United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KATHERINE P. NELSON, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner Clifton Lashawn Frazier ("Frazier"), an Alabama prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis ( see Doc. 13), has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 7). The Respondent, through the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Alabama, has timely filed an Answer (Doc. 16) to the petition, and Frazier has timely filed a reply (Doc. 18) to the Answer.
Frazier's habeas petition is now ripe for adjudication and, under S.D. ALA Local Rule 72.2(c)(4), has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for entry of a recommendation as to the appropriate disposition, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Rule 8(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. Upon consideration, and for the reasons stated herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that Frazier's habeas petition (Doc. 7) be DENIED and that this action be DISMISSED with prejudice. Should that recommendation be adopted, the undersigned further RECOMMENDS that Frazier be found not entitled either to a Certificate of Appealability or to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
I. Applicable Background
On August 21, 2013, a jury of the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama, convicted Frazier at trial of one count of first-degree robbery in violation of Ala. Code § 13A-8-41. On September 23, 2013, the circuit court sentenced Frazier to 34 years' imprisonment for the conviction. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, the last Alabama court to substantively address Frazier's case, set forth the following summary of the evidence adduced at trial:
On the evening of November 20, 2011, an armed, black male entered a Family Dollar discount store. The black male was wearing rubber gloves and was dressed in a black shirt and black pants with a black t-shirt enshrouding his face. The black male pointed his handgun at Shamarra Fluker, who was working as a cashier, and demanded money. Fluker screamed, which alerted Devonte Yelding, who was mopping in the rear of the store. Yelding went to the store's office where he telephoned 911 while watching the robbery occur on a closed-circuit television. The black male grabbed the till from the cash register, which contained approximately $152, and fled the scene on foot.
Officer Ngo of the Mobile Police Department responded to the emergency dispatch. Once in the area, Officer Ngo noticed a vehicle that was parked beyond a wooded area, which Officer Ngo approximated to be 100 yards in depth, in an open lot just north of the store. Officer's [sic] Ngo's attention was drawn to the vehicle because its headlights turned on and off. Officer Ngo waited for his requested assistance before investigating further.
Once Officer Talon Edwards arrived, the two officers approached the vehicle. In the back seat, Officer Ngo observed black clothing, which matched the clothing described in the robbery. Then, the officers heard the rattle of a chain-link fence as though someone was jumping over the fence. The officers ran south, the direction of the rattle, where they observed a black male, who matched the physical description of the robber, running east behind the store. Officer William Tomberlin, who was in his patrol vehicle, observed the black male exit the woods and run east. Officer Tomberlin shone his spotlight on the black male. The black male was dressed in a white t-shirt, his underwear, and socks. Officer Tomberlin pursued the black male to the edge of a privacy fence where he struck the black male with his patrol vehicle, which prevented the black male from scaling the fence. The black male was then taken into custody and identified as Frazier. Frazier was apprehended approximately eight minutes after Yelding's telephoning of 911.
After Frazier was apprehended, Officer Jennifer Wilson recovered $6.74 in coins and a cash-register till in an area near the chain-link fence. Between the store and the location of the vehicle, Officer Wilson recovered two $10 bills and a plastic glove that was ripped near the thumb and bore bloodstains near the rip. These items were found "basically in a straight line" between the cash-register till and the vehicle. DNA testing of the blood-stained glove indicated that Frazier was the source of the blood; however, there were no traces of blood found on any other evidence. A search of the vehicle yielded four rubber gloves, pay stubs in Frazier's name, $251, two black t-shirts, a nylon stocking cap, a pair of black pants, a black belt, and a pair of black tennis shoes.1 The handgun used during the robbery was never recovered.
1 Despite the presence of Frazier's pay stubs, which were found in the glove compartment, the vehicle was not registered in his name. (Doc. 16-5 at 1-3 [Ala. Ct. Crim. App. 4/25/2014 Memorandum Opinion, pp. 1-3] (record citation omitted)).
Frazier appealed his conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeals, raising only one issue: "The evidence presented was legally insufficient to support a conviction of robbery first degree... The State's case rested on circumstantial evidence and should not be upheld by this Court to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." (Doc. 16-3 at 6, 13 [Frazier's Appellate Brief to Court of Criminal Appeals, p. 2]). The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Frazier's conviction by unpublished memorandum issued April 25, 2014. (Doc. 16-5). On June 6, 2014, the Court of Criminal Appeals overruled Frazier's application for rehearing ( see Doc. 16-7); on July 11, 2014, the Alabama Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari. ( See Doc. 16-9).
Frazier subsequently filed the present habeas petition challenging his first-degree robbery conviction.
II. Claim for Relief
Frazier's habeas petition raises a single claim for relief: "The evidence was legally insufficient to support a conviction for robbery first degree... All evidence that was used against [Frazier] is circumstancial [sic] and hinges on a theory that will not stand up to an unbiased point of view." (Doc. 7 at 6). The Respondent does not assert any procedural bar to the petition (e.g. failure to exhaust, time-barred) but argues that Frazier's lone claim is meritless and that his petition is due to be denied. ( See Doc. 16).
A. Standard for Habeas Review
Because Frazier's habeas petition was filed after April 24, 1996, it is subject to application of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 ("AEDPA"). E.g., Pope v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 680 F.3d 1271, 1281 (11th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 1625 (2013). Under AEDPA, "a federal court may grant habeas relief only when a state court's decision on the merits was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by' decisions from th[e United States Supreme] Court, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.'" Woods v. Donald, ___ U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (per curiam) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). "AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court. AEDPA requires a state prisoner to show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement. If this standard is difficult to meet-and it is-that is because it was meant to be. [Federal courts] will not lightly conclude that a State's criminal justice system has experienced the extreme malfunction for which federal habeas relief is the remedy." Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013) (internal citations and quotations omitted). See also Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376 ("AEDPA's standard is intentionally "difficult to meet.'"'" (quoting White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. ___, ___, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702, 188 L.Ed.2d 698 (2014) (quoting Metrish v. Lancaster, 569 U.S. ___, ___, 133 S.Ct. 1781, 1786, 185 L.Ed.2d 988 (2013)))). The United States Supreme Court recently re-emphasized the extent of AEDPA's "formidable barrier, " stating:
We have explained that "clearly established Federal law' for purposes of § 2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions." White, 572 U.S., at ___, 134 S.Ct., at 1702 (some internal quotation marks omitted). "And an unreasonable application of' those holdings must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice." Id., at ___, 134 S.Ct., at 1702 (same). To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to "show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011).
Adherence to these principles serves important interests of federalism and comity. AEDPA's requirements reflect a "presumption that state courts know and follow the law." Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24, 123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279 (2002) ( per curiam ). When reviewing state criminal convictions on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong. Federal habeas review thus exists as "a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice ...