United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
OPINION AND ORDER
O'CONNOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by Petitioner, Joel Jonas
White, 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.
December 2013 in Tarrant County, Texas, Petitioner was
charged in a two-count indictment with murder in the shooting
death of Roderick Pass and with attempted capital murder for
shooting at or in the direction of Christopher Dockery, a
peace officer. SHR 72, ECF No. 21-2. On December 15, 2014,
pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner pleaded guilty to
the offenses in the 396th District Court, No. 1347610, and
was sentenced to 35 years' confinement on each count, the
sentences to run concurrently. Id. at 74-86.
Petitioner did not appeal his convictions but did challenge
the convictions in a post-conviction state habeas-corpus
application, which was denied by the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals without written order on the findings of the trial
court. Id. at 2-17 & Action Taken, ECF No. 21-1.
federal petition, Petitioner raises three grounds for relief,
in which he claims that (1) his plea was involuntary; (2) he
received ineffective assistance of trial counsel; and (3) the
state concealed exculpatory evidence. Pet. 6-7, ECF No. 1.
RULE 5 STATEMENT
believes that Petitioner properly exhausted his claims in
state court and that the petition is neither untimely nor
subject to the successive-petition bar. Resp't's
Answer 4, ECF No. 20.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
§ 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. Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100-01 (2011); 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d)(1)-(2). 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. It is the petitioner's burden
to rebut the presumption of correctness through clear and
convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Finally,
when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's
highest criminal court, denies relief on a state
habeas-corpus application without written order, typically it
is an adjudication on the merits, which is likewise entitled
to this presumption. Richter, 562 U.S. at 100;
Ex parte Torres, 943 S.W.2d 469, 472 (Tex. Crim.
App. 1997). In such a situation, a federal court
“should ‘look through' the unexplained
decision to the last related state-court decision
providing” particular reasons, both legal and factual,
“presume that the unexplained decision adopted the same
reasoning, ” and give appropriate deference to that
decision. Wilson v. Sellers, __ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct.
1188, 1191-92 (2018).
his first and second grounds, Petitioner claims that his
guilty plea was involuntary because he was incompetent to
stand trial and that his trial counsel was ineffective by
failing to request a competency evaluation and to develop an
insanity defense. Pet. 8 & Attached Mem. 1-2, ECF No. 1.
criminal defendant has a constitutional right to the
effective assistance of counsel at trial. U.S. Const. amend.
VI, XIV; Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 396 (1985);
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984).
To prevail on an ineffective-assistance claim in the context
of a guilty plea, a defendant must demonstrate that his plea
was rendered unknowing or involuntary by showing that (1)
counsel's representation fell below an objective standard
of reasonableness, and (2) there is a reasonable probability
that, but for counsel's deficient performance, he would
not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to
trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56-59 (1985);
Smith v. Estelle, 711 F.2d 677, 682 (5th Cir. 1983);
see also Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. In assessing
the reasonableness of counsel's representation,
“counsel should be ‘strongly presumed to have
rendered adequate assistance and made all significant
decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional
judgment.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S.
170, 189 (2011) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at
by entering a knowing, intelligent and voluntary guilty plea,
a defendant waives all nonjurisdictional defects in the
proceedings preceding the plea, including all claims of
ineffective assistance of counsel that do not attack the
voluntariness of the guilty plea. Smith, 711 F.2d at
682; Bradbury v. Wainwright, 658 F.2d 1083, 1087
(5th Cir. 1981). A guilty plea is knowing, voluntary and
intelligent if done with sufficient awareness of the relevant
circumstances and likely consequences surrounding the plea.
Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742, 748 (1970). If
a challenged guilty plea is knowing, voluntary and
intelligent, it will be upheld on federal habeas review.
James v. Cain, 56 F.3d 662, 666 (5th Cir. 1995).
supporting facts and legal argument, Petitioner states (all
spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors are in the
I was assessed for competency 12/20/13 by Dr. Norman and on
1/30/14 by Dr. Price. Both found me incompetent to stand
trial and I was sent to the North Texas State Hospital. While
at the hospital I was tested for competency by Dr. Michael
Borynski and found incompetent. Also Dr. Turner and Dr.
