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Pearson v. Davis

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

September 30, 2019

LYNVAL MACLASA PEARSON, TDCJ #1847945, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.



         Lynval Maclasa Pearson has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus By a Person in State Custody ("Petition") (Docket Entry No. 1), seeking relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 from a murder conviction entered against him in Harris County, Texas. Respondent Lorie Davis has filed Respondent Davis's Answer with Brief in Support ("Respondent's Answer") (Docket Entry No. 10), and Pearson has filed Petitioner's Traverse to Respondent Davis's Answer in reply (Docket Entry No. 13). After considering the pleadings, the state court record, and the applicable law, the court will dismiss this action for the reasons explained below.

         I. Background

         A grand jury in Harris County, Texas, returned an indictment against Pearson in No. 9403483, charging him with causing the death of Salvador Ortiz Vargas by shooting him with a deadly weapon, a firearm.[1] A jury in the 263rd District Court for Harris County found Pearson guilty as charged in the indictment.[2] On March 27, 2013, the same jury sentenced him to thirty years' irprisonrent.[3]

         On direct appeal Pearson argued that the trial court erred by failing to automatically instruct the jury that one of the State's witnesses (Fortino Delangel) was an accomplice as a matter of law and, therefore, the State was required to present non-accomplice testimony to corroborate his testimony.[4] An intermediate court of appeals rejected that argument after summarizing the evidence presented at trial, as follows:

In 1993, Fortino Delangel was working at a used car dealership from which appellant had purchased two vehicles. After the second purchase, appellant asked Delangel if he knew anyone who sold marijuana. Delangel contacted his brother-in-law, Jose Guerrero, and asked if he knew anyone who sold marijuana. In turn, Guerrero contacted Salvador Vargas. With Delangel and Guerrero acting as middlemen, appellant and Vargas agreed that appellant would purchase approximately thirty pounds of mar1Juana from Vargas. Delangel understood that appellant would compensate him for his participation, although the precise amount of that compensation was not clear.
Delangel, Guerrero, appellant, and an unidentified companion of appellant, drove in two cars to Room 28 at the Lafronda Motel in South Houston to meet with Vargas. Delangel and appellant rode in separate cars. Delangel testified that he had never met Vargas before that evening.
Vargas initially stated that only one individual could come into the room; he relented when appellant insisted that all four men be allowed to enter. Appellant's unidentified companion stood near the door inside the room and Delangel stood off to the side of the room with Guerrero while Vargas and appellant conducted the drug transaction.
Appellant asked Vargas about the marijuana, and Vargas replied, "[W] here is the money[?]" Appellant "opened his jacket" and said "[h]ere's the money." Delangel did not see what was in appellant's jacket, but assumed it was payment for the marijuana. Vargas removed a "suitcase" from under the bed and handed appellant a package of marijuana from the bag.
Appellant tore each package open with his teeth, smelled the marijuana, and told Vargas, "[T]his is the money." However, rather than give Vargas the money, appellant pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest. Vargas fell forward onto the floor of the room and died shortly thereafter. Appellant's companion also drew a gun, which he pointed at [Delangel] and Guerrero. Appellant then grabbed the bag with the packages of marijuana and backed out of the motel room with his companion; both aimed their guns at Delangel and Guerrero. Before Delangel and Guerrero left the motel room, Roel Salinas, a coworker of Vargas, ran out of the bathroom holding a knife and frantically asked Delangel and Guerrero what had happened. Delangel called 911 from a payphone at the motel, and left with Guerrero because they were afraid appellant would find them and kill them.
Delangel and Guerrero soon fled to Mexico, but both voluntarily returned to Houston at the request of the police to give information about the murder. Shortly after the murder, Delangel positively identified appellant as the shooter. Officers executed an arrest warrant at appellant's house. After arresting appellant, police searched his house and recovered five full metal jacket nine millimeter bullets; four of the bullets found there were same brand as the casing discovered at the crime scene, which also came from a full metal jacket nine millimeter bullet. They also found two large empty black duffel bags, which they suspected were "part of the original drug room." A ballistics expert testified that the unfired cartridges found in appellant's house did not have sufficient individual characteristics to make an affirmative association with the fired casing found in the motel.
Appellant forfeited his bond and did not appear for trial in 1995. For the next 15 years, appellant traveled back and forth from New York to Jamaica using the alias Peter Richards. Appellant escaped detection due to an oversight in recording his fingerprints with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After resolution of the oversight, officers linked Peter Richards's photograph, fingerprints, and Jamaican passport to appellant's information and true identity, and apprehended appellant in New York in September 2010.
Guerrero testified, but denied any knowledge of appellant or the drug transaction.
Appellant did not ask the trial court to instruct the jury on the law concerning accomplice-witness testimony, and did not object to the trial court's failure to give such instructions sua sponte. The jury found appellant guilty of murder and sentenced him to 30 years' confinement.

