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Ricketts v. Davis

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

May 14, 2018

LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.



         Before the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by Petitioner, Rodney Ricketts, a state prisoner confined in the Correctional Institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), against Lorie Davis, director of TDCJ, Respondent. After considering the pleadings and relief sought by Petitioner, the Court has concluded that the petition should be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 7, 2013, in Criminal District Court Number Four, Tarrant County, Texas, a jury found Petitioner guilty of aggregate theft of the value of $20, 000 or more but less than $100, 000, between January 19, 2011, and October 22, 2011. Clerk's R. 172, ECF No. 12-9. The jury found the habitual-offender notice in the indictment, alleging three prior felony convictions out of North Carolina and a third-degree-felony conviction out of Harris County, Texas, true and assessed his punishment at 49 years' imprisonment in TDCJ. Id. at 180. Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused his petition for discretionary review. Petitioner did not seek writ of certiorari or state habeas-corpus relief. Pet. 3, ECF No. 1; Docket Sheet, ECF No. 11-2. This federal habeas petition followed.

         The appellate court set out the factual background of the case as follows:

In October 2011, Bedford police officer Miles McLain responded to an activated security alarm at a Subway restaurant. Upon arrival, Officer McLain saw that the door to the store was open and a light was on. Officer McLain heard a loud drilling noise coming from inside the shop. After calling for back-up, Officer McLain hid behind a pillar outside the front of the store. As [Petitioner] left the store, Officer McLain ordered him to the ground and arrested him.
In the ensuing investigation, the police connected [Petitioner] to a string of twenty-six burglaries beginning in January 2011. Although the damage varied by location, the store owners suffered a variety of losses including property damage, theft of electronics, theft of tools, drilled safes, stolen cash, and the removal of several books of Texas Department of Public Safety inspection stickers.

Mem. Op. 2-3, ECF No. 11-3.

         II. ISSUES

         In four grounds for relief, Petitioner claims that the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove the essential elements of the offense; he received ineffective assistance of counsel; and the judgment is void due to an illegal sentence. Pet. 6-7, ECF No. 1.


         In a motion to dismiss the petition, Respondent asserted that the petition should be dismissed without prejudice as a mixed petition. Resp't's Mot. to Dismiss 6, ECF No. 10. That motion and Petitioner's request for a stay, so he could exhaust his unexhausted claims in state court, were denied.[1] Order, ECF No. 17. Respondent does not believe that the petition is barred by successiveness and reserved the right to challenge Petitioner's claims on the merits and the timeliness of the petition. Resp't's Mot. to Dismiss 3, ECF No. 10. Following the Court's denial of her motion to dismiss, however, Respondent has not filed any further response.


         A § 2254 habeas petition is governed by the heightened standard of review provided for by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under the Act, a writ of habeas corpus should be granted only if a state court arrives at a decision that is contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court or that is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the record before the state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2); Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100-01 (2011). This standard is difficult to meet and “stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. Additionally, the statute requires that federal courts give great deference to a state court's factual findings. Hill v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 481, 485 (5th Cir. 2000). Section 2254(e)(1) provides that a determination of a factual issue made by a state court shall be presumed to be correct. The petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 399 (2000).

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Under his first ground, Petitioner claims “[t]he evidence presented by the prosecution, at trial, was constitutionally insufficient to prove the essential elements of the crime.” Pet. 6, ECF No. 1. On direct appeal, Petitioner challenged only the sufficiency of the evidence on the element of value, based on the fact that “in several instances the property owners testified to the replacement cost of the stolen items without first attempting to ascertain the fair market value near the time of the theft.” Appellant's Br. 9, doc. 12-10. To the extent Petitioner attempts to rely on new legal or factual theories in this federal petition for the first time-i.e., that the evidence is insufficient to prove other elements of the offense, the claim is unexhausted for purposes of federal habeas review. Petitioners seeking habeas-corpus relief under § 2254 are required to exhaust all claims in state court before requesting federal collateral relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); Fisher v. Texas, 169 F.3d 295, 302 (5th Cir. 1999). The exhaustion requirement is satisfied when the substance of the federal habeas claim has been fairly presented to the highest court of the state. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842-48 (1999); Fisher, 169 F.3d at 302; Carter v. Estelle, 677 F.2d 427, 443 (5th Cir. 1982). In Texas, the highest state court for criminal matters is the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Richardson v. Procunier, 762 F.2d 429, 431-32 (5th Cir. 1985). Therefore, a Texas prisoner can satisfy the exhaustion requirement by presenting both the factual and legal substance of a claim to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in either a petition for discretionary review or a state habeas-corpus proceeding pursuant to article 11.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure in a procedurally proper manner. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 11.07 (West 2015); Depuy v. Butler, 837 F.2d 699, 702 (5th Cir. 1988). Because Petitioner raised only a sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim regarding the element of value on direct appeal, the claim is addressed only to that extent here.

         Federal courts have extremely limited habeas review of claims based on the sufficiency of the evidence, and the standard for reviewing such claims is supplied by Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979). In Jackson, the United States Supreme Court held that the correct standard of review when a state prisoner challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in a federal habeas-corpus proceeding is “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. at 319. Under Jackson, courts view any required credibility determinations in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict. United States v. Wise, 221 F.3d 140, 154 (5th Cir. 2000). Determining the weight and credibility of the evidence is within the sole province of the jury. United States v. Martinez, 975 F.2d 159, 161 (5th Cir. 1992). Courts do not second-guess the weight or credibility given the evidence. United States v. Ramos-Garcia, 184 F.3d 463, 465 (5th Cir. 1999). Further, where a state appellate court has conducted a thoughtful review of the evidence, its determination is entitled to great deference. Callins v. Collins, 998 F.2d 269, 276 (5th Cir. 1993).

         Applying the Jackson standard and relevant state law, the appellate court addressed the claim as follows:

To obtain a third-degree-felony theft conviction, the State needed to prove that the total value of property stolen equaled or exceeded $20, 000. Property includes any tangible personal property or any document, including money, which embodies something of value. On review, we must give proper deference to the valuation assigned by the trier of fact. As such, we will reverse only if the evidence shows that no rational jury could ...

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