Williams v. Reynolds, C/A No. 2:16-2835-CMC

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtCAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE Senior United States District Judge
PartiesDarrell Williams, #219730, Petitioner, v. Cecelia Reynolds, Warden, Respondent.
Decision Date14 November 2017
Docket NumberC/A No. 2:16-2835-CMC

Darrell Williams, #219730, Petitioner,
v.
Cecelia Reynolds, Warden, Respondent.

C/A No. 2:16-2835-CMC

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA CHARLESTON DIVISION

November 14, 2017


Opinion and Order

This matter is before the court on Petitioner's pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus, filed in this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c), DSC, this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker for pre-trial proceedings and a Report and Recommendation ("Report"). Respondent filed a return and a motion for summary judgment on January 6, 2017. ECF Nos. 22, 23. After a Roseboro Order was entered, Petitioner filed a response in opposition. ECF No. 27. Respondent filed a reply (ECF No. 28) and Petitioner filed a sur reply (ECF No. 29). On May 24, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending Respondent's motion for summary judgment be granted. ECF No. 9. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the Report and Recommendation and the serious consequences if they failed to do so.

This court previously granted summary judgment for Respondent after Petitioner failed to timely file objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report. ECF No. 43. The court also denied Petitioner's motion for extension of time to file objections. ECF No. 47. However, Petitioner

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thereafter filed a "motion for relief on the pleadings," but an attachment to the motion noted it was "mislabeled" and sought to file it as a motion for relief from judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1). ECF No. 50. Based on Petitioner's assertion the prison mailroom failed to send his objections on time, and abnormalities in the prison mailroom stamps on Petitioner's envelopes, the court granted the motion, vacated the Judgment, and allowed Petitioner to file objections to the Report. ECF No. 54. Petitioner then filed his objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report. ECF No. 57. Petitioner has also filed a motion for certificate of appealability, requesting a certificate be granted if the court adopts the Report and grants summary judgment for Respondent. ECF No. 59.

Standard

The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge to which a specific objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

Discussion

The Report recommends granting Respondent's motion for summary judgment on the merits as to ground one and based on procedural default as to grounds two and three. ECF No. 35. Petitioner offers objections as to each finding of the Magistrate Judge. ECF No. 57. Each claim will be addressed in turn.

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1. Ground one: Whether the State proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt

At trial, Petitioner argued the prosecution failed to prove burglary first degree beyond a reasonable doubt because it did not show the entry was during the nighttime or he did not have permission to enter the home. Petitioner represented himself and made a motion for directed verdict on these grounds. ECF No. 22-1 at 354-601. The trial judge denied this motion. Id. at 367-70. On appeal, Petitioner's counsel filed an Anders brief raising only one issue regarding admission of Petitioner's written statement. ECF No. 22-2 at 56-66. Petitioner filed a pro se brief raising three issues: whether the use of his two prior convictions to enhance his sentence was unconstitutional; whether failure to bifurcate proceedings was unconstitutional; and whether submission of indictments to prove an element of the offense implicated his Confrontation Clause protections. Id. at 71-83. He did not raise the grounds from his directed verdict motion or ask the Court of Appeals to review the denial of the directed verdict motion.

In her Report, the Magistrate Judge treated this ground as exhausted (and thus not procedurally defaulted) because Petitioner's appellate counsel filed an Anders brief, which triggers appellate review of the entire record for any preserved issue with potential merit. ECF No. 35 at 9. The Report therefore examined the merits of this ground, finding the state court's denial of directed verdict was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, nor did it result in an unreasonable determination of the facts. Id. at 12.

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Petitioner, in his objections, appears to concede the denial of his directed verdict motion was not contrary to established federal law. ECF No. 57 at 2-3. However, he argues the Magistrate Judge erred in finding the state court decision was a reasonable application of federal law. Petitioner argues the state court decision was an "unreasonable application of the Jackson standard," citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979) regarding sufficiency of the evidence. He then argues the facts of his criminal case, asserting the prosecutor did not meet his burden regarding the nighttime or permission elements of first degree burglary.

The court agrees with the Report's conclusion regarding ground one: "a rational trier of fact could have found the petitioner guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, of burglary in the first degree" based on the evidence presented at trial. See Jackson, 443 U.S. at 320 ("[T]he relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt."); Wilson v. Greene, 155 F.3d 396, 405 (4th Cir. 1998) ("Federal review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a state conviction is not meant to consider anew the jury's guilt determination or replace the state's system of direct appellate review. Thus, a defendant is entitled to relief only if no rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."). Although Petitioner argues the state trial court and the Magistrate Judge "ignored material evidence and Petitioner['s] key arguments," both addressed the evidence regarding nighttime and consent and found it was sufficient to meet the standards for denial of directed verdict and sufficiency of the evidence. This court agrees. Even considering Petitioner's arguments in support of his positions, a rationale trier of fact could have found him guilty. Therefore, the directed verdict motion was properly denied, and there was no

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unreasonable application regarding sufficiency of the evidence or an unreasonable determination of the facts.

2. Ground two: Application of Old Chief

a. Background

The Magistrate Judge concluded Petitioner's second ground, regarding admission of his prior convictions for burglary and the application of Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172 (1997), was procedurally defaulted as Petitioner failed to raise this ground at his state court trial. ECF No. 35 at 13-15. Petitioner objects to this conclusion. ECF No. 57.

In order to determine whether this ground is procedurally defaulted, the court must examine what Petitioner argued at trial and how it differs from his argument in this petition. Before trial, Petitioner made a motion and was heard by the state court seeking to preclude the state from admitting the prior burglary convictions in the guilt phase of his trial. ECF No. 22-1 at 38-40; 56-67. He discussed...

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