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Rowsey v. Lee

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

September 6, 2019

JAMES ROBERT ROWSEY, #34459 PETITIONER
v.
EARNEST LEE RESPONDENT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING PETITIONER'S OBJECTIONS [25], [32]; ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [24]; AND DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner James Robert Rowsey's Objections [25], [1] [32] to the Report and Recommendation [24] of United States Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker, which recommended dismissal of Petitioner's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition for habeas corpus relief. After thoroughly reviewing Petitioner's Objections [25], [32], the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation [24], the record as a whole, and relevant legal authority, the Court concludes that Petitioner's Objections should be overruled and that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation [24] should be adopted as the finding of the Court. Petitioner's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus should be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. State court proceedings

         Petitioner James Robert Rowsey (“Petitioner” or “Rowsey”) is serving a life sentence in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) for a 1995 conviction for murder. On or about January 28, 2010, while he was incarcerated at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution (“SMCI”), Rowsey poured hot water on the face and head of a fellow inmate, severely burning him. On February 22, 2011, a state court grand jury in Greene County, Mississippi, returned an Indictment charging Petitioner with aggravated assault. See R. [21-1] at 18 (Indictment).

         On May 17, 2011, an attorney was appointed to defend Rowsey in the aggravated assault case. See Id. at 47. The same day, Rowsey and his attorney signed a Waiver of Arraignment and agreed to a trial setting of August 8, 2011. See Id. at 48. Also on or about May 17, 2011, Rowsey began sending letters to the Mississippi Bar complaining about his attorney's performance with respect to the Waiver of Arraignment he and his attorney had signed. See Id. at 50-52, 53-53, 72-73. Rowsey's attorney moved to withdraw on June 6, 2011, due to the proceedings initiated against her with the Mississippi Bar and the resulting “irreparable breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.” Id. at 60. The state court granted the motion to withdraw on June 22, 2011, and appointed Rowsey new counsel. Id. at 88.

         For a variety of reasons, Rowsey's trial was continued multiple times. See, e.g., R. [12-1] at 89; R. [12-2] at 5, 137; R. [12-3] at 100, 120; R. [12-4] at 67, 76, 82; R. [12-5] at 75, 107. Rowsey was ultimately tried by a jury in February 2014 and convicted of aggravated assault. See R. [12-6] at 57 (jury verdict). On or about February 25, 2014, Rowsey was sentenced to serve ten years in the custody of the MDOC, to run consecutively to the sentence he was already serving. Id. at 81. Rowsey appealed. See Id. at 117.

         An attorney from the Indigent Appeals Division of the Office of the State Public Defender was appointed to represent Rowsey for purposes of post-trial proceedings and the appeal. See Id. at 140. On December 3, 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Rowsey's conviction and sentence, see R. [12-10] at 33-68; Rowsey v. State, 188 So.3d 486 (Miss. 2015), and his motion for rehearing was denied, see R. [12-10] at 2, 13.

         On or about March 31, 2016, Rowsey filed an Application to Proceed in the Trial Court with a Motion for Post-Conviction Relief in the Mississippi Supreme Court, see R. [12-11] at 2, stating the following issues for consideration: (1) alleged procedural violations committed by the trial court, including purported lack of initial appearance and failure to have a timely arraignment; (2) purported abandonment of Petitioner by his court-appointed attorney when Petitioner attempted to bring up matters on his own and was told by the judge to “have your lawyer do that”; (3) the granting by the trial court of continuances purportedly in violation of Rowsey's speedy trial rights under Mississippi Code § 99-15-29; (4) alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel; and (5) Petitioner allegedly receiving an improper sentence that should not be mandatory. See Id. at 6-7. Rowsey also filed Motions for Full Docket of his criminal proceeding and to Keep All Legal Work and Materials in Rowsey's Personal Possession. See Id. at 5-6. The Mississippi Supreme Court denied Petitioner's Application and Motions on June 8, 2016, finding that his “claims are either waived, barred by the doctrine of res judicata, or fail to present a substantial showing of the denial of a state or federal right.” R. [15-2] at 1.

         On or about August 18, 2016, [2] Rowsey filed in the Mississippi Supreme Court another Application for Leave to Proceed in the Trial Court, again seeking post-conviction relief, see R. [12-11] at 18-52, which the Mississippi Supreme Court denied on October 12, 2016, see R. [15-3] at 1-2. The claims Rowsey sought to raise included (1) whether he was provided a meaningful direct appeal in the absence of a review by the Mississippi Court of Appeals;[3] (2) whether he was denied pretrial due process and a speedy trial; and (3) whether he was prejudiced because he was purportedly unable to obtain his stored legal documents. R. [12-11] at 25-43.

