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Starks v. Stephens

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

December 19, 2013

JAMES LEE STARKS, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIAM STEPHENS, Director Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.

FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

DAVID L. HORAN, Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner James Lee Starks, a Texas prisoner, has filed an petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons stated herein, Petitioner's habeas application should be denied.

Background

On November 9, 2012, Petitioner was found guilty of evading arrest, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, and possession of cocaine and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 15 years imprisonment for the evading arrest and firearm offenses and 25 years imprisonment for the cocaine offense. He did not file a direct appeal. Instead, Petitioner filed two applications for state post-conviction relief, challenging his firearms and cocaine convictions. Both applications were denied without written order. See Ex parte Starks, WR-79, 337-01 & WR-79, 337-02 (Tex. Crim. App. Apr. 24, 2013).

On May 9, 2013, Petitioner submitted this action for mailing to the federal district court. He appears to collaterally challenge all three convictions, contending that his firearms and drug convictions are not supported by DNA or fingerprint evidence, an arrest report contains conflicting information, the prosecutor withheld unspecified exculpatory evidence, he is actually innocent, he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to challenge unspecified judicial misconduct, and he was denied the right to self-representation. See Dkt. No. 3 at 6, 11.

Legal Standards

Where, as here, a state court has already rejected a claim on the merits, a federal court may grant habeas relief on that claim only if the state court adjudication:

(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). A state court decision is "contrary" to clearly established federal law if "it relies on legal rules that directly conflict with prior holdings of the Supreme Court or if it reaches a different conclusion than the Supreme Court on materially indistinguishable facts." Busby v. Dretke, 359 F.3d 708, 713 (5th Cir. 2004). A decision constitutes an "unreasonable application" of clearly established federal law if "the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000).

The Court must presume that a state court's factual determinations are correct and can find those factual findings unreasonable only where the petitioner "rebut[s] the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Gardner v. Johnson, 247 F.3d 551, 560 (5th Cir. 2001). This presumption applies not only to explicit findings of fact but also "to those unarticulated findings which are necessary to the state court's conclusions of mixed law and fact." Valdez v. Cockrell, 274 F.3d 941, 948 n.11 (5th Cir. 2001); see also Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784 (2011) ("[D]etermining whether a state court's decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court's reasoning").

"An application for writ of habeas corpus may be denied on the merits, notwithstanding the failure of the applicant to exhaust the remedies available in the courts of the State." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2). Respondent urges the Court to find Petitioner's challenge to his evading arrest conviction and five of Petitioner's grounds for relief unexhausted or otherwise procedurally defaulted and to dismiss the mixed petition as unexhausted. See Dkt. No. 17 at 5-13. Although Petitioner concedes that he has not exhausted state remedies as to his evading arrest conviction, see Dkt. No. 7 at Question 1, and the state record establishes that he did not raise many of these grounds for relief on direct appeal or in his state habeas petition, see Dkt. No. 14-1 at 7-19 & Dkt. No. 14-3 at 7-19, the undersigned will consider all claims on the merits notwithstanding this procedural bar. See Neville v. Dretke, 423 F.3d 474, 482 (5th Cir. 2005).

Analysis

Lack of DNA or Fingerprint Evidence, Conflicting Testimony, ...


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