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Sheffield v. Davis

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

May 31, 2017

DARLA MARIE SHEFFIELD, TDCJ #01769407, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.



         The petitioner, Darla Marie Sheffield (TDCJ #01769407), was recently released from the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division ("TDCJ") and is now in a halfway house (Dkt. 78). Sheffield has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging a state court conviction. Respondent Lorie Davis has filed a motion for summary judgment accompanied by the appropriate state-court records (Dkt. 62-Dkt. 64). Sheffield has responded (Dkt. 72).

         After reviewing all of the pleadings, the record, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that the Respondent is entitled to summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 26, 2012, a Galveston County jury convicted Sheffield of driving while intoxicated (Dkt. 62-2 at p. 21). Prior convictions for driving while intoxicated elevated the charge to a felony (Dkt. 62-1 at p. 6). See Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.42(a), 49.09(b)(2). The jury also found that Sheffield had used her car as a deadly weapon (Dkt. 62-2 at p. 22). Sheffield received ten years in prison (Dkt. 62-2 at p. 26).

         Sheffield's DWI arrest was somewhat unusual in that it did not follow either a conventional traffic stop or, thankfully, a car crash; instead, it resulted from concerned citizens' calls to 911 to report a car driving erratically on Seawall Boulevard in Galveston ("Seawall") in the middle of the day on February 4, 2011 (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 11, 29-30, 99; Dkt. 62-9 at p. 117). Sheffield, against the advice of her counsel, took the stand and insisted that, while she was drunk on the date of her arrest, [1] she did not drive (Dkt. 62-9 at pp. 144, 173, 180). Sheffield grounded that defense on the fact-and it is an undisputed one-that no police officer ever saw her behind the wheel. However, the State presented other witnesses at trial who did, including one man who testified that he was a passenger in her car until, frightened by her driving, he made her pull over at a Wendy's on Seawall and let him out. Sheffield was arrested next to her car within sight of that Wendy's. The material testimony offered by the State is summarized below.

         a. Benjamin Mills

         An acquaintance of Sheffield's, Benjamin Mills, testified that he and Sheffield lived in the same boarding house in Galveston on the date of Sheffield's arrest (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 19-20). That morning, Mills was sitting on the porch of the boarding house when Sheffield walked up to him with a beer in her hand (Dkt. 62-7 at p. 21). The two sat and talked for a while, during which time Mills went to a nearby store and got a beer of his own (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 22, 31-32). Sheffield then told Mills that she was going to the liquor store and offered him a ride in her car, which he accepted (Dkt. 62-7 at p. 22). Sheffield drove Mills to the liquor store, where Sheffield bought "some kind of a liquor, like whiskey" and began drinking it in the parking lot (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 23, 31). After drinking in the liquor store parking lot for approximately ten or fifteen minutes, Sheffield pulled onto Seawall heading west (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 23-24).

         Sheffield cruised west "like she was sightseeing" until Mills began "trying to get [Sheffield] to take [him] back to the house because [he] had to get ready to go to work" (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 24-25). Sheffield then turned around and started driving back east on Seawall in a manner that was "real fast" and "kind of reckless"-running red lights and "swerving between the lanes and, you know, like dodging cars and stuff (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 25-27, 32). Because there were "quite a few" cars on the road and he was afraid of getting into a car wreck, Mills asked Sheffield to pull into a Wendy's on Seawall so that he could get out (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 26-28). Sheffield pulled into the Wendy's parking lot going the wrong way (meaning she entered through the parking lot's exit lane) and "nicked" a car in the parking lot (Dkt. 62-7 at pp. 34, 36). Mills got out of the car at Wendy's, and Sheffield "drove and left" (Dkt. 62-7 at p. 27).

