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Mason v. Davis

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

May 9, 2018

RYAN KEITH MASON (TDCJ No. 1880542), Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.



         Petitioner Ryan Keith Mason, a Texas inmate, has filed a pro se application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which he was allowed to amend. See Dkt. Nos. 3 & 17. This resulting action has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference from Senior United States District Judge Sam R. Cummings. For the reasons explained below, the Court should deny Mason's habeas petition as amended.

         Applicable Background

         In 2013, a jury in Ellis County, Texas found Mason “guilty of possession of a controlled substance, namely methamphetamine, in an amount of four grams or more but less than 200 grams, with intent to deliver, and assessed his punishment, enhanced by prior felony convictions, at sixty-eight years' imprisonment, ‘to be served consecutive with any other sentences and parole revocations, beginning after the other sentences are completed.'” Mason v. State, No. 10-13-00368-CR, 2014 WL 5093999, at *1 (Tex. App. - Waco Oct. 9, 2014, pet. ref'd); see State v. Mason, No. 369847CR (40th Dist. Ct., Ellis Cty., Tex.). This criminal judgment was affirmed as modified, to reflect that Mason's “sentence shall begin when the judgment and sentence from the 13th District Court in Navarro County in Cause No. 00-00-30241-CR for possession of a penalty-group 1 controlled substance, in an amount of over four grams but under 200 grams, with intent to deliver, whose sentence is fifteen years' imprisonment, shall have ceased to operate.” Mason, 2014 WL 5093999, at *9. And the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the “CCA”) refused discretionary review. See Mason v. State, PD-1425-14 (Tex. Crim. App. Apr. 1, 2015). The CCA also denied Mason's state habeas petition without written order on the findings of the trial court without a hearing. See Ex parte Mason, WR-83, 957-01 (Tex. Crim. App. Mar. 2, 2016) [Dkt. No. 11-17]; see also Dkt. No. 14-2 at 32-34 (trial court findings of fact and conclusions of law).

         The issue raised in Mason's Section 2254 application as amended is whether his trial counsel, Mark D. Griffith, violated Mason's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel by allegedly failing to convey a particular plea offer to Mason and, relatedly, whether the CCA's consideration - and denial - of this claim was unreasonable.

         Legal Standards

         I. Review of State Court Adjudications Generally

         Where 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 adjudication on direct appeal is due the same deference under Section 2254(d) as an adjudication in a state post-conviction proceeding. See, e.g., Dowthitt v. Johnson, 230 F.3d 733, 756-57 (5th Cir. 2000) (a finding made by the CCA on direct appeal was an “issue ... adjudicated on the merits in state proceedings, ” to be “examine[d] ... with the deference demanded by [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (the “AEDPA”)]” under “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); see also Lopez v. Smith, 574 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1, 2 (2014) (per curiam) (“We have emphasized, time and time again, that the AEDPA prohibits the federal courts of appeals from relying on their own precedent to conclude that a particular constitutional principle is ‘clearly established.'” (citation omitted)).

         A decision constitutes an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law if “the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] 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). “For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.... A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Under § 2254(d), a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or ... could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of [the Supreme] Court.” Id. at 102 (internal quotation marks omitted); see Evans v. Davis, 875 F.3d 210, 216 (5th Cir. 2017) (recognizing that Section 2254(d) tasks courts “with considering not only the arguments and theories the state habeas court actually relied upon to reach its ultimate decision but also all the arguments and theories it could have relied upon” (citation omitted)).

         The Supreme Court has further explained that “[e]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (internal quotation marks omitted). And “even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102. The Supreme Court has explained that, “[i]f this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be, ” where, “[a]s amended by AEDPA, § 2254(d) stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings, ” but “[i]t preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this Court's precedents, ” and “[i]t goes no further.” Id. Thus, “[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must 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. at 103; accord Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. 12, 20 (2013) (“If this standard is difficult to meet - and it is - that is because it was meant to be. We will not lightly conclude that a State's criminal justice system has experienced the extreme malfunction for which federal habeas relief is the remedy.” (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citations omitted)).

         As to Section 2254(d)(2)'s requirement that a petitioner show that the state court adjudication “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, ” the Supreme Court has explained that “a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance” and that federal habeas relief is precluded even where the state court's factual determination is debatable. Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 303 (2010). Under this standard, “it is not enough to show that a state court's decision was incorrect or erroneous. Rather, a petitioner must show that the decision was objectively unreasonable, a substantially higher threshold requiring the petitioner to show that a reasonable factfinder must conclude that the state court's determination of the facts was unreasonable.” Batchelor v. Cain, 682 F.3d 400, 405 (5th Cir. 2012) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted).

         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 Richter, 562 U.S. at 98 (“[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.”); Pondexter v. Dretke, 346 F.3d 142, 148 (5th Cir. 2003) (“a federal habeas court is authorized by Section 2254(d) to review only a state court's ‘decision, ' and not the written opinion explaining that decision” (quoting Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc) (per curiam))); cf. Evans, 875 F.3d at 216 n.4 (even where “[t]he state habeas court's analysis [is] far from thorough, ” a federal court “may not review [that] decision de novo simply because [it finds the state court's] written opinion ‘unsatisfactory'” (quoting Neal, 286 F.3d at 246)).

         Section 2254 thus creates a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). To overcome this standard, a petitioner must show that “there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 98. That is, a petitioner must, in sum, “show, based on the state-court record alone, that any argument or theory the state habeas court could have relied on to deny [him] relief would ...

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