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Murski v. Davis

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

December 20, 2019

DANIEL JOSEPH MURSKI, TDCJ #2222064, Petitioner,
v.
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY F. ATLAS SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         State inmate Daniel Joseph Murski has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [Doc. # 1], seeking relief from a Montgomery County conviction for possession of a controlled substance that resulted in a sentence of 25 years' imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”). The respondent has answered with a motion for summary judgment [Doc. # 6]. Murski has not filed a response and his time to do so has expired. After reviewing all of the pleadings and the applicable law, the Court will grant the respondent's motion and dismiss this action for the reasons explained below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A grand jury in Montgomery County, Texas, returned an indictment against Murski in Cause No. 17-12-14575-CR, charging him with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, namely methamphetamine, in an amount of one gram or more, but less than 4 grams, which is a third-degree felony.[1] See Tex. Health & Safety Code § 481.115(c). That indictment was enhanced for purposes of punishment with allegations that Murski had at least two prior felony convictions, one for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and one for theft.[2] As a result, Murski faced a punishment range of no less than 25 years to life imprisonment.[3] See Tex. Penal Code § 12.42(d).

         On September 17, 2018, Murksi entered a guilty plea to charges that were lodged against him in Cause No. 17-12-14575-CR and acknowledged that the enhancement allegations were “true.”[4] The 9th District Court for Montgomery County found Murski guilty as charged and sentenced him to 25 years' imprisonment under the terms of the plea agreement.[5] Murski did not pursue a direct appeal, which he had waived by pleading guilty.[6]

         Murski challenged his conviction by filing a state habeas corpus application under Article 11.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, claiming that he was denied effective assistance of counsel in connection with his guilty plea.[7] Murski alleged that his counsel was deficient for advising him to take the plea bargain, estimating that Murski had only a “2% chance” to prevail at trial, without asking the State to re-weigh the drug amount or confirm that the amount was enough for a felony charge.

         In response to Murski's habeas application, the State provided an affidavit from an assistant district attorney for Montgomery County with notes from the State's file, which reflected that the amount of the controlled substance weighed by the arresting officer was 1.6 grams and that the prosecutor asked the lab to confirm the amount due to a discrepancy in the police report.[8] The State also provided a copy of the lab report from the Texas Department of Public Safety, confirming that the drug quantity recovered in Murski's case was 1.26 grams, with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.03 grams, [9] which was sufficient to support the third-degree felony charge.[10] See Tex. Health & Safety Code § 481.115(c).

         The state habeas corpus court, which also presided over the guilty plea, entered findings of fact based on the evidence provided by the State and concluded that Murski failed to show that he was prejudiced by his attorney's failure to insist that the seized methamphetamine be re-weighed by the DPS laboratory and that Murski otherwise failed to establish that he was denied effective assistance of counsel.[11] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and summarily denied relief without a written order on findings made by the trial court.[12]

         Murski now seeks federal habeas relief from his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, on the grounds that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. In particular, he contends that his counsel was deficient for the following reasons: (1) he failed to insist that officials re-weigh the drug quantity; (2) he told Murski that he had only a “2% chance” of prevailing at trial and advised him to take a plea; and (3) he never advised Murski of a plea bargain offer made by the prosecutor for an 18-month sentence.[13] The respondent has filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Claim 3 is unexhausted and therefore procedurally barred and that Murski fails to show that he is entitled to relief under the legal standard that governs federal habeas corpus review where Claims 1 and 2 are concerned.[14]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The record reflects that Claims 1 and 2 were rejected on the merits on state habeas corpus review. As a result, these claims are subject to review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (the “AEDPA”), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Under this standard, 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). Where a claim presents a question of fact, a petitioner cannot obtain federal habeas relief unless he shows that the state court's denial of relief “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). 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, 575 U.S. 312, 316 (2015) (citation omitted). “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.'” Woods, 575 U.S. at 316 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)).

         The AEDPA standard “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, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (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, 562 U.S. at 102-03 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332, n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring)).

         A state court's factual determinations are also entitled to deference on federal habeas corpus review. 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). This 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)); see also Garcia v. Quarterman, 454 F.3d 441, 444-45 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Summers v. Dretke, 431 F.3d 861, 876 (5th Cir. 2005); Young v. Dretke, 356 F.3d 616, 629 (5th Cir. 2004)). A federal habeas corpus court “may not characterize these state-court factual determinations as unreasonable ‘merely because [it] would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'” Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015) (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301, 130 S.Ct. 841, 849 (2010)). “Instead, § 2254(d)(2) requires that [a federal court] accord the state trial court substantial deference.” Id.

         III. ...


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