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Smith v. Dunn

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

October 10, 2017

WILLIE B. SMITH, III, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on Petitioner's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment. (Doc. # 59). Petitioner asks the court to reconsider several of its rulings made in denying his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas petition. Petitioner also asks the court to reconsider its decision to only grant a certificate of appealability on one issue. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, Petitioner's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment is due to be denied.

         I. Standard of Review

         Rule 59 allows a party to move to alter or amend a judgment in a civil case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). Serrano v. United States, 411 F. App'x 253, 255 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e)). “Reconsidering the merits of a judgment, absent a manifest error of law or fact, is not the purpose of Rule 59.” Jacobs v. Tempur-Pedic Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 1327, 1344 (11th Cir. 2010). The moving party must do more than merely ask the court for a reevaluation of an unfavorable ruling. “A Rule 59(e) motion cannot be used to relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         Courts have identified three grounds for granting a motion to alter or amend a judgment: “1) an intervening change in controlling law; 2) the availability of new evidence; or 3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.”[1] Offices Togolais Des Phosphates v. Mulberry Phosphates, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1316, 1331 (M.D. Fla. 1999). Petitioner relies on purported manifest errors of law or fact to support his requests for reconsideration. Therefore, Petitioner must show a clear error of fact or manifest error of law in the underlying judgment. With this in mind, the court turns to the arguments presented in Petitioner's Rule 59(e) motion.

         II. Analysis

         After careful review, the court concludes that none of Petitioner's arguments merit altering or amending the court's judgment.

         A. Petitioner Has Presented No Manifest Error in the Denial of His Batson Claims

         With regard to the court's denial of relief in connection with Petitioner's Batson claims, Petitioner first argues that the court manifestly erred by finding that Petitioner's prima facie showing of discrimination was weakened because the petit jury ultimately contained five women. (Doc. # 59 at 8-9). The court finds no error -- much less a manifest error -- in that determination. Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has held that the composition of the ultimate jury is a relevant circumstance, among other relevant circumstances, to be considered in determining whether a Batson violation occurred. Lee v. Comm'r, Ala. Dep't of Corr., 726 F.3d 1172, 1224- 25 (11th Cir. 2013) (holding that “[i]t was not unreasonable” for a state appellate court to hold that the state did not commit a per se Batson violation when it used all 21 peremptory strikes on black veniremembers where the ultimate jury contained 9 black jurors). The court did not manifestly err by determining that the ultimate composition of Petitioner's petit jury was a factor that weighed against the strength of his prima facie showing of gender discrimination.[2]

         Second, Petitioner insists that the court committed manifest error by accepting the prosecution's non-discriminatory explanations for its peremptory strikes. (Doc. # 59 at 9-12). Petitioner insists that “a thorough Batson analysis was never conducted.” (Id. at 10). The court is not certain that Petitioner's argument is founded upon the correct standard of review. But, here, that is an academic matter, at best. The court has conducted a thorough analysis of the Batson arguments presented by Petitioner. (See Doc. # 45 at 9-29). Petitioner reiterates in his motion that the prosecution offered pretextual justifications for strikes based on church affiliation. (Doc. # 59 at 10-11). But, as the court explained at length in its Memorandum Opinion (Doc. # 45 at 14-18), the prosecution's basis for those strikes was supported by the record, and Petitioner failed to present strong side-by-side comparisons between female veniremembers that the prosecution struck and veniremembers that it did not strike. No error --much less a manifest error -- exists in that ruling.

         Third, Petitioner argues that the state cannot refute the discriminatory nature of its strike against veniremember Lourdes Ramos because it struck the only Latina member of the venire pool. (Doc. # 59 at 12). As the court explained in its Memorandum Opinion, at a minimum, the Court of Criminal Appeals reasonably found no prima facie case of intentional discrimination against Hispanic jurors because (1) there was no pattern of strikes against multiple jurors, and (2) Petitioner identified no history of discrimination against Hispanic jurors.[3] (Doc. # 45 at 26). Petitioner presents no clearly established law from the United States Supreme Court demonstrating that a pattern of discriminatory strikes can be discerned from a solitary strike.[4](See Doc. # 59 at 12). And, while Petitioner claims that age is a suspect and unacceptable reason for striking a juror, the federal-court authority he cites to support that argument says no such thing. See, e.g., Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472, 482-83 (2008) (addressing the credibility of a strike justification based on the veniremember's student teaching obligations); Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 241-48 (2005) (addressing the credibility of a strike justification based on a veniremember's opinions on the death penalty); Adkins v. Warden, Holman CF, 710 F.3d 1241, 1257-58 (11th Cir. 2013) (explaining that age “may be [a] facially race-neutral” reason for a strike, but finding that the strikes at issue could not be justified on the basis of age because the prosecution used age-related reasons to justify strikes of people ranging in age from 31 to 86 years old); United States v. Diaz, 26 F.3d 1533, 1543 (11th Cir. 1994) (addressing, on direct appeal, a prosecutor's reason for a strike based on demeanor); United States v. Horsley, 864 F.2d 1543, 1546 (11th Cir. 1989) (addressing a vague strike justification based on the prosecutor's feeling about the veniremember). For these reasons, Petitioner has presented no manifest error in the court's adjudication of the Batson claims warranting Rule 59(e) relief.

         B. Petitioner Has Presented No Manifest Error in the Denial of His Haldol Administration Claims

          With regard to the denial of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment claims regarding Haldol administration, Petitioner argues that the court failed to grant appropriate deference to the state courts' factual findings. (Doc. # 59 at 14). But, in its Memorandum Opinion, this court expressly discussed the state court's finding that Petitioner had received Haldol during the trial. (Doc. # 45 at 31). The court's comment regarding the lack of “conclusive evidence” for Petitioner's Haldol use during trial (id. at 30) did not overrule the relevant factual finding of the state court. Indeed, as the Memorandum Opinion recounted, the state trial court itself “observed that it was ‘not clear that the Defendant actually took Haldol.'” (Doc. # 45 at 35) (quoting State Court Record, Vol. 34, Tab R-74 at 11). Thus, on this habeas review, this court simply observes that while there was some question as to whether Haldol was actually administered to Petitioner the state court found it was.[5] To be sure, this court gives (and gave) complete deference to that finding. Thus, this portion of Petitioner's argument points to no error -- much less a manifest error -- in the Memorandum Opinion.

         Petitioner also argues that this court placed too much weight on his failure to object to the administration of Haldol at trial because he was intellectually disabled at the time of trial. (Doc. # 59 at 14-15). But this argument has no effect on the central issue that led the court to deny Petitioner's Fifth and Sixth Amendment claims: the lack of an objective factor external to Petitioner's defense that demonstrated cause for his procedural default of the claims. (See Doc. # 45 at 33-36). To the extent Petitioner suggests that his attorneys should not have relied on his self-recollection of medicines he used, the court notes that the doctors who examined Petitioner before the penalty phase also did not perceive symptoms of Haldol administration. (Doc. # 45 at 69) (citing State Court Record, Vol. 34, Tab R-74 at 11). And, this argument ignores the well-established standard that any analysis of counsel's choices and conduct in representing a defendant “critically” depends on the information provided to counsel by the defendant. Chandler v. United States, 218 F.3d 1305, 1318-19 ...


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