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Felan v. Davis

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Victoria Division

September 25, 2019

JESSE FELAN, (TDCJ-CID #02156697) Petitioner,
v.
LORIE DAVIS, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          KENNETH M. HOYT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner, Jesse Felan, seeks habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging a conviction in the 377th Judicial District Court of Victoria County, Texas. Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment and copies of the state court record. Felan has not filed a response, but he seeks leave to amend his petition. The threshold issue is whether Felan has presented meritorious grounds for federal habeas corpus relief. Based on the pleadings, the motions and briefs, the record, and the applicable law, the Court grants respondent's motion, denies Felan's petition, and enters final judgment dismissing the case by separate order. The reasons for these rulings are set out below.

         I. Background

         Felan pleaded guilty to the felony offense of evading arrest or detention. (Cause Number 17-06-30066-D). Felan also pleaded true to the enhancement paragraphs relating to prior convictions for burglary of a building in Cause Number 95-3-16, 099-A and possession of a controlled substance in Cause Number 01-7-18, 964-A. On August 23, 2017, the court sentenced Felan to five years imprisonment. Felan waived his right to appeal. Felan filed an application for state habeas corpus relief on March 29, 2018, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied without written order on May 16, 2018.

         On July 27, 2018, this Court received Felan's federal petition. Felan contends that his conviction is void for the following reasons:

(1) Counsel, Ashley Pall, rendered ineffective assistance during his plea proceedings when counsel coerced Felan into pleading guilty and failed to inform him of the consequences of his plea;
(2) The trial court committed error in applying the law to the facts of his case;
(3) There was insufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt; and
(4) The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ("CCA") "did not answer the mix questions of law."

         II. The Applicable Legal Standards

         This Court reviews Felan's petition for writ of habeas corpus under the federal habeas statutes, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). 28 U.S.C. § 2254; Woods v. Cockrell, 307 F.3d 353, 356 (5th Cir. 2002); Nobles v. Johnson, 127 F.3d 409, 413 (5th Cir. 1997), citing Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997).

         Sections 2254(d)(1) and (2) of AEDPA set out the standards of review for questions of fact, questions of law, and mixed questions of fact and law that result in an adjudication on the merits. An adjudication on the merits "is a term of art that refers to whether a court's disposition of the case is substantive, as opposed to procedural." Miller v. Johnson, 200 F.3d 274, 281 (5th Cir. 2000). A state-court determination of questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact is reviewed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and receives deference unless it "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Hill v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 481, 485 (5th Cir. 2000). A state-court decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court precedent if: (1) the state court's conclusion is "opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law" or (2) the "state court confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent" and arrives at an opposite result. Williams v. Taylor, 120 S.Ct. 1495 (2000). A state court unreasonably applies Supreme Court precedent if it unreasonably applies the correct legal rule to the facts of a particular case, or 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." Id. at 1495. Questions of fact found by the state court are "presumed to be correct. . . and [receive] deference . . . unless it 'was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.'" Hill, 210 F.3d at 485 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2)).

         A state court's factual findings are entitled to deference on federal habeas corpus review and are presumed correct under section 2254(e)(1) unless the petitioner rebuts those findings with "clear and convincing evidence." Garcia v. Quarterman, 454 F.3d 441, 444 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Hughes v. Dretke, 412 F.3d 582, 589 (5th Cir. 2005) and 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)). This deference extends not only to express findings of fact, but to the implicit findings of the state court as well. Garcia, 454 F.3d at 444-45 (citing Summers v. Dretke, 431 F.3d 861, 876 (5th Cir. 2005); Young v. Dretke, 356 F.3d616, 629 (5th Cir. 2004)).

         While, "[a]s a general principle, Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, relating to summary judgment, applies with equal force in the context of habeas corpus cases, " Clark v. Johnson, 202 F.3d 760, 764 (5th Cir.), cert, denied, 531 U.S. 831 (2000), the rule applies only to the extent that it does not conflict with the habeas rules. Section 2254(e)(1) - which mandates that findings of fact made by a state court are "presumed to be correct" - overrides the ordinary rule that, in a summary judgment proceeding, all disputed facts must be construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Unless the petitioner can "rebut[ ] the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence" as to the state court's findings of fact, those findings must be accepted as correct. Smith v. Cockrell, 311 F.3d 661, 668 (5th Cir. 2002).

         Felan is proceeding pro se. A pro se habeas petition is construed liberally and not held to the same stringent and rigorous standards as pleadings filed by lawyers. See Martin v. Maxey, 98 F.3d 844, 847 n.4 (5th Cir. 1996); Guidroz v. Lynaugh, 852 F.2d 832, 834 (5th Cir. 1988); Woodall v. Foti, 648F.2d268, 271 (5th Cir. Unit A June 1981). This Court broadly interprets Felan's state and federal habeas petitions. Bledsue v. Johnson, 188 F.3d 250, 255 (5th Cir. 1999).

         III. The Claim as to the Voluntariness of the ...


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