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Coleman v. State

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

January 26, 2015

SEDRICK COLEMAN, Petitioner
v.
STATE OF ALABAMA, et al., Respondents

Sedrick Coleman, Petitioner, Pro se, Huntsville, AL.

For State of Alabama, Attorney General for the State of Alabama, The, Respondents: Andy S Poole, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Montgomery, AL.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

HARWELL G. DAVIS, III, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Petitioner, Sedrick Coleman, is a prisoner in the custody of the State of Alabama based on his convictions in Madison County Circuit Court for one count of trafficking in cocaine and one count of first degree possession of marijuana, resulting in sentences of 18 years and ten years. He now challenges those convictions and sentences pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1, Petition).

I. Proceedings in the State Courts

Coleman was indicted on September 28, 2008, and charged with one count of trafficking in excess of one kilogram of cocaine, in violation of Ala. Code § 13A-12-231, and one count of first degree possession of marijuana for other than personal use, in violation of Ala. Code § 13A-12-213. A co-defendant, Jermaine Parker, also was charged with trafficking in cocaine. During the trial court proceedings, Coleman filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from his vehicle during a police stop on September 15, 2005. Madison County Circuit Court Judge Karen Hall denied the motion following an evidentiary hearing.

After a jury trial, Coleman was convicted on both counts. Co-defendant Jermaine Parker was acquitted of the cocaine trafficking charge against him. On April 9, 2010, Coleman was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the trafficking count and ten years for the first degree possession of marijuana charge.

On direct appeal, Coleman argued only that the trial court erroneously denied his motion to suppress the evidence seized from his vehicle and that a search warrant executed on his residence lacked sufficient probable cause. On December 3, 2010, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Coleman's convictions and sentences by memorandum opinion. (Respondents' Ex. A). The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found the suppression argument made by Coleman on appeal differed from the argument raised at trial and, because this argument was not first raised before the trial court, the issue was held to be not properly before the Court for appellate consideration. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found Coleman's claim concerning the search warrant executed on his home to have been raised for the first time on appeal. Thus, it also was precluded from review. (Id. at 4-5).

After unsuccessfully requesting a rehearing before the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Coleman filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Alabama Supreme Court. This petition was denied on February 11, 2011. (Respondents' Ex. B). A certificate of judgment was issued on that same day. (Respondents' Ex. C).

On December 13, 2011, Coleman signed his first petition for post-conviction relief under Ala.R.Crim.P. 32. He raised the following issues:

1. Whether he was deprived of effective assistance of counsel due to trial counsel's failure to amend the motion to suppress to allege the search was illegal because his detention was improperly extended where the traffic ticket for speeding and loud music were signed by petitioner before the K-9 units arrived and the drugs were discovered.
2. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to conduct substantial investigation of the law and facts to establish that petitioner was illegally detained after he signed the traffic tickets.
3. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to know and understand the applicable laws governing misdemeanor traffic offenses which deprived petitioner of the opportunity to prove that he was illegally detained.
4. Trial counsel was ineffective for failure of the trial counsel to object to the trial court's failure to administer the oath to the jury venire.
5. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to renew petitioner's motion for discharge pursuant to Ala.R.Crim.P. 13.4(a) after the trial court's oral charge on constructive possession, on the ground that the mutually antagonistic defenses of petitioner and his co-defendant compromised his right to have his guilt or innocence determined solely from the evidence presented.
6. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial court's jury charge regarding constructive possession and aiding and abetting, which shifted the burden of proof from the government to the petitioner.
7. Trial counsel was ineffective at sentencing for failing to object to the sentence enhancement imposed on the ground that the State failed to provide adequate and proper prior notice of the enhancement.
8. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress the cocaine seized on the ground that the affiant officer provided the judge who issued the warrant with false information by alleging that a confidential informant told him that affiant was storing marijuana at his residence.
9. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the search warrant on the grounds that the informant was not shown to be reliable and the information contained therein was not shown to be fresh.
10. Petitioner makes a general claim that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process because he was deprived of counsel during grand jury proceedings.

(Respondents' Ex. D at 86-137).

