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Robinson v. United States

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

June 20, 2018

JULIUS OMAR ROBINSON (02), Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Respondent.

         (Death-penalty Case)

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER TRANSFERRING 60(b) MOTION

          TERRY R. MEANS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Julius Omar Robinson's Motion for Relief from Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), filed on February 28, 2018. (“Motion, ” CV doc. 10).[1] Robinson moves to reopen the Court's judgment in a proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The Motion challenges the validity of Robinson's conviction by attacking various procedural rulings with new case law. Because the Motion is in actuality a second or successive petition for habeas relief, the Court TRANSFERS the Motion to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

         Background

         This Court sentenced Robinson to death in 2002 after a jury convicted him of murdering Johnny Lee Shelton and Juan Reyes. Robinson was also sentenced to life imprisonment for complicity in a criminal enterprise resulting in the death of Rudolfo Resendez. The Court assessed a second sentence of life imprisonment and a consecutive 300-month sentence on two other counts. (CR doc. 1740.) In 2004, the Fifth Circuit affirmed Robinson's convictions and sentences. United States v. Robinson, 367 F.3d 278 (5th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 1005 (2004).

         In 2005, Robinson moved to vacate the judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (CR doc. 2279.) Following three years of litigation, the Court denied the motion. Robinson v. United States, No. 4:05-CV-756-Y, No. 4:00-CR-260-Y(2), 2008 WL 4906272 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 7, 2008) (CR doc. 2453.) Robinson moved for reconsideration, which this Court denied. (CR doc. 2456, 2465.) The Court by separate order denied a certificate of appealability (“COA”). (CR doc. 2473.) In 2010, the Fifth Circuit denied Robinson's request for a COA and denied rehearing. (CR doc. 2477, 2482). The Supreme Court denied Robinson's petition for certiorari. (CV doc. 7.)

         Robinson moves to reopen the § 2255 proceedings based on Supreme Court cases that have been decided since this Court denied relief. Respondent contends the Motion fails to meet the standards for relief under Rule 60(b) and, to the extent it raises new claims, it should be transferred to the Court of Appeals as a second or successive petition.

         Applicable Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) allows a district court to grant relief from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for any reason that justifies relief. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). The purpose of Rule 60(b) is to “balance the principle of finality of a judgment with the interest of the court in seeing that justice is done in light of all the facts.” Hernandez v. Thaler, 630 F.3d 420, 429-30 (5th Cir. 2011). To succeed under Rule 60(b)(6), the movant must show that extraordinary circumstances exist that justify the reopening of a final judgment. See Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535 (2005).

         District courts have jurisdiction to consider Rule 60(b) motions in 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas proceedings so long as the motion attacks not the substance of the court's resolution of the claim on the merits, but some defect in the integrity of the habeas proceedings. See Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 532. Because 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and § 2255 are nearly identical in substance, this Circuit applies Gonzalez to Rule 60(b) motions to reopen § 2255 proceedings. See Williams v. Thaler, 602 F.3d 291, 302 n.5 (5th Cir. 2010); Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974) (section 2255 is “intended to afford federal prisoners a remedy identical in scope to federal habeas corpus”). Examples of Rule 60(b) motions that properly raise a defect in the integrity of the habeas proceedings include a claim of fraud on the court or challenges to a procedural ruling that precluded a merits determination, such as failure to exhaust, procedural default, or time bar. Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 532 nn. 4, 5.

         The law limits the defendant to one § 2255 motion unless he obtains certification for a successive motion from the Court of Appeals. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244, 2255(e), (h); Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 528 (addressing § 2254). Because of the comparative lenience of Rule 60(b), petitioners “sometimes attempt to file what are in fact second-or-successive habeas petitions under the guise of Rule 60(b) motions.” In re Edwards, 865 F.3d 197, 203 (5th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Edwards v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 909 (2017) (citing Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 531-32). A Rule 60(b) motion that (1) presents a new habeas claim, (2) attacks the federal court's previous resolution of a claim on the merits, or (3) presents new evidence or new law in support of a claim already litigated, should be treated as a second or successive habeas petition. See Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 531-32. The rationale is that such motions could circumvent the strict successive-petition requirements in § 2255(h). See Id. (addressing similarly worded provision in § 2244(b)(2)(A)).

         Denial of COA

         Robinson first contends that an erroneously high standard was used in denying a COA on his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. He cites Buck v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 759 (2017) as “the Supreme Court's most recent case on the COA standard” and argues that this Court and the Court of Appeals erred under Buck by making a COA determination on the merits rather than simply asking whether the district court ruling was debatable. Motion, p. 5-9. Robinson argues that the COA is a valid subject for Rule 60(b) relief because it is by definition a “non-merits based decision.” See Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003); see Reply, p. 1.

         To the extent Robinson seeks to reopen this Court's order denying a COA, it is not a proper Rule 60(b) motion. Gonzalez allows the reopening of procedural decisions that precluded a merits determination. Gonzalez, 545 U.S. at 532, n. 4. The denial of COA did not preclude a merits determination; it followed this Court's merits-based ruling on the ineffective-trial-counsel claim. Robinson simply seeks vindication of the claim through a second round of appellate review. It is, “if not in substance a ‘habeas corpus application, ' at least similar enough that failing to subject it to the same requirements ...


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