         b. Kenneth Edward

         Kenneth Edward testified that, on the day of Sheffield's arrest, he turned onto Seawall from the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store and began heading east (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 6-7). He pulled into the right lane, and when he looked in his rear-view mirror he saw a gray Honda Passport[2] "coming at an enormous amount of speed" in the left lane (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 7, 34). Edward veered off of Seawall into an adjacent parallel parking lane[3] "so the vehicle wouldn't sideswipe [him] or run into [him]" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 7). While in the parking lane, Edward saw other cars ahead swerving to avoid being hit by the same Passport, which continued "traveling at a high rate of speed" down Seawall until Edward quickly "lost sight of [it]" (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 10-11). Edward pulled out of the parking lane and continued east down Seawall (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 10). He caught up to the Passport while the Passport was sitting at a red light, and he called 911 (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 11). When the light turned green, the Passport began moving through the intersection "at a slow rate of speed[, ]" drove "about . . . halfway up the block, " and then suddenly "just took off real fast [and] made a left turn ... in the Wendy's exit" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 14).

         Still on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, Edward "turned on 24th Street which runs parallel to the exit of Wendy's" and stopped (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 16-18). The Passport entered the Wendy's drive-through lane going the wrong way "pretty fast" and came "within inches" of striking another car head-on, though the two cars averted a serious collision because "[a]t the last minute they both slammed on their brakes" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 16). The Wendy's drive-through customer got out of his car, at which point the Passport "backed up and jumped up on the curb" between the other car and the Wendy's building to get around the other car (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 16). As the Passport went around the other car, the driver of the other car had to "[take] a couple quick steps to the back of his vehicle to the trunk part" to avoid being struck by the Passport (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 16-19). The Passport then continued going the wrong way through the Wendy's drive-through lane until it rounded the building "and came out, you know, the entrance part" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 19). Edward caught a glimpse of the driver; he "noticed that it was a white-at that time [he] thought it was a white guy, Caucasian guy" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 20).

         Edward rounded the block and pulled back onto Seawall, again going east (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 20-21). The Passport was parked on Seawall facing east, and Edward told the 911 dispatcher that the car had pulled over (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 21). Edward drove past the Passport, and when he did he saw a man walking up to the Passport's passenger-side window (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 21-22). The driver, whom Edward identified as Sheffield at trial, was still in the Passport's driver's seat (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 22, 37, 40). Edward rounded another block and came back down Seawall, this time headed west (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 22). He drove by the Passport again, and this time he saw a police car behind the Passport and "three people standing there, you know, on the Seawall, two people with a patrol officer" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 22). One of the two people standing with the police officer was the driver, Sheffield; the other appeared to Edward to be the man who had approached the Passport's passenger-side window a few moments before (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 22-23, 40).

         c. William Wilkinson

         William Wilkinson owned an air-conditioning and heating business and was a former deputy sheriff who still held a license from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 51, 69). On the day of Sheffield's arrest, Wilkinson was in Galveston for a conference and vacation with his wife and another couple, and the four were in a pickup driven by Wilkinson's friend (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 52-53). The pickup was stopped at a red light facing south, waiting to turn onto Seawall (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 52). When the light turned green, Wilkinson's friend began to enter the intersection; but Wilkinson told his friend to stop the pickup because he saw another vehicle traveling down Seawall "at a high rate of speed" that looked like "it wasn't going to stop" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 52).

         The other vehicle did indeed run the red light, and Wilkinson's friend turned left onto Seawall and followed it (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 53). As his friend's pickup followed the other vehicle down Seawall, Wilkinson observed that the other vehicle "failed to maintain a single lane of traffic multiple times, almost rear-ended several different vehicles[, and] would stop at a green light and run the red lights, or attempt to run-slide through the red lights" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 53). The other vehicle then made a left turn into a Wendy's parking lot when it did not have the right of way, forcing "oncoming traffic [to] come to a complete stop" (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 54). When the car entered the Wendy's parking lot, Wilkinson saw a passenger get out (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 54, 58). Wilkinson told his friend to pull over on Seawall, and Wilkinson got out of the pickup so that he could try to flag the other car down (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 58-59).

