United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
JAMES E. THOMAS, JR., # 183374, Petitioner,
DEWAYNE ESTES, et al., Respondents.
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge.
pro se, Alabama inmate James E. Thomas, Jr. brings
this petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 challenging his guilty plea conviction for
reckless murder. Doc. No. 1.
Guilty Plea and Sentence
25, 2012, Thomas pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court of
Montgomery County to the offense of reckless murder, in
violation of § 13A-6-2(a)(2), Ala. Code 1975. The
indictment charged that Thomas recklessly engaged in conduct
that manifested extreme indifference to human life and
created a grave risk of death to another person,
specifically, by operating a motor vehicle while under the
influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance, causing
the death of another person by striking that person's
vehicle with his own vehicle. Doc. 10-2 at 12. On June 1,
2012, the trial court sentenced Thomas to 20 years in prison.
Id. at 13-15. Thomas took no appeal.
State Post-Conviction Proceedings
February 19, 2013, Thomas filed a pro se petition in
the trial court seeking post-conviction relief under Rule 32
of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. Doc. No. 10-1 at
8-22. Thomas's Rule 32 petition, as later amended
(see id. at 30-38), raised the following claims:
1. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to negotiate a
reasonable plea bargain.
2. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to (a) explain
the elements and required mental state of the offense of
reckless murder; (b) explain the elements of the
lesser-included offenses; (c) obtain the indictment and
explain it to him; and (d) obtain the presentence report and
explain it to him before he entered his guilty plea.
3. His guilty plea was the product of duress, deception, and
misrepresentations by his counsel.
4. His guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because the
trial court did not advise him he would not be eligible for
parole until he served 15 years of his sentence.
5. Trial counsel was ineffective for advising him he could be
paroled after serving no more than 5 years in prison if he
pleaded guilty when, under Alabama law, he would not be
eligible for parole consideration before serving 15 years of
Doc. No. 10-1 at 8-22 & 30-38.
25, 2013, the trial court entered an order denying
Thomas's Rule 32 petition. Doc. No. 10-1 at 53. Thomas
appealed, essentially reasserting the claims from his Rule 32
petition. Doc. No. 10-6. The Alabama Court of Criminal
Appeals remanded the case for the trial court to make
specific findings of fact regarding Thomas's claim that
his counsel was ineffective for advising him he could be
paroled after serving no more than five years in prison if he
pleaded guilty when, under Alabama law, he would not be
eligible for parole consideration until serving 15 years in
prison. Doc. No. 10-3 at 5-6. After conducting an evidentiary
hearing on this claim, the trial court entered an order
denying relief, finding that Thomas's trial counsel had
not assured him of a specific sentence or promised him he
would serve only five years in prison. Doc. No. 10-3 at 7.
March 11, 2016, on return to remand, the Alabama Court of
Criminal Appeals issued a memorandum opinion affirming the
trial court's denial of Thomas's Rule 32 petition.
Doc. No. 10-8. Thomas applied for rehearing, which was
overruled. On July 8, 2016, the Alabama Supreme Court denied
Thomas's petition for writ of certiorari. Doc. Nos. 10-9
Section 2254 Petition
25, 2016, Thomas initiated this habeas action by filing a
§ 2254 petition in which he essentially reasserts the
claims of ineffective assistance of counsel he presented in
his state Rule 32 petition. Doc. No. 1 at 3-14. For the
reasons that follow, it is the recommendation of the
Magistrate Judge that Thomas's § 2254 petition be
denied without an evidentiary hearing and this case dismissed
AEDPA Standard of Review
it enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
of 1996 (‘AEDPA'), Congress significantly limited
the circumstances under which a habeas petitioner may obtain
relief.” Hardy v. Allen, 2010 WL 9447204, at
*7 (N.D. Ala. Sep. 21, 2010). To prevail on a § 2254
claim adjudicated on the merits by the state courts, a
petitioner must show that a decision by the state courts was
“contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application
of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the
Supreme Court of the United States, ” or 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)(1) & (2);
see Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404-05 &
court's decision is “contrary to” federal law
either if it fails to apply the correct controlling
authority, or if it applies the controlling authority to a
case involving facts “materially
indistinguishable” from those in a controlling case,
but nonetheless reaches a different result.
Williams, 529 U.S. at 404-06; Bell v. Cone,
535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). A state court's decision is an
“unreasonable application” of federal law if it
either correctly identifies the governing rule but then
applies it to a new set of facts in a way that is objectively
unreasonable, or it extends or fails to extend a clearly
established legal principle to a new context in a way that is
objectively unreasonable. Williams, 529 U.S. at 407.
unreasonable” means something more than an
“erroneous” or “incorrect”
application of clearly established law, and a reviewing
federal court may not substitute its judgment for the state
court's even if the federal court, in its own independent
judgment, disagrees with the state court's decision.
See Williams, 529 U.S. at 411; Lockyer v.
Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 76 (2003). The reviewing court
“must determine what arguments or theories supported or
… could have supported[ ] the state court's
decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible
fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or
theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior
decision of [the Supreme] Court.” Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). “This is a
‘difficult to meet,' and ‘highly deferential
standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands
that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the
doubt.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 536 U.S.
170, 181 (2011) (internal citations omitted).
courts are likewise directed to determine whether the state
court based its findings on “an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d)(2). A federal court “may not characterize these
state-court factual determinations as unreasonable
‘merely because [we] would have reached a different
conclusion in the first instance.'” Brumfield
v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015) (citation omitted)
(alteration in original). A state court's determination
of a factual issue is “presumed to be correct, ”
and the habeas petitioner “shall have the burden of
rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and
convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).