Gurkey both opined I was incompetent and would be unable to
regain competency without medication on 4/29/14 with the
396th Court during a phone confrence on the state's
motion to compel involuntary administration of court ordered
medication. I was eventually found competent by a single
psychiatrist at the hospital, however back in the Tarrant
County jail in a different and non-therapeutic environment I
began to decompensate. I was never tested for competency
again even though several months had elapsed since being in
the hospital. The records at North Texas State Hospital
indicated I was caught “cheeking my medication and spit
it out frequently. Dr. Borynski in her competency exam opined
I would likely become medication non-compliant given the
opportunity. When asked directly in open court if I was
taking medication I said to my attorney “no
ma'am”. Then after looking at the hateful glances
from the judge, my attorney and prosecutor I became terrified
and shook my head up and down. I sent an unsworn decleration
from Donald Harris who was present in the holding cell
12/15/14 and witnessed my behavior and the conversation
between me and my attorney. It was sent to Tarrant County
district clerk . . . via mail 10/5/15. I asked that it be
given to Judge Gallagher as evidence. In the decleration Mr.
Donald Harris discusses my unusual behavior. . . . It is well
established a court cannot accept a guilty plea from an
individual that is incompetent.
. . .
My attorney did not spend enough time conversing with me to
determine if I was acting competent. Just because a person
may have a basic factual understanding of the proceedings
does not mean they have a rational understanding or that they
are competent. Since I was previously deemed incompetent by 3
different doctors, when I raised the competency issue with my
attorney. . ., she should have taken the matter seriously and
requested Judge Gallagher order another competency evaluation
just to be on the safe side. My attorney failed to fully
investigate a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. I
displayed bizarre and psychotic behavior before, during and
after the crime. I have a long history of serious mental
illness dating back to 1991 and started treatment with child
psychiatrist Dr. Jeff Wiley in Paducah, KY. I have been to
psychiatric hospitals dozens of times for extended treatment
both in Kentucky and Texas. My attorney failed to search for
these records to attempt to develop a defense. I know the
names and locations of all my previous psychiatrists and
mental hospitals I was committed to. If you merely look at
all the records from the Arlington Police Department, the
interviews with Amanda Gail Vanston, interview notes and
listen to the recorded conversations with the hostage
negotiator and Pastor Stephen Broden it would be difficult
for any reasonable fact finder to reach any other conclusion
besides not guilty by reason of insanity.
Attached Mem. 1-2, ECF No. 1.
trial counsel, Hamida A. Abdal-Khallaq responded to the
allegations as follows in an affidavit submitted in the state
After being appointed to represent [Petitioner] in the
above-referenced case, I visited him five (5) times to
discuss his case and provide information to him to allow him
to make an informed decision as to how he wanted to proceed
with his case. During the pendency of this case, at my
request based on my initial meeting with [Petitioner] and the
recommendation of the MHMRTC Staff Psychiatrist, [Petitioner]
was assessed for competency, found incompetent on December
20, 2013 and sent to N.T.S.H. While at N.T.S.H. we had a
phone conference on April 29, 2014 with the Judge of the
396th, the D.A., myself, my client and personnel at the
hospital for a hearing on the State's Motion to Compel
Involuntary Administration of Court-Ordered Medication, which
I received a letter dated June 2, 2014 stating that
[Petitioner] was still incompetent but could regain
competency in the foreseeable future with extended treatment.
On August 22, 2015 I received a call from an N.T.S.H. staff
person saying that [Petitioner] was stabilized on his
medications and deemed competent. I had an extended
discussion with this person regarding my client's state
of mind. I received an evaluation from the state hospital
dated September 25, 2014 indicating that he had been
evaluated and found competent to stand trial.
During my meetings with my client in court in October of 2014
and in the jail in December of 2014, he indicated that he
wanted to plea bargain his case and that he wanted 20 years
TDC. I was simultaneously preparing for trial and trying to
negotiate a plea offer with the D.A. per my client's
request. The D.A. made an offer of 40 TDC. During my final
jail visit with [Petitioner] on December 13, 2014, we
discussed the pros and cons of all of his options, including
his right to a jury trial, at length. The D.A. made a final
offer of 35 which I discussed with my client. He indicated he
would take 35 but wanted me to ask the D.A. for 25 which I
attempted to get the day of the plea. [Petitioner] was not
pleased that the D.A. would not go down from 35. He then said
he felt he was not competent. I told him the Judge could
order another competency exam. He said he wanted to go forth
with his plea and we proceeded to do so. . . .
Additionally, at every meeting with [Petitioner] after he
returned from N. T. S. H. he appeared competent and was able
to discuss the facts of his case with me and how he wished to
dispose of it. He also indicated at our meetings that he was
taking his medications as prescribed. . . .
SHR 36-38, doc. 21-2.
on the documentary record, counsel's affidavit, and his
own recollection of the plea proceedings, including
petitioner's testimony and demeanor in court, the state
habeas judge entered the following relevant factual findings,
which were later adopted by the Texas Court of Criminal
9. [Petitioner] appeared competent to Hon. Abdal-Khallaq at
all times after he was ...