         As the other vehicle pulled out of the Wendy's parking lot back onto Seawall, Wilkinson flagged it down, and it pulled over on Seawall facing east (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 59-60). The driver, whom Wilkinson identified as Sheffield at trial, rolled the windows down, and Wilkinson walked up to the passenger-side window and asked Sheffield for her keys (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 60, 63). At first, the keys would not come out of the ignition because the vehicle was still in drive, and Wilkinson had to tell Sheffield to put her vehicle in park (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 60-61). After getting the vehicle into park, Sheffield gave Wilkinson her keys but immediately asked him to give them back (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 61). When Wilkinson refused to return the keys and instead put them in his pocket, Sheffield got out of her car and began yelling at him and striking him (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 61-62). Police officers arrived "[v]ery quickly" after Sheffield began trying to get her keys back (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 62).

         d. Rogelio Franco

         Rogelio Franco was a patrol officer for the Galveston Police Department (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 98). He arrested Sheffield on suspicion of driving while intoxicated after responding to a call "in reference to a reckless driver that had struck several vehicles" at a Wendy's on Seawall (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 99). After getting the call, Franco drove south down a street that intersected Seawall near the Wendy's (Dkt. 62-8 at p. 99). When he got to the intersection with Seawall, he saw a gray Honda Passport parked in a no-parking zone "in the middle of the intersection" and "observed a female approaching a male" (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 99-101, 106). Franco got out of his patrol car, and the man (whom Franco later identified as Wilkinson) gave him a set of car keys that he had gotten from the woman (Dkt. 62-8 at pp. 103-04; Dkt. 62-9 at pp. 13-14). Franco noted that the woman showed numerous signs of intoxication, including a strong odor of alcohol on her breath; red, bloodshot, glassy eyes; a blank, glazed look on her face; slurred speech; a loud tone of voice; an argumentative demeanor; and the inability to stand without swaying or walk without staggering (Dkt. 62-9 at p. 9). The woman also admitted to drinking alcohol and had an open container of alcohol in her vehicle (Dkt. 62-9 at p. 9). Franco arrested the woman, whom he identified at trial as Sheffield (Dkt. 62-8 at 104-05).

         After the jury found her guilty, Sheffield appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the jury's finding that she used her car as a deadly weapon and that the trial judge erred by limiting her cross-examination of Wilkinson. The First Court of Appeals of Texas affirmed. See Sheffield v. State, No. 01-12-00209-CR, 2013 WL 5638878 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist] Oct. 15, 2013, pet. ref d). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied discretionary review. See Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Case Number PD-1661-13. Sheffield pursued collateral review by filing a state habeas petition, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied without opinion. See Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Case Number WR-81, 746-01.

         Sheffield then filed this federal habeas petition. She has brought numerous grounds for relief, though they all fall into one of three categories: (1) claims that her conviction was supported by insufficient evidence; (2) claims that her trial lawyers provided ineffective assistance; and (3) a claim that her rights under the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause were violated by the trial judge's limitations on cross-examination of Wilkinson.


         A. Habeas Corpus

         Sheffield's federal habeas petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Lindh v. Murphy, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 2068 (1997). The intent of the AEDPA is to avoid federal habeas "retrials" and "ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under [the] law." Bell v. Cone, 122 S.Ct. 1843, 1849(2002).

         The provisions of Section 2254(d) create a highly deferential standard, thereby demanding that state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt. Woodford v. Visciotti, 123 S.Ct. 357, 360 (2002). A federal court cannot grant a writ of habeas corpus with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's decision:

(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).

         "Pure questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact are reviewed under § 2254(d)(1), and questions of fact are reviewed under § 2254(d)(2)." Martin v. Cain, 246 F.3d 471, 475-76 (5th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks omitted).

         A state court decision is contrary to clearly established law if the decision contradicts the governing law set forth by the Supreme Court or if the state court decides a case differently than the Court's precedent when the facts are materially indistinguishable. Early v. Packard, 123 S.Ct. 362, 365 (2002). A state court unreasonably applies federal law if the court "identifies the correct governing legal principle . . . but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Williams v. Taylor, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1523 (2000). To be an unreasonable application of federal law, the state court decision must be objectively unreasonable and more than simply incorrect or erroneous. Lockyer v. Andrade, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 1174 (2003).