On April 30, 2012, Judge Hall summarily denied and dismissed Coleman's petition. (Respondents' Ex. D2 at 149-50). Coleman apparently failed to receive a copy of the court's order and took no immediate action. However, on December 4, 2012, Coleman, represented by counsel, filed a second petition for post-conviction relief on the ground that he did not receive timely notice of the court's denial of his Rule 32 petition. The State consented to Coleman receiving an out-of-time appeal.

Subsequently, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of Coleman's post-conviction petition by memorandum opinion issued October 25, 2013. (Respondents' Ex. H). In that opinion, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals noted that petitioner's only claims on appeal were that his claims were specifically pleaded in the trial court and were not barred for petitioner having failed to raise them at trial or on direct appeal pursuant to Rules 32.2(a)(3) and (a)(5), Ala.R.Crim.P. The appellate court agreed with these claims but held that the trial court did not dismiss his claims on pleading grounds but, instead, found them to be meritless. Thus, Coleman's argument regarding whether his claims were specifically pleaded was moot. Furthermore, because Coleman did not challenge the trial court's findings that his claims were meritless, they were due to be affirmed. (Respondents' Ex. H at 4-5).

Coleman took no further action regarding the denial of his Rule 32 petition, and a certificate of judgment was issued on November 13, 2013. (Respondents' Ex. I).

II. Habeas Corpus Petition

Coleman filed his present petition on February 26, 2014. Therefore, his petition is timely pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2). In this petition, he raises the following claims:

1. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to suppress evidence from his illegal stop, arrest, and search and seizure of his vehicle and his person, in violation of the Fourth and Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
2. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to assure that the jury was properly sworn and qualified.
3. Petitioner was convicted by an unsworn, unqualified jury.
4. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the consolidation of petitioner's cases and to move for severance from the co-defendant due to antagonistic defenses.
5. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the jury charges on constructive possession and aiding and abetting which shifted the burden of proof from the government to the petitioner.
6. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the enhancement of petitioner's sentence where petitioner was not provided notice of such enhancement by the State.
7. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial court's failure to move to suppress all evidence seized at the residence on the ground that the warrant was not supported by probable cause.
8. Appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise any of the above claims on direct appeal.

(Doc. 1, Petition, at 6-16).

III. Discussion

A. Exhaustion and Procedural Default

Although Coleman's petition was timely filed, respondents assert that his claims are unexhausted as required by law. Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1) requires that a petitioner exhaust his claims in state court proceedings unless there is an absence of available state court process or circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect a petitioner's rights. However, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (b)(2) provides that a petition may be denied on the merits notwithstanding the petitioner's failure to exhaust state court remedies.

Coleman's first seven claims in his federal habeas petition are essentially the same as those raised in his Rule 32 petition in state court. After the trial court's denial of these claims was affirmed by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, he took no further action. That is, he did not apply for a rehearing with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and did not petition the Alabama Supreme Court, the state court of last resort, for discretionary review by writ of certiorari. Because Coleman failed to fully exhaust these claims through means available in state court, they are precluded from review under the doctrine of procedural default. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731-32, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991). These claims are also procedurally defaulted under O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 144 L.Ed.2d 1 (1999). In O'Sullivan, the Supreme Court decided that a state prisoner must present his claims to a state supreme court in a petition for discretionary review in order to satisfy the exhaustion requirements for federal habeas corpus relief, when discretionary review is part of the ordinary appellate review procedure in the State. Federal habeas relief is available to state prisoners only after they have exhausted their claims in state court. Because the exhaustion doctrine is designed to give the state courts a full and fair opportunity to resolve federal constitutional claims before those claims are presented to the federal courts, state prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process. Therefore, all of these claims have also been procedurally defaulted.

A habeas petitioner can escape the procedural default doctrine only by showing cause for the default and prejudice, Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986), or establishing a " fundamental miscarriage of justice." Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 324-27, 115 S.Ct. 851, 130 L.Ed.2d 808 (1995). The latter requires a colorable showing of actual innocence. Id.

