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Mejia v. Stephens

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

November 25, 2013

DINO C. MEJIA, #1635657, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIAM STEPHENS, Director, TDCJ-CID, Respondent.

FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER, Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner, a Texas prisoner, filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the petition be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

After waiving a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of burglary of a habitation and sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment. State v. Mejia, No. F08-56627 (Criminal District Court No. 7, Dallas County, 2009), aff'd, No. 05-09-00178-CR (Tex. App.-Dallas, 2010 pet. ref'd). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his state habeas application. See Ex parte Mejia, No. WR-24, 438-12 (Tex. Crim. App. Sep. 5, 2012) (denying without written order on trial court's findings without a hearing) (Doc. 24-2 at 2).[1]

In this timely federal petition, Petitioner claims abuse of discretion by the trial court, ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal, and actual innocence. (Doc. 1 at 6-7). Respondent argues the petition lacks merit and Petitioner has filed a reply. (Doc. 28, 30).[2]

II. ANALYSIS

Petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus relief unless the state court's adjudication on the merits:

(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 presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Petitioner bears the burden of establishing that he is entitled to relief. Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002). That burden is "difficult to meet, " however, as the decisions of the state court are reviewed under a "highly deferential standard" and afforded "the benefit of the doubt." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786, 788 (2011); Woodford, 537 U.S. at 24 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Trial Court's Abuse of Discretion (Claim 1)

Petitioner asserts the trial court abused its discretion in declining to remove defense counsel when he refused to challenge the arrest warrant affidavit. (Doc. 1 at 6; Doc. 2 at 5-14). Relying on a purported conflict and lengthy arguments presented in state court, Petitioner reiterates that he "did show sufficient cause for substitution." (Doc. 2 at 16, 18; Doc. 30 at 6). He acknowledges, however, that the trial court addressed the alleged conflict by appointing a second attorney, in lieu of removing the attorney initially appointed in the case. (Doc. 2 at 19; Doc. 30 at 6). Under these circumstances, Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the state court's denial of relief on this ground was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law. Therefore, his first claim fails.

Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel (Part of Claim 1)

Next, Petitioner raises three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court reviews those claims under a "doubly deferential" standard, taking "a highly deferential' look at counsel's performance, " under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689 (1984), "through the deferential lens of § 2254(d).'" Cullen v. Pinholster, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1403 (2011) (quoted cases omitted). In light of the deference accorded by section 2254(d)(1), "[t]he pivotal question is whether the state court's application of the Strickland standard was unreasonable." Harrington, 131 S.Ct. at 785.

To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. The Court need not address both components if the petitioner makes an insufficient showing on one. Id. at 697. To establish deficient performance, a petitioner must show that his attorney's actions "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 689. In evaluating an attorney's performance, there is a "strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance, " or that under the circumstances the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy. Id. at 689. Under Strickland 's prejudice prong, a ...


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