         The Mississippi Supreme Court determined that Rowsey's claims that he was denied due process, equal protection, and a meaningful appeal without first allowing the Mississippi Court of Appeals to review the case were barred as successive and thus waived. See R. [15-3] at 1. Rowsey's pretrial due process and speedy-trial violation claims were “barred based on one or more of the following:

successive writ, waiver, and res judicata.” Id. The Court found that, even if an exception applied, “the claims lack any arguable basis to warrant waiving those bars.” Id. at 2. As for the third claim, the Mississippi Supreme Court held it was “not one for post-conviction relief, ” id., and denied Petitioner's Application and issued a sanction warning, see id.

         B. Section 2254 Petition

         On August 15, 2016, Rowsey filed the present Petition [1] for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court, [4] challenging his February 25, 2014, state conviction and sentence for aggravated assault. See Pet. [1] at 1.

         Petitioner advances the following four grounds for relief:

GROUND ONE: Procedural due process rights were grossly violated by the trial court, including speedy trial. - 16 May 2011: Questioned by Judge in open court before appointing counsel, on 5/16/11 . . . . Transcripts begin.
GROUND TWO: Grossly incomplete records and transcripts - These were sent to Rowsey by Miss. Supreme Court for Supplemental Brief - Records wrong/cover letter only; transcripts begin 2/21/12.
GROUND THREE: Courts have picked and choosed; twisted and demean; unfairly, Rowsey's legitimate issues into whatever suits them to abuse Rowsey and his submissions.
GROUND FOUR: The “victim” is reported as having minor injuries, air-ways clear-no serious condition. Suddenly “victim” is nearly dead! Could expert testimony by felon prison doctor be false?

Id. at 5-10 (emphasis in original) [sic].

         In paragraph 13 of the Petition [1], Rowsey represented that all grounds for relief raised in the Petition had been presented to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Id. at 12. Respondent Earnest Lee (“Respondent”) has filed an Answer [15] in response to the Petition and states that the issues presented in this Petition were reviewed by the Mississippi Supreme Court and were found to have no merit. See Ans. [15] at 5. According to Respondent, because these issues were considered on the merits, habeas relief should be denied as to these claims. See Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(d), (e)(1)). Respondent asks the Court to dismiss the Petition with prejudice and to deny a Certificate of Appealability. See Id. at 23.

         C. Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation [24]

         On June 14, 2019, the Magistrate Judge entered a Report and Recommendation [24], finding that federal habeas relief is not warranted and recommending that the Petition be dismissed. R. & R. [24] at 12. As for Ground One of the Petition, the Magistrate Judge recognized that Rowsey's primary complaint before this Court is that he was denied a speedy trial. The Magistrate Judge reviewed and considered the extensive timeline in Rowsey's criminal proceeding and noted that the vast majority of the continuances were by agreement of the parties. Id. at 7-8. The Magistrate Judge determined that the state court's decision that there was no violation of Rowsey's constitutional right to a speedy trial was not contrary to clearly established federal law, nor did it involve an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Id. at 10. Habeas relief was not warranted under the first ground. Id.

         As for the second ground, regarding Rowsey's complaints that he did not have access to the records and transcripts needed to prepare his appellate filings, the Magistrate Judge found that the record plainly refuted Rowsey's assertion and Rowsey had not shown he was deprived of a right secured him by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Id. at 10-11. In Ground Three, the Magistrate Judge was “unable to ascertain what constitutional claim Rowsey raise[d] . . . .” Id. at 11. The Magistrate Judge noted that mere conclusory statements were insufficient and that to the extent Rowsey argues his case should have first been heard by the Mississippi Court of Appeals, such a right would rest on state law rather than federal law. Id. The Magistrate Judge found Ground Three to be without merit.

         As for the Petition's final ground, challenging the trial evidence regarding the extent of the victim's injuries, the Magistrate Judge noted that federal district courts do not act as a “super” state supreme court and concluded that the trial court's evidentiary rulings were matters of state law that afforded no basis for federal habeas relief. Id. at 12. As the Magistrate Judge recognized, this Court can only grant habeas relief on a claim related to sufficiency of the evidence at trial if no rational trier of fact could have found Rowsey guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 324 (1979)). In ...


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