Pearson v. State, No. 14-13-00305-CR, 2014 WL 1030774, at *1-2 (Tex. App. - Houston [14th Dist.] March 18, 2014). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused Pearson's petition for discretionary review.

         Pearson challenged his conviction by filing an Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Seeking Relief From Final Felony Conviction Under [Texas] Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 11.07 ("Application") with the trial court.[5] Pearson claimed that he was actually innocent and that he was denied effective assistance of counsel and the opportunity to investigate evidence due to prosecutorial misconduct.[6] The state habeas corpus court, which also presided over Pearson's trial, entered findings of fact and concluded that Pearson was not entitled to relief on any of his claims. [7] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and denied relief without a written order on findings made by the trial court without a hearing.[8]

         Pearson now contends that he is entitled to federal habeas relief from his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d) for the following reasons:

1. He was denied effective assistance of counsel at trial because his attorney failed to (a) request an accomplice-witness jury instruction; (b) file a motion to suppress evidence alleging that his illegal status as a Jamaican citizen nullified his consent to search; (c) allow him to exercise his right to testify; and (d) investigate DNA evidence.
2. His trial and appellate counsel were ineffective and he was denied the right to counsel during a critical stage because his trial counsel failed to file a motion for new trial.
3. He was denied due process and the right to a fair trial when the State denied him the opportunity to investigate fingerprint and DNA evidence.
4. He is actually innocent.[9]

         The respondent argues that federal review is unavailable for Claim 1(b), which was not properly raised in state court and is barred by the doctrine of procedural default .[10] The respondent also argues that Pearson is not entitled to relief on any of his other claims, which were rejected previously in state court.[11]

         II. Standard of Review

         A habeas corpus petition filed by a state prisoner may not be granted in federal court unless the petitioner has first "exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State." 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (b) (1) (A). Thus, a federal habeas corpus petitioner "must exhaust all available state remedies before he may obtain federal habeas relief." Sones v. Hargett, 61 F.3d 410, 414 (5th Cir. 1995).

         To the extent that the petitioner's claims were adjudicated on the merits in state court, his claims are subject to review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d) . Under the AEDPA a federal habeas corpus court may not grant relief unless the state court's adjudication "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[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (1). Likewise, if a claim presents a question of fact, a petitioner cannot obtain federal habeas relief unless he shows that the state court's decision "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (2) .

         "A state court's decision is deemed contrary to clearly established federal law if it reaches a legal conclusion in direct conflict with a prior decision of the Supreme Court or if it reaches a different conclusion than the Supreme Court on materially indistinguishable facts." Matamoros v. Stephens, 783 F.3d 212, 215 (5th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted and internal quotation marks omitted). To constitute an "unreasonable application of" clearly established federal law, a state court's holding "must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice." Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quoting White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014)). "To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to '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.'" Id. (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786-87 (2011)).

         The AEDPA "imposes a 'highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings,' . . . [which] 'demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'" Renico v. Lett, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 1862 (2010) (citations omitted) . This standard is intentionally "difficult to meet" because it was meant to bar relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings and to preserve federal habeas review as "a 'guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems,' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2796, n. 5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring)).

         A state court's factual determinations are also entitled to "substantial deference" on federal habeas corpus review. Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015); Wood v. Allen, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849 (2010) (noting that "a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance"). A state court's findings of fact are "presumed to be correct" unless the petitioner rebuts those findings with "clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (e) (1). The presumption of correctness extends not only to express factual findings, but also to implicit or "'unarticulated findings which are necessary to the state court's conclusions of mixed law and fact.'" Murphy v. Davis, 901 F.3d 578, 597 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting Valdez v. Cockrell, 274 F.3d 941, 948 n.11 (5th Cir. 2001)).