         Because the AEDPA grants great deference to state determinations of factual issues, a claim adjudicated on its merits in state court and based on factual decisions will not be overturned on factual grounds unless the court determines that the decision was both incorrect and objectively unreasonable. Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1522. In reviewing a federal habeas petition, the court must presume that a factual determination made by the state court is correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         B. Summary Judgment

         A court may grant summary judgment when the evidence shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its summary judgment motion and "identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . .'" that demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 106 S.Ct. at 2553. In response, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file show that there is a genuine issue of material fact requiring resolution through a trial. Id. If the nonmoving party is unable to meet this burden, the motion for summary judgment will be granted. FED. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "applies with equal force in the context of habeas corpus cases." Clark v. Johnson, 202 F.3d 760, 764 (5th Cir. 2000). The rule, however, only applies to the extent that it does not conflict with the habeas rules. Smith v. Cockrell, 311 F.3d 661, 668 (5th Cir. 2002), overruled on other grounds, Tennard v. Dretke, 124 S.Ct. 2562 (2004). Generally, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court resolves any doubts and draws any inferences in favor of the nonmoving party-Hunt v. Cromartie, 119 S.Ct. 1545, 1551-52 (1999)-but 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) commands that factual findings of the state court are to be presumed correct. Thus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) overrides the general summary judgment rule. Smith, 311 F.3d at 668. The petitioner is required to rebut the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence; otherwise, the court will presume the factual determination of the state court is correct. Id.; 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).


         a. The Constitutional standard and the essential substantive elements

         Sheffield's petition is often very difficult to understand, but the Court first divines a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict her. In order to obtain habeas relief on this ground, Sheffield must show that, "upon the record evidence adduced at the trial, no rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 324 (1979). The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Id. at 319. The essential substantive elements of the criminal offense are established by the state's criminal law. Id. at 324 n.16; Hughes v. Johnson, 191 F.3d 607, 619 (5th Cir. 1999).

         "Jackson leaves juries broad discretion in deciding what inferences to draw from the evidence presented at trial, requiring only that jurors draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts." Coleman v. Johnson, 132 S.Ct. 2060, 2064 (2012) (quotation marks omitted). "[T]he only question ... is whether [the jury's] finding was so insupportable as to fall below the threshold of bare rationality." Id. at 2065. The prosecution is not "under an affirmative duty to rule out every hypothesis except that of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt[, ]" and the evidence of guilt is not insufficient simply because the record might support conflicting inferences. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319, 326. In fact, the resolution of conflicting inferences and hypotheses is perhaps the factfinder's most important role, and one that Jackson took great pains to preserve. See Id. ("This familiar standard gives full play to the responsibility of the trier of fact fairly to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts."); see also Gibson v. Collins, 947 F.2d 780, 783 (5th Cir. 1991) ("Under Jackson, we may find the evidence sufficient to support a conviction even though the facts also support one or more reasonable hypotheses consistent with the defendant's claim of innocence.").

         Sheffield was convicted under Section 49.04 of the Texas Penal Code. A person commits an offense under that statute when he or she "is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place." Tex. Penal Code § 49.04(a). "'Intoxicated' means . . . not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body[.]" TEX. PENAL CODE § 49.01(2)(A). DWI is a strict-liability crime in Texas; the State does not have to prove a specific culpable mental state such as intent, recklessness, or knowledge. Farmer v. State, 411 S.W.3d 901, 905 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). The jury also found that Sheffield used her car as a deadly weapon. A "deadly weapon, " under Texas law, can be: (1) anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury; or (2) anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. Tex. Penal Code § 1.07(17). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has held that "[a] motor vehicle may become a deadly weapon if the manner of its use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. Specific intent to use a motor vehicle as a deadly weapon is not required." Drichas v. State, 175 S.W.3d 795, 797-98 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005) (citation omitted) (applying the Jackson standard and holding that a jury finding that the defendant used his car as a deadly weapon while evading police was adequately supported by evidence-.showing that the defendant "disregarded traffic signs and signals, drove erratically, wove between lanes and within lanes, turned abruptly into a construction zone, knocking down barricades as he did so, and drove on the wrong side on the highway" when there was other traffic on the road during the chase).

         b. Sheffield's claims ...

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