Pruitt v. Epps, CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:13cv988-CWR-FKB

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtF. Keith Ball UNITED STATES MAGSTRATE JUDGE
PartiesCECIL PRUITT, JR., #R2186 PETITIONER v. CHRISTOPHER B. EPPS, Commissioner of MDOC RESPONDENT
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:13cv988-CWR-FKB
Decision Date15 February 2016

CECIL PRUITT, JR., #R2186 PETITIONER
v.
CHRISTOPHER B. EPPS, Commissioner of MDOC RESPONDENT

CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:13cv988-CWR-FKB

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI NORTHERN DIVISION

February 15, 2016


REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

This cause is before the Court on the petition of Cecil Pruitt, Jr., for habeas corpus relief filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. At the outset, the Court notes that its review of Pruitt's conviction is circumscribed. In other words, federal courts do not sit as "super" state supreme courts in habeas corpus proceedings to review errors under state law. Dickerson v. Guste, 932 F.2d 1142, 1145 (5th Cir. 1991). Instead, "[a] state prisoner is entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 only if he is held 'in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.'" Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 110 (1981)(citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)). Guided by these fundamental principles, the Court has considered Pruitt's petition, the Respondent's answer, and all related filings. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned concludes that the petition is not well-taken and should be dismissed with prejudice.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Pruitt is currently in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections ("MDOC") after revocation of his post-release supervision in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County, Mississippi, on March 18, 2008. [7-3] at 14. In his Petition, Pruitt challenges the constitutionality of the revocation and his sentencing. A review of the procedural aspects of the Petition will aid the Court in its consideration of this case.

On February 7, 2005, Pruitt pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County,

Page 2

Cause No. 552-04, to a charge of the sale of cocaine within 1,500 feet of a church in violation of Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-139. [7-4] at 68-71. At that time, the court sentenced Pruitt to a term of twenty (20) years, with nineteen (19) years and three hundred sixty-four (364) days suspended, and one (1) day to serve. Id. The sentence was set to run consecutively to a revocation on another charge. Id. at 68.

While Pruitt was out on post-release supervision in Cause No. 552-04, he was arrested on October 9, 2007, on a new charge of sale of cocaine within 1,500 feet of a church, resulting from his sale of cocaine to a confidential informant. [7-4] at 74-75. The Mississippi Court of Appeals summarized the events leading to Pruitt's arrest, as follows:

[The confidential informant] stated that before the buy, he was searched by task force agents, wired, and given two marked $20 bills to use to purchase drugs. He was then dropped off in the vicinity of the sale. Pruitt, who was driving a car with his girlfriend and baby as passengers, pulled up to [the confidential informant]. The two began talking, and [the confidential informant] gave Pruitt money in exchange for cocaine. Once [the confidential informant] walked away from the car, narcotics agents pulled Pruitt over. Cocaine residue was found in the console of the car he was driving, along with the marked $20 bills. [The confidential informant] was picked up by the police shortly thereafter, and was found to be in possession of cocaine and without the $20 bills.

Pruitt v. State, 85 So. 3d 876, 879 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011).

The next day, on October 10, 2007, the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County issued a formal warrant for Pruitt's arrest based on an affidavit from an MDOC Field Officer stating that Pruitt had violated the terms of his post-release supervision on Cause No. 552-04 by committing a new offense of selling cocaine within 1,500 feet of a church on October 9, 2007. [7-4] at 75. On October 10, 2007, the MDOC Field Officer also filed a petition to revoke Pruitt's post-release supervision based on the new charge. Id. at 76.

On November 14, 2007, a Grand Jury in Lauderdale County Circuit Court indicted Pruitt

Page 3

on the October 9, 2007, charge of sale of cocaine within 1,500 feet of a school and church, in violation of Miss. Code Ann. §§ 41-29-139 and 41-29-142. [7-4] at 62. Appended to the indictment was a Habitual Offender Attachment pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-81, which referenced Pruitt's two prior felony convictions on charges of sale of cocaine dating back to 2005 and 1997. Id. at 63.

On December 17, 2007, Pruitt, along with his attorney and the District Attorney, signed a formal Waiver of Arraignment and Entry of Plea on Non Capital Cases on the indictment for the October 9, 2007, sale of cocaine charge in Cause No. 633-07. [7-4] at 67. The Waiver also set the matter for trial on February 4, 2008. Id. On January 30, 2008, the Circuit Court entered an Order Resetting Cause that reset the trial of Cause No. 633-07 from February 4, 2008, to March 18, 2008. Id. at 66.