To establish a sufficient " cause" for state procedural default, a habeas petitioner must show " that some external factor to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule." Carrier, 477 U.S. at 488. While ineffective assistance of counsel may serve as cause for a procedural default, id., a procedurally defaulted ineffective assistance of counsel claim can serve as " cause" to excuse the procedural default of another habeas claim only if the habeas petitioner could have satisfied the cause and prejudice standard with respect to the ineffective assistance of counsel claim itself. Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 120 S.Ct. 1587, 146 L.Ed.2d 518 (2000).

In his initial petition, Coleman admits that he failed to fully exhaust his claims in state court. He contended that the " extremely short time period" under the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure for seeking discretionary review and an alleged " lack of timely notice" of court dispositions, as well as difficulties resulting from the fact of his confinement, were the reasons for his failure to do so. See Doc. 1 at 6.

In an affidavit filed after the state filed its response to his petition, Coleman claimed that his Rule 32 appellate counsel did not notify him that his appeal had been affirmed on October 23, 2013, until after the time for filing an application for rehearing had expired. He also claimed that this counsel failed to notify him that " he was abandoning my case and would not file the application for rehearing nor a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Alabama Supreme Court." (Doc. 11 at 3).

While it is correct that abandonment by counsel may supply the necessary " cause" to overcome a procedural default, see Maples v. Thomas, 132 S.Ct. 912, 922-23, 181 L.Ed.2d 807 (2012), such is not the case here.

The only evidence which petitioner submits to support his claim that his attorney " abandoned" him is a letter which he received from counsel dated November 20, 2013, in which appellate counsel states " [g]o ahead and do your Habeas to Federal Court. Your appeal is now affirmed and as you know you can ask for federal review." (Doc. 10 at Ex. A). This letter is dated one week after the certificate of judgment was issued based on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals memorandum opinion affirming the denial of Coleman's Rule 32 petition. However, petitioner has not provided any evidence which reflects that he asked counsel to appeal his case further. The letter itself hardly reflects attorney abandonment. Although the letter appears to reflect that appellate counsel was unaware that petitioner had to exhaust his habeas claims up through the Alabama Supreme Court, the court of last resort, this is mere negligence. Mere negligence on the part of postconviction counsel does not qualify as " cause." Maples, 132 S.Ct. at 922 (citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. at 753). Likewise, once notified that his appeal had been denied and having determined that it was too late to seek rehearing by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeal or petition for a writ of certiorari from the Alabama Supreme Court, petitioner failed to seek an out-of-time appeal from either of those bodies. Petitioner must demonstrate that his failure to timely appeal in state court was due to " extraordinary circumstances quite beyond his control." Maples, 132 S.Ct. at 927. He has failed to do so. Accordingly, Claims 1 through 7 are due to be dismissed based on petitioner's procedural default.

Likewise, Claim 8 is also unexhausted. It is being raised for the first time in this petition. There is no reason given for petitioner's failure to raise this claim in the original Rule 32 petition other than petitioner's lack of legal knowledge and alleged lack of adequate legal resources. Lack of legal training does not constitute cause for procedural default. McCoy v. Newsome, 953 F.2d 1252 (11th Cir. 1992). Furthermore, petitioner states only in conclusory fashion that he lacked access to legal resources and an adequately stocked law library. He failed to show how lack of access to legal materials actually deprived him of access to the courts. See Akins v. United States, 204 F.3d 1086, 1090 (11th Cir. 2000) (concluding that, in the context of the statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f), even though prisoners have a constitutional right to access the courts, the mere inability to access the prison law library, without showing that it caused actual harm, is not unconstitutional). " [H]abeas petitioners generally may not raise ineffective assistance of counsel claims except on grounds specifically presented to the state courts." Jackson v. Herring, 42 F.3d 1350, 1355 (11th Cir. 1995) (discussing Footman v. Singletary, 978 F.2d 1207 (11th Cir. 1992)). Because Coleman did not raise this specific allegation of ineffective assistance in any state court proceeding, our circuit precedent dictates that the claim is procedurally barred.

