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Howard v. Outlaw

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

February 26, 2014

ERICK HOWARD, Petitioner,
v.
TIMOTHY OUTLAW and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, Respondents.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Petitioner, Erick Howard, Mississippi prisoner # 155401, has filed a pro se federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his State court conviction for armed robbery. Having considered the submission of the parties, the State court record, and the law applicable to Howard's claims, the Court finds that the petition should be denied, for the reasons that follow.

Background Facts and Procedural History

On May 13, 2008, Erick Howard was indicted in the Circuit Court of DeSoto County, Mississippi, on charges of armed robbery (Count I), aggravated assault (Count II), and attempted capital murder (Count III), all of which occurred in 2005. (SCR vol. 1, 135-36). On January 19, 2010, Howard entered an Alford [1] plea to the charge of armed robbery (Count I). ( Id. at 137). As part of the agreement, the prosecution agreed to remand the remaining charges to the files. (SCF.Supp. vol. 1, ECF no. 11-6, 20). Howard was sentenced to serve a term of sixteen years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with five years of post-release supervision. (SCR vol. 1, 143).

Howard filed a petition for post-conviction collateral relief in the circuit court on December 16, 2010. The motion was denied on September 7, 2011. (SCR vol. 3, 373-80). Howard appealed the decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which assigned the case to the Mississippi Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's denial of Howard's post-conviction motion. Howard v. State, 121 So.3d 249 (Miss.Ct.App. 2013), reh'g denied, June 18, 2013, cert. denied, September 12, 2013 (Cause No. 2011-CP-01375-COA) ( see also Answer, Ex. A). Howard filed the instant petition on or about October 1, 2013, raising the following five issues, as paraphrased by the Court:

Ground One: Ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to investigate a speedy trial defense and advising Howard to plead guilty.
Ground Two: Ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to adequately argue the motion to suppress.
Ground Three: Ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to adequately advise Howard of the statute of limitations for Count III.
Ground Four: Ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to adequately investigate Jackson.
Ground Five: Denial of due process because of difficulty in obtaining transcripts.

Legal Standard

The Court's review of Howard's claim is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), because his federal habeas petition was filed after the statute's effective date. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997). The AEDPA prevents the grant of federal habeas relief on any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established United States Supreme Court precedent; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the presented evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2); Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007).

The Court also notes that Howard has alleged an entitlement to an evidentiary hearing in this case. The Court notes that where, as here, a state court has reviewed a petitioner's claims on their merits, an evidentiary hearing may not be held unless the petitioner first meets the standards as set forth in § 2254(d). See Cullen v. Pinholster, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398-1401 (2011).

Discussion

I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: Grounds One, Two, Three and Four

Howard alleges that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to the effective assistance of counsel. See, e.g., Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 5 (2003). A federal habeas petitioner's claim that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel at trial is generally measured by the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, Howard must establish that (1) his trial counsel's performance was so deficient that it cannot be said that he was functioning as "counsel" within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment, and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. See id. at 687.

Where an attorney's representation falls below an objective standard of reasonableness as determined by professional norms, that performance is deficient. See Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374, 380 (2005); Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-89. Courts scrutinizing counsel's performance assume a "strong presumption" that the assistance was adequate and "that the challenged conduct was the product of reasoned trial strategy." West v. Johnson, 92 F.3d 1385, 1400 (5th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). This presumption may be overcome if a petitioner can identify acts or omissions of counsel that were not the result of a reasoned, professional judgment. See Wilkerson v. Collins, 950 F.2d 1054, 1065 (5th Cir. 1992). However, even unreasonable errors by counsel do not warrant relief if the errors did not affect the judgment. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691. Rather, actual prejudice results from the errors of ...


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