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Long v. King

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

June 27, 2014

RICHARD LEON LONG, Petitioner,
v.
RONALD J. KING and ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, Respondents.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.

Petitioner Richard Leon Long, Mississippi prisoner no. 125674, has filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his State court conviction for sale of a controlled substance within 1, 000 feet of a public park. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the State court record, and the law applicable to Petitioner's claims, the Court finds that the petition should be denied.

Background Facts and Procedural History

On October 28, 2009, in the Circuit Court of DeSoto County, Mississippi, Petitioner was tried for the sale of a controlled substance, diazepam (trade name "Valium"), within 1, 000 feet of a public park. At trial, Officer Jerry Rodgers, an agent with the Olive Branch Narcotics Division, testified that he was working undercover in Olive Branch, Mississippi, where he was involved in arranging monitored buys of controlled substances. Rodgers testified that he met Petitioner on January 18, 2008, and arranged to purchase pills of Valium from Petitioner. After their initial meeting, Rodgers conducted an investigation and learned that Petitioner lived approximately 100 feet from a fence that separated the Olive Branch City Park from the trailer park where Petitioner lived.

Rodgers testified that Petitioner telephoned him a few days later and stated that he had the pills and was ready to sell them. Rodgers stated that his narcotics team wired him for audio and video, and that he then drove to the trailer park where Petitioner lived. Rodgers testified that once he arrived at the trailer park, he noticed Petitioner outside of his trailer flashing his vehicle's lights. Rodgers testified that he parked next to Petitioner's vehicle and, after a short conversation with Petitioner, purchased a small sack of pills in exchange for $100.00. Rodgers maintained that after the exchange was made and Rodgers was readying to leave, Petitioner indicated that he would be getting more pills and told Rodgers to call him. A video of the drug transaction was published to the jury.

The bag of pills purchased during the transaction were delivered to the Mississippi Crime Laboratory, and a drug analysis was conducted by forensic chemist, Erik Frazure. Frazure testified that the pills were diazepam, a schedule IV controlled substance.

At the close of the State's case-in-chief, the defense moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the State had failed to prove that Petitioner sold a controlled substance within 1, 000 feet of a public park. The motion was denied. The defense rested without presenting any evidence. The jury found Petitioner guilty. The jury was excused before the sentencing phase of trial.

At sentencing, the prosecutor argued that Petitioner met the requirements for sentencing as an habitual offender pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 99-19-83 and presented evidence that Petitioner had been convicted of two prior felonies in Colorado: (1) sexual assault on a child, and (2) aggravated incest with his own child. The trial judge determined that the certified documents from Colorado confirmed that Petitioner met the requirements for sentencing enhancement under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-83. Petitioner was sentenced as an habitual offender to serve life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The trial court then conducted a proportionality analysis and found the punishment mandated by the habitual offender statute was not disproportionate to the sentence imposed on Petitioner.

After Petitioner's motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial was denied, he appealed his conviction and sentence. On January 20, 2011, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no merit to Petitioner's claims and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. See Long v. State, 52 So.3d 1188 (Miss. 2011) (Cause No. 2009-KA-01861-SCT); (Answer, Ex. A). Aggrieved by the decision, Petitioner filed in the Mississippi Supreme Court a pro se application for leave to proceed in the trial court with a motion for post-conviction relief. On May 25, 2011, the Mississippi Supreme Court filed an order dismissing the application as procedurally barred, as the issues presented in the motion were considered on direct appeal. (Answer, Ex. B); (Miscellaneous Pleadings, Cause No. 2011-M-00556).

Petitioner, proceeding pro se, filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus on July 5, 2011, raising the following issues:

Ground One. Whether the verdict is supported by the weight of the evidence?
Ground Two. Whether inflammatory closing argument by the state requires a new trial?
Ground Three. Whether the State presented competent proof of the alleged sale within 1000 feet of a park.
Ground Four. Whether the trial court should have developed more proof regarding Long's prior convictions at sentencing?
Ground Five Whether Long's sentence is illegally or otherwise unconstitutionally disproportionate.

Respondents concede that all of the grounds raised in this petition were properly presented to the Mississippi Supreme Court and are exhausted for purposes of federal habeas review. See, e.g., Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446 (2000); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)-(c).

Legal Standard

The Court's review of Petitioner's claims is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). The AEDPA prohibits 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).

A state court's decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court law if (1) "the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, " or (2) "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [its] precedent." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). The "unreasonable application" clause is reserved for decisions that either fail to identify the correct governing law, or that identify the correct governing law but misapply it to the case. Id. at 407-08. Under this standard, a state court's decision will not warrant federal habeas relief unless its application of federal law is both "incorrect and unreasonable[.]" Garcia v. Dretke, 388 F.3d 496, 500 (5th Cir. 2004) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted). A federal habeas court considers only the state court's conclusion when determining whether there has been an unreasonable application of federal law, and not the court's reasoning in reaching the decision. Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002).

Discussion

Ground I. Weight of the ...


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