B. Adjudication on the Merits

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with 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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (emphasis added). This statute requires that, if a § 2254 claim was decided on its merits in state court, a federal court first must determine whether the federal law applicable to petitioner's claim has been clearly established by the Supreme Court. Neelley v. Nagle, 138 F.3d 917, 924 (11th Cir. 1998). If so, the court must next determine if the state court's adjudication of the claim was contrary to the established Supreme Court law. This can occur in two ways. The first would be when a state court faces a set of facts that is essentially the same as those the Supreme Court has faced earlier, but given these facts the state court reaches a conclusion different from the Supreme Court precedent. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). The second situation is one in which a state court, in contravention of Supreme Court case law, fails to apply the correct legal principles to decide a case. Such a result would be " contrary" in the sense that the state court has not adjudicated the claim in the manner prescribed by the Supreme Court. Id. Both of these types of errors are errors of pure law; in the first case, a state court has denied a petitioner a constitutional right defined by the Supreme Court in its role as interpreter of the Constitution, while in the second the state court has failed to apply the proper law to a case. Neelley, 138 F.3d at 923-24.

If a state court's decision is not contrary to the law as established by the Supreme Court, the habeas court must determine whether the law was applied in an unreasonable manner. A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent if the state court identifies the correct governing rule from the court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the case. An application is also unreasonable if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle of Supreme Court precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. at 406. When making this determination, the state court decision must stand unless it is not debatable among reasonable jurists that the result of which the petitioner complains is incorrect. Neelley, 138 F.3d at 924-25. The federal habeas court " should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. at 409. Under this method of analysis, an erroneous or incorrect application of Supreme Court law is not necessarily an " unreasonable application." Id. at 410-11.

With regard to any findings of fact which bear on the state court's decision, federal law gives the following direction:

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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) (emphasis added).

Petitioner has failed to demonstrate either that the decision of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, in affirming the trial court, 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 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. He points to no U.S. Supreme Court case law that is contrary to the decision reached by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Nor has petitioner demonstrated any manner in which its decision was an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented at the State court proceedings. Therefore, petitioner's claims 1 through 7 are due to be dismissed for this reason, as well.

IV. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, it is RECOMMENDED that Coleman's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 be DENIED.

Notice of Right to Object

Any party who objects to this report and recommendation must, within fourteen (14) days of the date on which it is entered, file specific written objections with the clerk of this court. Any objections to the failure of the magistrate judge to address any contention raised in the complaint or petition also must be included. Failure to do so will bar any later challenge or review of the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985), reh'g denied, 474 U.S. 1111, 106 S.Ct. 899, 88 L.Ed.2d 933 (1986); Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1982) ( en banc ). In order to challenge the findings of the magistrate judge, a party must file with the clerk of the court written objections which shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings and recommendation to which objection is made and the specific basis for objection. Objections not meeting this specificity requirement will not be considered by a district judge. IT IS NOT NECESSARY FOR PLAINTIFF OR PETITIONER TO REPEAT HIS LEGAL ARGUMENTS. AS TO THE FACTS, IF PLAINTIFF OR PETITIONER DOES RESPOND, HE SHOULD LIMIT HIMSELF TO ADDRESSING THE STATEMENTS OF FACT CONTAINED IN THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO WHICH HE OBJECTS. HE ALSO SHOULD OBJECT TO ANY FACTS NOT INCLUDED IN THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION WHICH HE CONTENDS SHOULD HAVE BEEN INCLUDED. THE FILING OF OBJECTIONS IS NOT A PROPER VEHICLE TO MAKE NEW ALLEGATIONS OR PRESENT ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE. A copy of the objections must be served upon all other parties to the action.

Upon receipt of objections meeting the specificity requirement set out above, a United States District Judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report, proposed findings, or recommendation to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The district judge, however, need conduct a hearing only in his discretion or if required by law, and may consider the record developed before the magistrate judge, making his own determination on the basis of that record. The district judge may also receive further evidence, recall witnesses or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.

A party may not appeal a magistrate judge's recommendation directly to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Appeals may be made only from a final judgment entered by or at the direction of a district judge.


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