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Washington v. Davis

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

November 1, 2017

TUAD DAMONN WASHINGTON, TDCJ #2030027, Petitioner,
v.
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIM LAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Tuad Damonn Washington has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus By a Person in State Custody ("Petition") (Docket Entry No. 1), seeking relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 from an aggravated assault conviction in Montgomery County, Texas. The respondent has filed Respondent Davis's Motion for Summary Judgment with Brief in Support ("Respondent's MSJ") (Docket Entry No. 15), along with a copy of the state court records (Docket Entry No. 16) . Washington has filed "Petitioner['s] Response to Respondent['s] Motion for Summary Judgment" ("Petitioner's Response") (Docket Entry No. 17). After considering the pleadings, the state court record, and the applicable law, the court will grant Respondent's MSJ and will dismiss this action for the reasons explained below.

         I. Background

         A Montgomery County grand jury returned an indictment against Washington in cause number 13-01-00068-CR, charging him with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a Montgomery County Sheriff's Deputy who was acting in his official capacity as a public servant (count one) and aggravated assault on a security officer (count two) at the Woodland's Mall, where the incident occurred.[1] The indictment was enhanced for purposes of punishment with allegations that Washington had at least four prior felony convictions for burglary of a habitation, possession of a firearm as a felon (twice), and aggravated robbery.[2] On December 4, 2014, a jury in the 9 th District Court of Montgomery County found Washington guilty as charged in count one, but not guilty as charged in count two.[3] After a separate punishment proceeding, the trial court sentenced Washington to life imprisonment.[4]

         Washington raised eight issues on direct appeal, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, several rulings made by the trial court, and the prosecution's use of a peremptory strike to remove the only black female (Juror #58) who was left on the panel after all of the challenges for cause had been made.[5] An intermediate court of appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion, which summarized all of the evidence presented at trial. See Washington v. State, No. 09-15-00462-CR, 2017 WL 640823 (Tex. App. - Beaumont, Feb. 15, 2017) . In a pro se petition for discretionary review Washington argued that the trial court erred by overruling his defense counsel's objection to the peremptory strike used to remove Juror #58, and that the intermediate court of appeals likewise erred by upholding that decision in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 106 S.Ct. 1712 (1986).[6] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals summarily refused Washington's petition for discretionary review on May 3, 2017.[7]

         Washington now seeks a federal writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to challenge his conviction for aggravated assault on a public servant. Washington raises the same claim that was rejected by the intermediate appellate court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on discretionary review, arguing that the trial court violated Batson by overruling his counsel's objection to the peremptory strike that was used to remove Juror #58 from the panel during voir dire.[8] The respondent moves for summary judgment, arguing that Washington is not entitled to relief because his claim is without merit under the governing federal habeas corpus standard of review.

         II. Standard of Review

         Because Washington's claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court, his Petition is subject to review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Under the AEDPA a federal habeas corpus court may not grant relief unless the state court's adjudication "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[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Likewise, a court may not grant relief on a claim that presents a question of fact unless the petitioner shows that the state court's denial of relief "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) (2) .

         For purposes of review under § 2254(d) (1), "* [a] state court's decision is deemed contrary to clearly established federal law if it reaches a legal conclusion in direct conflict with a prior decision of the Supreme Court or if it reaches a different conclusion than the Supreme Court on materially indistinguishable facts.'" Matamoros v. Stephens, 783 F.3d 212, 215 (5th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted); see also Williams v. Taylor, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1519-20 (2002) . To constitute an "unreasonable application of" clearly established federal law, a state court's holding "must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice." Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quoting White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014)). "To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to 'show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'" Id. (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786-87 (2011)).

         The AEDPA "imposes a 'highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' . . . [which] 'demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'" Renico v. Lett, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 1862 (2010) (citations omitted) . This standard is intentionally "difficult to meet" because it was meant to bar relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings and to preserve federal habeas review as "a 'guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2796, n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring)); see also White. 134 S.Ct. at 1702.

         A state court's factual determinations are also entitled to great deference on federal habeas corpus review. Findings of fact are "presumed to be correct" unless the petitioner rebuts those findings with "clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). This presumption of correctness extends not only to express factual findings, but also to the state court's implicit findings. See Garcia v. Ouarterman, 454 F.3d 441, 444-45 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Summers v. Dretke, 431 F.3d 861, 876 (5th Cir. 2005); Young v. Dretke, 356 F.3d 616, 629 (5th Cir. 2004)). A federal habeas corpus court "may not characterize these state-court factual determinations as unreasonable 'merely because [it] would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'" Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015) (quoting Wood v. Allen, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849 (2010)). "Instead, § 2254(d)(2) requires that [a federal court] accord the state trial court substantial deference." Id.

         III. Discussion

         Washington contends that the trial court erred when it overruled his objection to the peremptory strike that the prosecutor used to remove Juror #58, who was the last black juror remaining on the panel after challenges for cause had been used.[9] Washington argues that he is entitled to relief because the state court's decision to uphold the trial court's ruling violates Batson v. Kentucky- 106 S.Ct. 1712 (1986).

         In Batson the Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that the state violates a black defendant's rights under the Equal Protection Clause by "put[ting] him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposefully excluded." 106 S.Ct. at 1716 (citing Strauder v. West Virginia, 10 Otto 303, 100 U.S. 303, 25 L.Ed. 664 (1880)). Batson established a three-part methodology for determining whether a peremptory challenge was impermissibly based on race:

First, a defendant must make a prima facie showing that a peremptory challenge has been exercised on the basis of race; second, if that showing has been made, the prosecution must offer a race-neutral basis for striking the juror in question; and third, in light of the parties' submissions, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination.

Foster v. Chatman, 136 S.Ct. 1737, 1747 (2016) (quoting Snyder v. Louisiana, 128 S.Ct. 1203, 1207 (2008) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted)); see also Puckett v. Epps, 641 F.3d 657, 663 (5th Cir. 2011) ...


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