On March 18, 2008, the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County entered an Order of Nolle Prosequi on the new charge of sale of cocaine in Cause No. 633-07, when the State was unable to locate the confidential informant for trial. [7-3] at 15. On the same day, the trial court held a hearing on the State's motion to revoke post-release supervision. Id. at 14, 34. Based, in part, on the testimony of the CI whom the State located in time for the revocation hearing, the Circuit Court revoked Pruitt's post-release supervision in Cause No. 552-04 and reinstated a term of nineteen (19) years and three hundred sixty-four (364) days. Id. at 14, 97-99.

Because the revocation of a suspended sentence is not appealable in Mississippi, see Griffin v. State, 382 So. 2d at 289, 290 (Miss. 1980), on July 8, 2008, Pruitt filed a pro se petition for post-conviction collateral relief in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County to challenge the revocation. In his petition, filed pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. § 99-39-1, he raised

Page 4

several grounds for relief, summarized as follows:

I. There was insufficient evidence to support the revocation of Pruitt's post-release supervision.

II. Pruitt's due process rights as provided by Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973) and Morrisey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972) were violated when the State:

A. Failed to disclose the evidence against Pruitt;

B. Failed to provide adequate notice of the hearing and, thus, deprived Pruitt of an opportunity to present witnesses or documentary evidence on his behalf;

C. Failed to provide a neutral and detached judge; and

D. Failed to provide a written statement by the fact-finder of the evidence relied upon in reaching a decision.

[7-3] at 9-16.

Thereafter, on October 22, 2008, counsel entered an appearance on Pruitt's behalf. Id. at 17. On March 17, 2009, Pruitt and his counsel signed an Amended Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus and/or Motion to Reinstate Post-Release Supervision, which was filed in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County on March 18, 2009. Id. at 18-29. The Amended Petition clarified the grounds set forth in Pruitt's initial petition, and set forth additional grounds for relief, summarized as follows:1

Page 5

I. The trial court erred in granting the motion to revoke Pruitt's post-release supervision without adequate evidence to show that Petitioner had committed the new offense and violated the terms of his release.

II. Pruitt's due process rights as provided by Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973) and Morrisey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972) were violated when the State:

A. Failed to disclose evidence against Pruitt;

B. Failed to provide adequate notice of the hearing and, thus, deprived Pruitt of an opportunity to present witnesses or documentary evidence on his behalf;

C. Failed to provide a neutral and detached judge; and

D. Failed to provide a written statement by the fact-finder of the evidence relied upon in reaching a decision.

III. Pruitt's right to choose whether or not to testify was denied because Petitioner's lack of notice of whether the new charge of sale had been dismissed with or without prejudice.

IV. The confidential informant should not have been allowed to testify at the revocation hearing, when the trial for the new sale of cocaine had been nolle prossed due to the confidential informant's absence.

V. Ineffective assistance of counsel for:

A. Failing to move to suppress the evidence seized from Pruitt's car or the statements Pruitt made to law enforcement;

Page 6

B. Failing to advise Pruitt to testify on his own behalf;

C. Failing to allow Pruitt to review the audio tape of the drug buy;

D. Failing to meet with Pruitt more than once or twice to plan a defense; and

E. Failing to insist that the judge listen to the audio tape in open court.

VI. The State failed to satisfy the burden of proof to support the revocation.

VII. Pruitt was denied due process because the trial judge did not make a finding that the burden of proof had been met, but based his ruling on personal opinion.

VIII. The evidence seized from Pruitt's car and the statements made by Pruitt to law enforcement were illegally obtained in violation of his rights under the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments.

IX. The trial court erred in overruling defense counsel's objection to Agent Merchant's testimony regarding cocaine residue found in Pruitt's car.

X. The trial court erred in preventing defense counsel from questioning the witnesses regarding an alleged earlier false claim by the confidential informant that Pruitt was transporting drugs.

XI. The cocaine sold to the confidential informant was not introduced into evidence.

Id.

On October 30, 2009, the trial court denied Pruitt's motion for post-conviction relief in a written opinion. [7-1] at 82-88. Pruitt filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which the Court denied in a written opinion signed on January 26, 2010. Id. at 89-96.

Thereafter, with the assistance of counsel, Pruitt appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, raising ten grounds for relief, quoted as follows:

Page 7

I. Whether a prisoner is denied due process of law and fundamental fairness and a fair hearing when he is denied an evidentiary
...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT