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Gatson v. Davis

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

March 27, 2019

KENNIS EARL GATSON, # 1702500, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.



         By Special Order 3-251, this habeas case has been referred for findings, conclusions, and recommendation. Based on the relevant findings and applicable law, the petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 should be DENIED with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Kennis Earl Gatson (Petitioner), an inmate currently incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (TDCJ-CID), filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction for aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon, enhanced by two prior felony convictions. The respondent is Lorie Davis, Director, TDCJ-CID (Respondent).

         A. State Court Proceedings

         Petitioner was charged with aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon, and two prior felony convictions were alleged for the enhancement of punishment. (See doc. 20-1 at 5.) A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to seventy-five years' confinement. (See Id. at 41-42.) On May 30, 2012, the Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. (See

         On October 24, 2012, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) refused Petitioner's petition for discretionary review (PDR). (See id.) He filed an application for state writ of habeas corpus on September 11, 2013. (See doc. 21-23 at 6-17.) It was denied by the TCCA on March 21, 2018, without a written order on the findings of the trial court without a hearing. (See doc. 21-14.)

         B. Substantive Claims

         Petitioner's habeas petition, received on April 13, 2018, appears to raise these grounds:

         (1) Counsel's ineffectiveness constructively denied Petitioner counsel, so prejudice should be presumed under United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984);

         (2) Counsel was ineffective for failing to:

(a) investigate;
(b) cross-examine or call witnesses; and
(c) develop a defense at sentencing; and

         (3) Petitioner is actually innocent due to his counsel's failure to request further DNA testing. (See doc. 3 at 6; doc. 10 at 14-22.) Respondent filed a response on September 5, 2018. (See doc. 22). Petitioner filed a reply on September 25, 2018. (See doc. 23.)


         Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1217, on April 24, 1996. Title I of the Act applies to all federal petitions for habeas corpus filed on or after its effective date. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326 (1997). Because Petitioner filed his petition after its effective date, the Act applies.

         Title I of AEDPA substantially changed the way federal courts handle habeas corpus actions. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, a state prisoner may not obtain relief with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -

(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.

         “In the context of federal habeas proceedings, a resolution (or adjudication) on the merits is a term of art that refers to whether a court's disposition of the case was substantive, as opposed to procedural.” Miller v. Johnson, 200 F.3d 274, 281 (5th Cir. 2000).

         Section 2254(d)(1) concerns pure questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact. Martin v. Cain, 246 F.3d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 2001). A decision is contrary to clearly established federal law within the meaning of § 2254(d)(1) “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). As for the “unreasonable application” standard, a writ must issue “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id. at 413; accord Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001). Likewise, a state court unreasonably applies Supreme Court precedent if it “unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 407. “[A] federal habeas court making the ‘unreasonable application' inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 409; accord Penry, 532 U.S. at 793. As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus relief 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. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). A petitioner must show that there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Id. at 98.

         A federal district court must be deferential to state court findings supported by the record. See Pondexterv. Dretke, 346 F.3d 142, 149-152 (5th Cir. 2003). The AEDPA has modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications to prevent federal habeas “retrials and to ensure that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law. Beel v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002); see Williams, 529 U.S. at 404. A state application that is denied without written order by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is an adjudication on the merits. Singleton v. Johnson, 178 F.3d 381, 384 (5thCir. 1999); Ex parte Torres, 943 S.W.2d 469, 472 (Tex. Grim. App. 1997) (holding a denial signifies an adjudication on the merits while a “dismissal” means the claim was declined on grounds other than the merits).

         Section 2254(d)(2) concerns questions of fact. Moore v. Johnson, 225 F.3d 495, 501 (5th Cir. 2000). Under § 2254(d)(2), federal courts “give deference to the state court's findings unless they were ‘based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.'” Chambers v. Johnson, 218 F.3d 360, 363 (5th Cir. 2000). The resolution of factual issues by the state court is presumptively correct and will not be disturbed unless the state prisoner rebuts the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).


         The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides in relevant part that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” U.S. Const. art. VI. It guarantees a criminal defendant the effective assistance of counsel. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984); Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387, 396 (1985). To successfully state a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the prisoner must demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced his or her defense. Id. at 687. A failure to establish either prong of the Strickland test ...

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