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Loden v. EPPS

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

February 4, 2014

THOMAS EDWIN LODEN, JR., Petitioner,
v.
CHRISTOPHER EPPS and JIM HOOD, Respondents.

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO AMEND JUDGMENT

NEAL B. BIGGERS, District Judge.

Petitioner moves the Court pursuant to Rule 52 and Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to amend its September 18, 2013, judgment denying his claims and dismissing his federal habeas petition. Respondents failed to respond to the motion. Having considered all of the arguments raised by Petitioner, the Court determines that Petitioner fails to demonstrate any of the narrow circumstances that would warrant amendment to the judgment, for the reasons that follow.

Applicable Standards

Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a court "to rectify its own mistakes in the period immediately following entry of judgment." White v. New Hampshire Dept. of Employment Sec., 455 U.S. 445, 450 (1982). Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to move for reconsideration of a final judgment where there exists a need to: (1) correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice; (2) present previously undiscoverable evidence; or (3) reflect an intervening change in controlling law. See Schiller v. Physicians Res. Group, Inc., 342 F.3d 563, 567 (5th Cir. 2003); In re Benjamin Moore & Co., 318 F.3d 626, 629 (5th Cir. 2002). Although courts have discretion whether to reopen a case under Rule 59(e), that discretion is to be sparingly exercised to strike a proper balance between the need to finalize the litigation at issue and the need to render a "just decision[] on the basis of all the facts." Templet v. HydroChem Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 479 (5th Cir. 2004).

Rule 52(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that "the court may amend its findings - or make additional findings - and may amend the judgment accordingly." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(b). Its purpose, generally, is to correct manifest errors of law or fact. See Fontenot v. Mesa Petroleum Co., 791 F.2d 1207, 1219 (5th Cir. 1986).

Discussion

1. Counsel's Failure to Prepare a Mitigation Case

Petitioner claims that the Court's Order fails to address his argument that counsel's failure to develop and present a case in mitigation contributed to his decision to plead guilty and waive jury sentencing. He argues that the Court's conclusions "fail to confront the fact that Loden never had a real choice, and that the only evidence in the record is that if counsel had prepared a reasonably thorough mitigation case, Loden would have agreed to present it." (Mot. to Amend at 3). He notes that his affidavit filed in conjunction with his federal habeas petition states: "Had I been properly advised, I would not have pled guilty or waived a jury for sentencing, and I would have insisted that my attorneys present mitigation evidence on my behalf." (Pet. Ex. 1, Loden's Aff.). This affidavit entitles him, at minimum, he contends, to an evidentiary hearing on the issue.

The Court did consider Petitioner's argument that his counsel's failure to develop and present a case in mitigation contributed to his decision to plead guilty and waive jury sentencing. The Court's consideration of Petitioner's argument was specifically noted in its Order. ( See, e.g., Order at 23-24) ("He argues that [his attorneys] did not discuss with him what might be presented as mitigating evidence, and that, had he been properly advised, he would not have waived the presentation of evidence or jury sentencing."). The Court's conclusion that Petitioner failed to demonstrate an entitlement to relief relating to counsel's investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence, advice concerning Petitioner's guilty plea, and waiver of jury sentencing encompass the claim Petitioner maintains was omitted from consideration. ( See, e.g., Order at 22-54). Additionally, the Court recognizes that Petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel do not include mutually exclusive facts or arguments, and the Court's grant of a Certificate of Appealability ("COA") as to all of his ineffective assistance claims reflects the Court's appreciation for the argument that whether counsel rendered ineffective assistance with regard to trial preparation or plea advice impacts the validity of Petitioner's guilty plea and waiver of jury sentencing.

Petitioner also argues that the Mississippi Supreme Court failed to apply the correct test to the circumstances surrounding trial counsel's representation, as it determined Petitioner could not show prejudice because he decided not to present mitigating evidence. He claims that the correct test is whether Petitioner has shown "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." (Mot. to Amend at 7, citing Missouri v. Frye, 132 S.Ct. 1399 (2012) (quoting Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985))). He notes that this Court mentioned the test in its Order but then omitted to discuss the Mississippi Supreme Court's failure to apply it. (Mot. to Amend at 7). He contends that the state court did not discuss whether Petitioner would have pleaded guilty, waived jury sentencing, or put on a mitigation case had he been properly advised, and that the decision, therefore, is contrary to and an unreasonable application of Frye. Because Frye is the applicable test, he contends, the Mississippi Supreme Court's reasoning was in error.

In its initial review of this case, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected Petitioner's challenge to the trial court's determinations as to the voluntariness of the plea and the assistance trial counsel provided in connection with the plea. See Loden v. State, 971 So.2d 548, 571-74 (Miss. 2007). It stated that "[t]his Court finds that the circuit court was not clearly erroneous' in finding that counsel's performance was not deficient." Id. at 574. Considering the allegation on post-conviction review that trial counsel failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence, the court cited Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 478 (2007), where the Supreme Court held that "it was not objectively unreasonable for [a state] court to conclude that a defendant who refused to allow the presentation of any mitigating evidence could not establish Strickland prejudice based on his counsel's failure to investigate further possible mitigating evidence." See Loden v. State, 43 So.3d 365, 381-85 (Miss. 2010). The Mississippi Supreme Court's prejudice discussion was appropriate to the issue it was confronting.

Petitioner also maintains that, even if Landrigan is applicable, the facts of this case are different, as the defendant in Landrigan repeatedly interrupted and sabotaged defense efforts. See Landrigan, 550 U.S. at 477 (finding that the defendant repeatedly interrupted the court and behaved in a way that "would have undermined the presentation of any mitigating evidence that his attorney might have uncovered"). Petitioner maintains that it is not clear that he would not have allowed the presentation of evidence.

The totality of the evidence in the record before the Court indicates that, at the time he pleaded guilty, Petitioner did not want to go to trial, did not want to present evidence to mitigate punishment, and did not want counsel to make efforts to cross-examine the witnesses presented by the State in the punishment phase of trial. The state court's determination that Petitioner would not have allowed counsel to present mitigating evidence at sentencing is not unreasonable.

Petitioner also argues that "[t]he finding that Loden's counsel conducted a constitutionally adequate investigation is an error of law, and also does not address Loden's argument that his counsel was not in any position to present a mitigation case." (Mot. to Amend at 11). The Court notes that its review of the state court's decision is not governed by the Strickland standard itself, but rather, by the deferential provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. See Harrington v. Richter, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 770, 785 (2011) ("A state court must be granted deference and latitude that are not in operation when the case involves review under the Strickland standard itself."). The Court finds ...


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