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Bonds v. Davis

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

October 3, 2019

SHELTON L. BONDS (TDCJ No. 1953652), Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Director Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.



         Petitioner Shelton L. Bonds, a Texas inmate, filed a pro se application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See Dkt. No. 3. This resulting action has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference from United States District Judge Ed Kinkeade. The State filed a response opposing relief, Dkt. No. 13, to which Bonds filed a reply. Dkt. No. 20. Pursuant to an order from this Court, Dkt. No. 22, the state filed a supplemental response, Dkt. No. 23, to which Bonds filed a reply. Dkt. No. 24. For the reasons explained below, the Court should deny Bonds's federal habeas petition.

         Applicable Background

         After finding Bonds guilty of possession with intent to deliver cocaine in an amount of 400 grams or more, the jury “assessed punishment at fifty-four years' imprisonment and a $35, 000 fine.” Bonds v. State, No. 05-14-01227-CR, 2016 WL 3577343, at *1 (Tex. App. - Dallas June 27, 2016, pet. ref'd.); see State v. Bonds, No. 2-12-255 (382nd Jud. Dist. Ct., Rockwall Cty., Tex.). The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment. See Bonds, 2016 WL 3577343, at *1, at *5. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) refused Bonds's petition for discretionary review on December 14, 2016. See Bonds v. State, No. PD-859-16, (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).

         Bonds filed a state application for writ of habeas corpus, claiming that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective on numerous issues. See Dkt. No. 12-4 at 7-26. Additionally, Bonds alleged that the cumulative effect of his counsel's errors denied him a fair trial and effective assistance of counsel and that his conviction violated the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution. See Id. at 18, 23. On March 21, 2018, the CCA denied Bonds's application without written order. See Ex parte Bonds, WR-86, 786-01 (Tex. Crim. App. March 21, 2018); Dkt. No. 11-20.

         In his timely-filed federal habeas application, Bonds raised the same grounds for relief that he raised in his state application. See Dkt. No. 3 at 6-8. On the same date that the Court issued the Magistrate Judge's Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendation, the Court received Bonds's Motion for Permission to Refile his Traverse to the State's Response, in which he averred that he had previously timely-submitted his Travers, but that it “ha[d] never been filed by the district clerk.” See Dkt. No. 18. The Court found that “although the Court granted Bonds's motion for an extension of time to file a reply on October 11, 2018 . . . no reply was filed.” See Dkt.

         No. 19 at 1. However, in the interest of justice, the Court granted Bonds's request to file a traverse and withdrew the previously-filed Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. No. 19. Pursuant to permission by the Court, the Government filed a supplement response, see Dkt. No. 23, to which Bonds filed a reply. See Dkt. No. 24.

         Legal Standards and Analysis

         I. Claims

         Bonds raises five claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, a claim that cumulative errors of his counsel denied him a fair trial, and a claim that his conviction violates the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution. See Dkt. No. 3 at 6-8.

         Where a state court has already rejected a claim on the merits, a federal court may grant habeas relief on that claim only if the state court adjudication:

(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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         A state court adjudication on direct appeal is due the same deference under Section 2254(d) as an adjudication in a state post-conviction proceeding. See, e.g., Dowthitt v. Johnson, 230 F.3d 733, 756-57 (5th Cir. 2000) (a finding made by the CCA on direct appeal was an “issue ... adjudicated on the merits in state proceedings, ” to be “examine[d] ... with the deference demanded by [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (the “AEDPA”)]” under “28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)”).

         A state court decision is “contrary” to clearly established federal law if “it relies on legal rules that directly conflict with prior holdings of the Supreme Court or if it reaches a different conclusion than the Supreme Court on materially indistinguishable facts.” Busby v. Dretke, 359 F.3d 708, 713 (5th Cir. 2004); see also Lopez v. Smith, 574 U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 1, 2 (2014) (per curiam) (“We have emphasized, time and time again, that the AEDPA prohibits the federal courts of appeals from relying on their own precedent to conclude that a particular constitutional principle is ‘clearly established.'” (citation omitted)).

         A decision constitutes an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law if “the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000); see also Pierre v. Vannoy, 891 F.3d 224, 227 (5th Cir. 2018) (a petitioner's lack of “Supreme Court precedent to support” a ground for habeas relief “ends [his] case” as to that ground).