         III. Discussion

         A. Procedural Default (Claim 1(b))

         In Claim 1(b) Pearson contends that his trial attorney was constitutionally ineffective because he did not file a motion to suppress evidence seized by police during the search of his residence. Pearson argues that he was not legally in the United States or on the lease, therefore, he was unable to consent to the search.[12] The respondent argues that federal review is unavailable because Pearson did not raise this claim in state court for the purpose of exhausting state court remedies as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) before seeking federal review.[13] The respondent argues, therefore, that this claim is unexhausted and barred from federal review by the doctrine of procedural default.[14]

         The exhaustion requirement found in § 2254(b) "is satisfied when the substance of the federal claim is 'fairly presented' to the highest state court on direct appeal or in state post-conviction proceedings [.]" Johnson v. Cain, 712 F.3d 227, 231 (5th Cir. 2013). To satisfy the exhaustion requirement a prisoner must "present the state courts with the same claim he urges upon the federal courts." Picard v. Connor, 92 S.Ct. 509, 512 (1971) (citations omitted). "The exhaustion requirement is not satisfied . . . where the petitioner presents new legal theories or factual claims in his federal habeas petition." Neville v. Dretke, 423 F.3d 474, 478 (5th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         The record reflects that defense counsel filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from Pearson's residence on the grounds that the signature on the consent-to-search form supposedly executed by Pearson was forged.[15] Pearson testified to that effect during a hearing outside the jury's presence.[16] Pearson raised an ineffective-assistance claim in his state habeas application, which argued that his defense counsel was deficient for not also arguing that Pearson was handcuffed and therefore unable to sign the consent form before the search of his home.[17] Pearson did not make any mention of his attorney's failure to argue that Pearson could not consent to a search because of his nationality, immigration status, or any other reason that Pearson now asserts on federal habeas review.[18] Because the facts in Pearson's state habeas application are different from the ones he presents in his federal Petition, he did not fairly present the substance of Claim l(b) in state court and failed to exhaust available state remedies as a result. See Wilder v. Cockrell, 274 F.3d 255, 259-60 (5th Cir. 2001) .

         Pearson cannot now return to state court and raise his unexhausted claim because of the Texas procedural rule that prohibits successive writs unless the petitioner establishes exceptional circumstances, which are not present here. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 11.07, § 4(a). Pearson's failure to exhaust state court remedies when he had the chance to do so constitutes a procedural default that is adequate to bar federal review. See Neville, 423 F.3d at 480 (concluding that unexhausted claims, which could no longer be raised in state court due to Texas's prohibition on successive writs, were procedurally defaulted); see also Finley v. Johnson, 243 F.3d 215, 220 (5th Cir. 2001) (same) (citing Fearance v. Scott, 56 F.3d 633, 642 (5th Cir. 1995)).

         Federal habeas corpus review of a defaulted claim is available only if the petitioner can demonstrate: (1) "cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law," or (2) that "failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Coleman v. Thompson, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 2565 (1991). To satisfy the exception, which is reserved for fundamental miscarriages of justice, a petitioner must provide the court with evidence that would support a "colorable showing of factual innocence." Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 106 S.Ct. 2616, 2627 (1986). For reasons discussed below, Pearson makes no showing of factual innocence in this case, and he does not otherwise attempt to explain or demonstrate cause for his default. Accordingly, Claim 1(b) is procedurally barred from federal review.

         B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel (Claims 1(a), 1(c), 1(d), 2)

         Pearson contends that he was denied effective assistance of counsel in connection with his trial and post-trial proceedings.[19]Claims for ineffective assistance of counsel are governed by the standard announced in Strickland v. Washington, 104 S.Ct. 2052 (1984). To prevail under the Strickland standard a defendant must demonstrate (1) that his counsel's performance was deficient and (2) that the deficient performance resulted in prejudice. Id. at 2064. "Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction . . . resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable." Id.

         "To satisfy the deficient performance prong, 'the defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.'" Garcia v. Stephens,793 F.3d 513, 523 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Strickland, 104 S.Ct. at 2064). "This is a 'highly deferential' inquiry, attended by 'a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance.'" Id. (quoting Strickland, 104 S.Ct. at 2065). "It is only when the lawyer's errors were so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed . . . by the Sixth ...

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