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Menchaca v. Davis

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

September 26, 2019

SAMUEL CHACON MENCHACA, JR., TDCJ No. 02100131, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.



         Before the court are pro se petitioner Samuel Chacon Menchaca, Jr.'s Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 1) and respondent's Answer (ECF No. 20). Having reviewed the record and pleadings submitted by both parties, the court concludes petitioner is not entitled to relief under the standards prescribed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Petitioner is also denied a certificate of appealability.

         I. Background

         In October 2016, petitioner plead guilty to two counts of delivery of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) in a drug free zone. (ECF No. 21-11 at 45-50, No. 21-21 at 39-44). Pursuant to the plea bargain agreement, petitioner pled "true" to the enhancement paragraphs contained in the indictment and waived his right to appeal. Id. As a result, petitioner was sentenced to thirty-five years of imprisonment in each case, which the sentences to run concurrently. State v. Menchaca, Jr., Nos. A-15427 and A-15428 (216th Dist. Ct, Kerr Cnty., Tex. Oct. 27, 2016); (ECF No. 21-11 at 62-63, No. 21-21 at 55-56).

         Despite waiving the right to appeal, petitioner was allowed to proceed on direct appeal and was appointed counsel. Petitioner's counsel filed an uncontested Anders brief stating that the record presented no arguably meritorious grounds for review. (ECF No. 21-13). Following an independent review of the record, the court of appeals agreed with counsel that the appeal was frivolous and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Menchaca, Jr. v. State, Nos. 04-16-00775-CR and 04-16-00776-CR (Tex.App.-San Antonio, Dec. 13, 2017, no pet.) (ECF No. 21-2). Petitioner did not attempt to appeal this decision by filing a petition for discretionary review with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA).

         Instead, petitioner challenged his convictions by filing two state habeas corpus applications on May 16, 2018, which the TCCA denied without written order July 25, 2018. Ex parte Menchaca, Jr., Nos. 88, 626-01, -02 (Tex.Crim.App.) (ECF Nos. 21-24 through 21-27). Then, on November 25, 2018, petitioner filed two more state habeas corpus applications challenging his convictions. Ex parte Menchaca, Jr., Nos. 88, 626-03, -04 (Tex.Crim.App.) (ECF Nos. 21-29, 21-31). In these applications, petitioner raised the same allegations that are now before this court: (1) his guilty pleas were involuntary due to counsel's failure to research the law and maps concerning drug fee zones, (2) the State suppressed evidence and maps of the drug free zone, (3) counsel failed to suppress evidence obtained without search warrants, and (4) counsel failed to file a motion to quash the enhancements to his sentence. On February 13, 2019, the TCCA dismissed petitioner's third and fourth state habeas applications as subsequent writs pursuant to Tex. Code. Crim. Proc. Art. 11.07, Sec. 4(a)-(c). (ECF Nos. 21-28, 21-30).

         Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition with this court on November 30, 2018, shortly after filing his subsequent state habeas applications. (ECF No. 1). Because of the pendency of the subsequent state proceedings, the court granted petitioner's request to hold these proceedings in abeyance until the TCCA has ruled on the subsequent applications. (ECF No. 5). Following the dismissal of petitioner's third and fourth state habeas applications, the court lifted the stay and ordered respondent to respond to petitioner's allegations. On May 1, 2019, respondent filed an answer to petitioner's federal habeas petition, arguing that each of the claims raised by petitioner are barred from federal habeas review by the procedural default doctrine. (ECF No. 20). Respondent did not respond to the merits of petitioner's allegations. Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         Petitioner's federal habeas petition is governed by the heightened standard of review provided by the AEDPA. 28 U.S.C.A. § 2254. Under § 2254(d), a petitioner may not obtain federal habeas corpus relief on any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings unless the adjudication of that claim either: (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. Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005). This intentionally difficult standard stops just short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011) (citing Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 664 (1996)).

         A federal habeas court's inquiry into unreasonableness should always be objective rather than subjective, with a focus on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was "objectively unreasonable" and not whether it was incorrect or erroneous. McDaniel v. Brown, 558 U.S. 120 (2010); Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003). Even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was f » unreasonable, regardless of whether the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion itself. Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. Instead, a petitioner must show that the decision was objectively unreasonable, which is a "substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003). So long as "fairminded jurists could disagree" on the correctness of the state court's decision, a state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief. Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). In other words, to obtain federal habeas relief on a claim previously adjudicated on the merits in state court, petitioner must show that the state court's ruling "was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Id. at 103; see also Bobby v. Dixon, 565 U.S. 23, 24 (2011).

         III. Analysis

         A. Claims 1, 2, and 4 are Procedurally Defaulted.

         In his first and second state habeas applications, petitioner raised several allegations concerning the voluntariness of his guilty plea and the effectiveness of his trial counsel. With the exception of Claim 3 regarding counsel's failure to suppress evidence obtained without search warrants, however, the claims now raised in petitioner's federal habeas petition all assert different facts and allege different errors by counsel than the claims raised in petitioner's first two state habeas applications. In other words, petitioner did not exhaust Claims 1, 2, and 4 during this first round of state habeas proceedings. See Wilder v. Cockrell, 274 F.3d 255, 260 (5th Cir. 2001) ("It is not enough that all the facts necessary to support the federal claim were before the state courts or that a somewhat similar state-law claim was made.") (citation omitted). Instead, these claims were raised for the first time in petitioner's third and fourth state habeas f ' application where they were rejected by the TCCA pursuant to a valid state procedural rule. As such, they are subject to denial by this court as procedurally defaulted.

         Procedural default occurs where a state court clearly and expressly bases its dismissal of a claim on a state procedural rule, and that state procedural rule provides an independent and adequate ground for the dismissal. Coleman v. Thompson,501 U.S. 722, 735 (1991); Canales v. Stephens,765 F.3d 551, 562 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Maples v. Thomas,565 U.S. 266, 280 (2012)). The "independent" and "adequate" requirements are satisfied where the state court clearly indicates that its dismissal of a particular claim rests upon a state ground that bars relief, and that bar is strictly and regularly followed by the state courts. Roberts v. Thaler, 681 F.3d 597, 604 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Finley ...

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