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Jackson v. Byrd

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

March 29, 2018




         Before the Court is Reginald Byrd's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Doc #1.


         Procedural History

         On or about March 12, 2015, Perry Jackson filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. Doc. #1. After reviewing the petition, United States Magistrate Judge Jane M. Virden ordered the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi and Reginald Byrd (collectively, “Respondents”) to answer the petition no later than July 21, 2015. Doc. #9. Before Respondents could file an answer to the petition, Jackson filed a “Motion for Leave to File Supplemental Brief to Petition for Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, ” Doc. #12; which was granted on May 15, 2015, Doc. #13. On August 19, 2015, Respondents filed a response to the petition. Doc. #16. On or about September 3, 2015, Jackson filed a traverse. Doc. #20.



         Jackson's petition, as amended, asserts four grounds for relief: (1) the trial court failed to order a mental evaluation; (2) his counsel was ineffective; (3) the trial court wrongly admitted a confession; and (4) his convictions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause.

         A. Ground One: Failure by Trial Court to Order Mental Evaluation

         Jackson first argues that the trial court's decision not to order a mental evaluation to determine his culpability for committing the crimes or his competency to stand trial violated his right to due process under the law.[1] This claim for relief is without substantive merit.

         1. Competency examination

         “The trial and conviction of a defendant while he is mentally incompetent constitute a denial of due process.” Carter v. Johnson, 131 F.3d 452, 459 (5th Cir. 1997). Accordingly, “[s]tate procedures must be adequate to insure the right to be tried while competent.” Lokos v. Capps, 625 F.2d 1258, 1261 (5th Cir. 1980). To this end, a trial “court must sua sponte conduct an inquiry into a defendant's mental capacity if the evidence raises a bona fide doubt as to the defendant's competency [to stand trial].” Id. “In determining whether a competency hearing is required, a trial court should give particular consideration to (1) the existence of a history of irrational behavior; (2) the defendant's bearing and demeanor at the time of trial; and (3) prior medical opinions.” Enriquez v. Procunier, 752 F.2d 111, 113 (5th Cir. 1984).

         Jackson offers as proof of the need for such an examination: (1) records from a doctor's visit that took place during his pretrial detention; (2) statements from friends and family members that his family had a history of mental illness and that he was a veteran of the war in Iraq; (3) defense counsel's motion seeking a continuance “to have the defendant tested before proceeding with this case;” (4) the trial court's order granting the motion for continuance; (5) psychiatric records for a person named “Brenda D. Thornton;” and (6) another motion by defense counsel for a continuance, in part to procure testimony from a Veteran's Administration psychologist “regarding possible mitigation testimony.” Doc. #17-12 at 61-76. None of this evidence is sufficient to warrant a competency examination, especially in light of Jackson's actions during the crime itself, as well as his participation in his criminal defense.

         Though Jackson states that the doctor's records reveal that he was having psychological problems and had made a suicide attempt during pretrial detention, those records do not support such conclusion. Instead, the doctor's assessment shows that Jackson suffered from “[a]ltered mental status with vomiting and tachycardia with hypotension and hyperglycemia and leukocytosis with a left shift and lactic acidosis - probable sepsis;” id. at 68; that he had lost a great deal of weight and, once admitted to the hospital, was sedated and placed on a ventilator, id.; that after evaluation, he was placed on sepsis protocol, sliding scale insulin, and IV antibiotics, id. at 66; and that he then recovered. Thus, during this visit and subsequent treatment, Jackson was not evaluated or treated for mental illness but - based upon the diagnosis of sepsis and administration of antibiotics - for infection. Statements from friends and family regarding a familial history of mental illness do not establish that Jackson himself suffered from a mental illness. Likewise, mental health records of another person have nothing to do with Jackson's competency to stand trial.

         The motions seeking a continuance and the court's order granting such do not constitute evidence that Jackson was mentally ill. The first motion for a continuance shows only that counsel considered having Jackson “tested, ” id. at 61; and the other motion seeks a continuance, in part, to procure mental health records to offer in mitigation during the penalty phase of the trial, id. at 76. As noted above, the jury did not impose the death penalty in this case; thus, the mitigation issue is moot. Additionally, as discussed below, the evidence available to defense counsel at the time tended to show that Jackson was legally sane when he committed the crimes and was competent to stand trial.

         In sum, no facts in the record might have led the trial court to question Jackson's competency to stand trial; there was no “information which, objectively considered, should reasonably have raised a doubt about [the] defendant's competency and alerted him to the possibility that the defendant could neither understand the proceedings or appreciate their significance, nor rationally aid his attorney in his defense.” Lokos, 625 F.2d at 1261. Indeed, even now, Jackson has provided no evidence suggesting that he was incompetent to stand trial. This ground for relief is without substantive merit and will be denied.

         2. Culpability examination

         With regard to Jackson's arguments regarding a need for a culpability examination, a trial court must appoint “a psychiatrist for an indigent defendant if a defendant demonstrates to the trial judge that his sanity at the time of the offense is to be a significant factor at trial and, in the context of a capital sentencing proceeding, when the state presents psychiatric evidence of the defendant's future dangerousness.” Woodward v. Epps, 580 F.3d 318, 331 (5th Cir. 2009).

         Here, Jackson has pointed to no evidence presented to the trial court which would have suggested that his sanity at the time of the offense would be a significant factor at trial. Additionally, it does not appear that the State presented psychiatric evidence of the defendant's future dangerousness. Accordingly, Jackson was not entitled to a psychiatric examination. See, e.g., Nixon v. Epps, 111 F. App'x 237, 251 (5th Cir. 2004) (“Nixon presented no evidence to the trial court that his sanity at the time of the offense would be a significant factor at trial nor did the state present psychiatric evidence at the sentencing phase.”).

         B. Ground Two: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

          Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are governed by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), which requires that a petitioner “show both that counsel rendered deficient performance and that counsel's actions resulted in actual prejudice.” Rhoades v. Davis, 852 F.3d 422, 431 (5th Cir. 2017). To establish deficient performance, a petitioner must show that, “in light of the circumstances as they appeared at the time of the conduct, counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness as measured by prevailing professional norms.” Id. at 431-32 (internal quotation marks omitted). To demonstrate prejudice, a petitioner must show “counsel's deficient performance was so serious as to deprive him of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. This requires the showing of a reasonable probability that but for counsel's deficiencies, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 432 (internal alterations, quotation marks, and footnotes omitted).

         On habeas review, the issue for the reviewing court is not whether the Strickland standard is met but rather whether the state court's decision that Strickland was not met warrants relief under AEDPA standards. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011) (“When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.”). Accordingly, when a Strickland claim has been rejected on its merits by a state court, a petitioner “must demonstrate that it was necessarily unreasonable for the [state] Supreme Court” to rule as it did in order to obtain federal habeas relief. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 190 (2011).

         As explained above, Jackson argues that his counsel was ineffective because he failed to: (1) have a mental evaluation conducted; (2) interview and subpoena witnesses at suppression hearing; (3) adequately prepare for trial by reviewing the crime scene and police reports; (4) obtain an expert witness in firearm trajectory, latent fingerprints, and psychology; (5) inform the trial court of his alleged suicide attempt; (6) adequately cross-examine witnesses; and (7) file a motion seeking disclosure of promises made to “codefendants.”

         1. Failure to obtain ...

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