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Jackson v. Epps

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

February 5, 2015

CHRISTOPHER EPPS, Superintendent, Mississippi Department of Corrections, Respondent.


LINDA R. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.

William Christopher Jackson has filed a Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody. For the reasons more fully set out below, the Court finds that the Petition should be dismissed.


Jackson was arrested on drug charges in Clarke County on February 1, 2008. A Clarke County grand jury indicted him on February 25, 2009, and, on October 28, 2009, he entered a plea of guilty, while maintaining his innocence, under the authority of North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 37 (1970). The court deferred sentencing until December 8, 2009. Jackson failed to appear on that date; however, he was ultimately arrested in Louisiana and extradited to Mississippi. After the circuit court denied his motions to withdraw his guilty plea and dismiss his counsel, on June 24, 2010, the circuit judge sentenced Jackson to thirty years' imprisonment, with fifteen years suspended, followed by five years of post-release supervision.

Jackson timely filed a petition for post-conviction relief in state court, which was denied on March 19, 2013. Jackson v. State, 122 So.3d 1220 (Miss. Ct App. 2013). Jackson's petition for rehearing was also denied, as was his petition for writ of certiorari to the Mississippi Supreme Court. His petition in this Court seeks relief from his conviction and sentence on grounds that his counsel was ineffective.

Jackson was stopped by officers from the Clarke County Sheriff's Department and the South Mississippi Drug Task Force at a roadblock in Clarke County on February 1, 2008. He did not have his driver's license, nor could he tell the officers its number or his Social Security number. Jackson said that the car that he was driving was rented by his girlfriend, and he gave officers permission to search it. When they found a Tide box in the back of the vehicle, Jackson tried, unsuccessfully, to run away. The box contained 11, 996 methamphetamine pills.

Jackson was arrested at the scene, and he remained in jail for four days. After his release on bond, he hired Thomas Brame to represent him. Jackson was not indicted until February 25, 2009, and that indictment was subsequently amended to include enhancement under Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-147 (1972). On May 4, 2009, Jackson entered a waiver of arraignment and plea of not guilty. At that time, under the indictment as enhanced, Jackson could have been sentenced to a term of ten to sixty years' imprisonment and fined up to two million dollars. Ultimately, he entered into a plea agreement with the State to be sentenced to thirty years to serve, with twenty years suspended and five years of post-release supervision. At the plea hearing, the circuit judge informed Jackson that the agreement permitted him to remain out of jail pending his sentencing hearing, so long as he appeared on time at the sentencing hearing and had not been arrested on any new felonies. If those conditions were not met, then the court would treat his plea as a blind plea, under which the court could sentence him up to sixty years in prison.

As part of the sentencing proceeding, Jackson was questioned extensively regarding his understanding of the plea process. He expressed satisfaction with his attorney's performance, and he testified that no one had pressured, tricked, or manipulated him into pleading guilty. The prosecutor summarized the evidence that would have been presented against him at trial, and Jackson said that he was freely, voluntarily, and knowledgeably pleading guilty, even in light of forfeiting certain constitutional protections. The Petition to Enter Plea of Guilty is part of the state court record filed in this matter, and it includes the following statements:

I told my lawyer all the facts and circumstances known to me about the charge(s) against me. I believe that my lawyer is fully informed on all such matters. My lawyer has counseled and advised me on the nature of each charge; on any and all lesser included charges; and on all possible defenses that I might have in this case.
I believe that my lawyer has done all that anyone could do to counsel and assist me, and I am satisfied with the advice and help he has given me. After consulting with my lawyer, I am entering my plea of "GUILTY" freely and voluntarily and of my own accord and with full understanding of all matters set forth in the indictment and in this petition and in the certificate of my lawyer which follows. [Jackson's initials appear here.]
5. I understand that I may plead "NOT GUILTY" to any offense charged against me. If I choose to plead "NOT GUILTY" the Constitution guarantees me:
(a) the right to a speedy and public trial by jury;
(b) the right to see, hear and face in open court all witnesses called to testify against me, and the right to cross-examine those witnesses.
(c) the right to use the power and process of the court to compel the production of any evidence, including the attendance of any witnesses in my favor;
(d) the right to have the assistance of a lawyer at all stages of the proceedings;
(e) the presumption of innocence, i.e. the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I am guilty;
(f) the right to take the witness stand at my sole option; and, if I do not take the witness stand, I understand the jury may be told that this shall not be held against me;
(g) the right to appeal my case to the Mississippi Supreme Court if I am convicted at a trial on the charge(s) in the indictment.
Knowing and understanding the Constitutional guarantees set forth in this paragraph, I hereby waive them and renew my desire to enter a plea of "GUILTY". (Jackson's initials appear here.)

ECF No. 18-3, pp. 88-90.

Jackson did not appear for the sentencing hearing on December 8, 2009, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested in Louisiana in April, 2010, and his sentencing hearing was re-set for June 24, 2010. The day before his sentencing hearing, Jackson and his attorney filed a joint motion to allow his counsel to withdraw. Jackson also filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The circuit judge did not address the motion to withdraw the guilty plea, and he sentenced Jackson to thirty years, with fifteen to serve and fifteen suspended, and five years' post-release supervision. After imposing the sentence, the judge granted the motion to withdraw. While he was awaiting transport to a facility operated by MDOC, Jackson escaped from the Clarke County Jail. He was arrested in Michigan about six weeks later and extradited back to Clarke County, where he was indicted for and convicted of escape. Jackson is currently an inmate at the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility.


1. Petitioner's Claims and State Court Opinion.

Jackson alleges that his attorney was constitutionally ineffective for failing to gather sufficient evidence to subject the prosecution's case to meaningful adversarial testing, for failing to request a speedy trial or move the court to dismiss the indictment for failure to grant a speedy trial, and for failing to move to suppress evidence obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. These issues were raised in state court by way of Jackson's petition for post-conviction relief. With regard to the failure to conduct adequate pretrial investigation, the court held that Jackson had not shown deficient performance, as required under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). As the Supreme Court stated in Strickland, "In any ineffectiveness case, a particular decision not to investigate must be directly assessed for reasonableness in all circumstances, applying a heavy measure of deference to counsel's judgments." 466 U.S. at 691. Thus, the state court concluded, the decision to pursue a plea bargain made the decision to forego an investigation reasonable. 122 So.3d at 1228. In any event, the court ruled, Jackson did not show prejudice, as he did not show with specificity how further investigation would have changed the outcome of his case. Id. Absent a showing of prejudice, the court denied relief on this claim.

The court also addressed Jackson's claim that his counsel should have asserted his right to a speedy trial. This claim, the court held, was waived by Jackson's decision to plead guilty. Id. at 1227. Even if that result was not dictated by precedent, the plea petition specifically stated that Jackson understood that he was giving up this constitutional protection. As to Jackson's claim that the pre-indictment delay should have been raised, the court noted that Miss. Code Ann. § 99-1-5 (1972 & Supp. 2013) permits a two-year delay in indicting for this offense. Since the State indicted Jackson within a year and twenty-five days of his offense, this issue lacked merit. Id. Finally, like the speedy trial claim, the court dismissed Jackson's Fourth Amendment claim related to the traffic stop on grounds that it was waived by Jackson's guilty plea. Id. at 1228.

2. Standard of Review

In response to years of complaints about the delay in reviewing habeas petitions, Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1244 (codified at 28 U.S.C. 2254 (2006)); Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35, 69 (2008) (Alito, J., concurring) (stating that the AEDPA "was designed to address this problem."). The standard of review is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which provides:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence ...

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