Upon review of the entire record, the Court has determined that this matter can be disposed of without an evidentiary hearing. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2). For the following reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the petition for habeas corpus relief be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

Procedural History

Petitioner Calvin Bernard Jefferson, is a state prisoner incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. In June 2012, he was indicted for second-degree murder.[1] Several days into trial, on June 9, 2017 he withdrew his plea of not guilty and entered an Alford plea, over the State's objection, to second-degree murder.[2] He was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

Jefferson appealed asserting one assignment of error. He argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the statements he made after he advised officers that he had counsel. On September 24, 2018, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction and sentence.[3] On February 25, 2019, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied his application for writ of certiorari.[4]

On or about September 6, 2019, Jefferson submitted an application for postconviction relief to the state district court.[5] In that application, he raised two grounds for relief: (1) his guilty plea was not voluntarily, intelligently or knowingly entered; and (2) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. On October 28, 2019, the state district court denied relief on the merits.[6] On February 18, 2020, the Louisiana First Circuit denied his supervisory writ application.[7] On October 20, 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied relief.[8] The Court determined that he failed to show that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations under the standard of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and he failed to satisfy his burden of proof as to the remaining claims.

On March 3, 2021, Jefferson filed the instant federal application for habeas corpus relief.[9] In that application, he raises three claims for federal relief: (1) the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress his statement; (2) his guilty plea was not voluntarily, intelligently or knowingly entered; and (3) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. The State concedes that the federal petition was timely filed and the claims have been exhausted in the state courts.[10] Jefferson filed a reply to the State's response.[11]

On direct appeal, the appellate court set forth the following pertinent facts:
At the Boykin hearing for the factual basis for the Alford plea, the prosecutor stated that if the trial were continued to verdict, "the State would present all evidence that was told to the jury in opening statement from all witnesses going forward and would present everything that I said in opening statement." The trial court added that "the Court can certainly take judicial notice of the testimony and evidence solicited thus far."[12] The pertinent parts of the State's opening statement were as follows: Nicole Jefferson lived in Green Leaves Subdivision in Mandeville with her four children and the defendant, her ex-husband. Nicole worked and needed the defendant's help with the children.
Their twelve-year relationship was marred with the defendant perpetrating acts of domestic violence on Nicole. On the night of April 29, 2012, Nicole went missing. A week later, on May 6, her partially decomposed body was found in a wooded area off of 1-12 (near La. Hwy 21). Her head had been severed. The defendant killed Nicole on April 29, 2012, then later that night drove to Wal-Mart and bought ammonia. He put her body in Nicole's van and dumped her in the woods. He then drove to a carwash and cleaned the van.[13]
Standards of Review on the Merits

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2), as amended by The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penally Act of 1996 (AEDPA), provides the applicable standards of review for pure questions of fact, pure questions of law, and mixed questions of both. A state court's purely factual determinations 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."). With respect to a state court's determination of pure questions of law or mixed questions of law and fact, a federal court must defer to the decision on the merits of such a claim unless that decision "was contrary to, or 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).

The "'contrary to' and 'unreasonable application' clauses [of § 2254(d)(1)] have independent meaning." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). 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 or 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. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000); Wooten v. Thaler, 598 F.3d 215, 218 (5th Cir.), cert, denied, 131 S.Ct. 294 (2010). An "unreasonable application" of [United States Supreme Court] precedent occurs when a state court "identifies the correct governing legal rule... but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407-08; White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 426(2014).

It is well-established that "an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one." Bell, 535 U.S. at 694. A state court's merely incorrect application of Supreme Court precedent simply does not warrant habeas relief. Puckett v. Epps, 641 F.3d 657, 663 (5th Cir. 2011) ("Importantly, 'unreasonable' is not the same as 'erroneous' or 'incorrect'; an incorrect application of the law by a state court will nonetheless be affirmed if it is not simultaneously unreasonable."). "[E]ven a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable" under the AEDPA. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). Section 2254(d) 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 [United States Supreme Court] precedents." Id. (emphasis added); see also Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 779 (2010) ("AEDPA prevents defendants-and federal courts-from using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts.").


A. Denial of motion to suppress statements

Jefferson claims that the state court erred in denying the defense motion to suppress his statements, which were elicited after he had invoked his right to have counsel present during questioning, and absent a valid waiver of his Miranda rights. On direct appeal, the Louisiana First Circuit denied the claim, holding:

In his sole assignment of error, the defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statement. Specifically, the defendant contends he made a statement after invoking his right to counsel.
The defendant argues in brief that on two occasions, his right to counsel was violated. The defendant avers that after he told Sergeant Alvin Hotard, with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, that he had an attorney, Detective Jerry McDowell with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office had a discussion with him thereby violating his right to counsel. Then, according to the defendant, after the booking process at the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office he stated he had a lawyer, "thereby [in]voking his right to counsel again." The defendant claims the detectives from St. Tammany were in the room and should have heard this request, but they interviewed him, anyway. As such, according to the defendant, Sergeant Hotard and Detective McDowell again violated his right to counsel.
As to the events that transpired at the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office, the defendant suggests in brief that Detective McDowell did not know the defendant had asked for an attorney when the detective entered the warrants office where the defendant was being booked because it "was an opportunity for him to talk to me." This, according to the defendant in brief, was the first violation of his right to counsel. The defendant then suggests in brief that "Deputy Price"

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