United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division
OLICE EDWARD BROWN, TDCJ No. 02111877, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RODRIGUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are pro se Petitioner Olice Edward
Brown's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 1), Petitioner's Memorandum
in Support (ECF No. 5), Respondent's Answer (ECF No. 14),
and Petitioner's Reply (ECF No. 18). 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. Â§
2254(d). Petitioner is also denied a certificate of
March 2015, Petitioner was indicted in Bexar County, Texas,
on two counts of capital murder alleged to have occurred on
December 12, 2014. (ECF No. 15-16 at 11). Pursuant to a plea
bargain agreement, Petitioner pled no contest to two counts
of murder and was sentenced to sixty years of imprisonment in
each case, with the sentences to run concurrently. State
v. Brown, Nos. 2015-CR-3457 and 2016-CR-9349-W (379th
Dist. Ct, Bexar Cty., Tex. Jan. 11, 2017); (ECF No. 15-24 at
12; No. 15-42 at 11). Because he waived the right to appeal
as part of the plea bargain agreement, Petitioner did not
appeal his convictions and sentences. (ECF No. 15-34 at 6).
Petitioner challenged his convictions by filing two state
habeas corpus applications which were eventually denied on
the merits by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA)
without written order on September 5, 2018. Ex parte
Brown, Nos. 88, 881-01, -02 (Tex. Crim. App.); (ECF Nos.
15-10, 15-27). Five days later, Petitioner placed the instant
federal habeas petition in the prison mail system. (ECF No. 1
at 10). In the petition, Petitioner raises the same
allegation that was rejected by the TCCA during his state
habeas proceedings- namely, that his trial counsel rendered
ineffective assistance by failing to investigate and present
witness statements at the plea bargaining and sentencing
proceedings that would have had a mitigating effect on both.
Standard of Review
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)).
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 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).
discussed previously, Petitioner alleges he received
ineffective assistance from his trial counsel due to
counsel's failure to investigate and present mitigating
evidence on his behalf at his plea bargain and sentencing
proceedings. Specifically, Petitioner faults counsel for not
uncovering statements from two witnesses who overheard a
physical altercation between Petitioner and one of the
victims prior to Petitioner shooting the victims in what he
claims was self-defense. Because he voluntarily pleaded
guilty to the convictions he is now challenging under §
2254, however, Petitioner waived the right to challenge all
non-jurisdictional defects in his proceedings. Moreover, this
allegation was rejected by the state court during
Petitioner's state habeas proceedings. Because the state
court's rejection of the claim was neither contrary to,
nor an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent,
federal habeas relief is denied.
axiomatic that a guilty plea is valid only if entered
voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently, "with
sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely
consequences." Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S.
175, 183 (2005); United States v. Hernandez, 234
F.3d 252, 254 (5th Cir. 2000). A plea is intelligently made
when the defendant has "real notice of the true nature
of the charge against him." Bousley v. United
States, 523 U.S. 614, 618 (1998) (internal quotation
marks omitted). And a plea is "voluntary" if it
does not result from force, threats, improper promises,
misrepresentations, or coercion. United States v.
Amaya, 111 F.3d 386, 389 (5th Cir. 1997). The
longstanding test for determining the validity of a guilty
plea is whether the plea represents a voluntary and
intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action
open to the defendant. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S.
52, 56 (1985); United States v. Juarez, 672 F.3d
381, 385 (5th Cir. 2012).
record in this case indicates Petitioner's pleas were a
voluntary and intelligent choice and were not a result of any
misrepresentation. To start, the voluntariness of
Petitioner's plea is demonstrated by his signature on the
"Court's Admonishment and Defendant's Waivers
and Affidavit of Admonitions" and accompanying
"Plea Bargain." (ECF No. 15-16 at 7-10). These
documents demonstrate Petitioner was admonished as to the
maximum punishment range for the first degree offense of
capital murder (five years to ninety-nine years or life) but
that Petitioner was pleading guilty to the lesser-included
offense of murder with a punishment to be assessed at no less
than thirty-five years. Id. Petitioner also makes
the following concessions in his plea agreement:
1. I have had my Constitutional and legal rights explained to
me by my attorney, and have decided to waive my
Constitutional right of trial by jury and enter this plea
before the judge. I hereby request the consent and approval
of the State's Attorney and of the Court to my ...