         “For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.... A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Under § 2254(d), a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or ...could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of [the Supreme] Court.” Id. at 102 (internal quotation marks omitted); see Evans v. Davis, 875 F.3d 210, 216 (5th Cir. 2017) (recognizing that Section 2254(d) tasks courts “with considering not only the arguments and theories the state habeas court actually relied upon to reach its ultimate decision but also all the arguments and theories it could have relied upon.” (citation omitted)).

         The Supreme Court has further explained that “[e]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 101 (internal quotation marks omitted). And “even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102. The Supreme Court has explained that, “[i]f this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be, ” where, “[a]s amended by AEDPA, § 2254(d) stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings, ” but “[i]t preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this Court's precedents, ” and “[i]t goes no further.” Id. Thus, “[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus 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.” Id. at 103; accord Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. 12, 20 (2013) (“If this standard is difficult to meet - and it is - that is because it was meant to be. We will not lightly conclude that a State's criminal justice system has experienced the extreme malfunction for which federal habeas relief is the remedy.” (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citations omitted)).

         As to Section 2254(d)(2)'s requirement that a petitioner show that the state court adjudication “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, ” the Supreme Court has explained 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” and that federal habeas relief is precluded even where the state court's factual determination is debatable. Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 303 (2010). Under this standard, “it is not enough to show that a state court's decision was incorrect or erroneous. Rather, a petitioner must show that the decision was objectively unreasonable, a substantially higher threshold requiring the petitioner to show that a reasonable factfinder must conclude that the state court's determination of the facts was unreasonable.” Batchelor v. Cain, 682 F.3d 400, 405 (5th Cir. 2012) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Court must presume that a state court's factual determinations are correct and can find those factual findings unreasonable only where the petitioner “rebut[s] the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Gardner v. Johnson, 247 F.3d 551, 560 (5th Cir. 2001). This presumption applies not only to explicit findings of fact but also “to those unarticulated findings which are necessary to the state court's conclusions of mixed law and fact.” Valdez v. Cockrell, 274 F.3d 941, 948 n.11 (5th Cir. 2001); see also Richter, 562 U.S. at 98 (“[D]etermining whether a state court's decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court's reasoning.”); Pondexter v. Dretke, 346 F.3d 142, 148 (5th Cir. 2003) (“a federal habeas court is authorized by Section 2254(d) to review only a state court's ‘decision,' and not the written opinion explaining that decision” (quoting Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc) (per curiam))); cf. Evans, 875 F.3d at 216 n.4 (even where “[t]he state habeas court's analysis [is] far from thorough, ” a federal court “may not review [that] decision de novo simply because [it finds the state court's] written opinion ‘unsatisfactory'” (quoting Neal, 286 F.3d at 246)).

         Section 2254 thus creates a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). To overcome this standard, a petitioner must show that “there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 98.

         That is, a Section 2254 petitioner must, in sum, “show, based on the state-court record alone, that any argument or theory the state habeas court could have relied on to deny [him] relief would have either been contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court.” Evans, 875 F.3d at 217.

         A. Ineffective Assistance

         Bonds makes five claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Bonds argues that his counsel was ineffective by (1) failing to challenge a veniremember at voir dire, (2) failing to request the jury be given the definition of “reasonable suspicion, ” (3) failing to object to a jury instruction on the illegality of marijuana, (4) failing to challenge the reason given by the police officer for the traffic stop, and (5) failing to object to the State's presentation of evidence of “the drug epidemic on a national level.” Dkt. No. 3 at 6-8. He also alleges that the cumulative effect of his counsels errors denied him a fair trial and effective assistance of counsel. See Id. at 8.

         The Court reviews claims concerning the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”), whether at trial or on direct appeal, under the two-prong test established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Under Strickland, a habeas petitioner must demonstrate that the performance of his attorney fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. See Id. at 687-88. A petitioner must prove entitlement to relief by a preponderance of the evidence. James v. Cain, 56 F.3d 662, 667 (5th Cir. 1995). To be cognizable under Strickland, trial counsel's error must be “so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 687; see also Buck v. Davis, 580 U.S., 137 S.Ct. 759, 775 (2017) (reaffirming that “[i]t is only when the lawyer's errors were ‘so serious that counsel was not functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed ... by the Sixth Amendment' that Strickland's first prong is satisfied” (citation omitted)).

         The petitioner also must prove that he was prejudiced by his attorney's substandard performance. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 692. “This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id. at 687.

[B]ecause of the risk that hindsight bias will cloud a court's review of counsel's trial strategy, “a court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the ...

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