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Ingram v. Allbaugh

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 11, 2018

JOE M. ALLBAUGH, Director, Respondent.



         Petitioner Reuben Julius Ingram III, appearing pro se, has petitioned this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging through 28 U.S.C. § 2254 the constitutionality of his criminal conviction by the State of Oklahoma. See Pet. (Doc. No. 1); Pet. Ex. 1 (Doc. No. 1-1). United States District Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti has referred the matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636. Respondent has filed an Answer (Doc. No. 15), and this matter is now at issue. For the reasons outlined below, it is recommended that the Petition be denied.

         I. Relevant Case History

         In June 2010, Petitioner was arrested after an Oklahoma City Police Department (“OCPD”) officer saw Petitioner inside his vehicle at a convenience store holding up a baggie containing off-white rocks that later field-tested positive for crack cocaine. Pet. Ex. 1, at 11-13;[1] Vol. II Trial Tr. 89-102 (State v. Ingram, No. CF-2010-3949 (Okla. Cty. Dist. Ct. Apr. 21-23, 2014)) (Doc. No. 17 (conventionally filed)). Following a jury trial in the District Court of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, Petitioner was convicted of one count of trafficking in illegal drugs after two or more prior felony convictions. Original Record (“OR”) (Doc. No. 17) at 284-89. On May 28, 2014, Petitioner was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. OR 280-82.

         Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (“OCCA”). See Ingram v. State, No. F-2014-489 (Okla. Crim. App.). The OCCA affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence on August 13, 2015. See OCCA Summ. Op. (Doc. No. 15-4); see also OCCA Corr. Order (Doc. No. 15-5). Petitioner did not seek postconviction relief in the state courts. See Pet. at 2-3.

         On July 7, 2016, Petitioner filed this federal habeas action, raising five grounds for relief. See Pet. at 5-15; Pet. Ex. 1, at 14-47, 48; Price v. Philpot, 420 F.3d 1158, 1165 (10th Cir. 2005). Respondent contends, and the record likewise reflects, that the Petition is timely filed and that available remedies for all grounds for relief therein have been exhausted. See Answer at 2; 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244(d)(1), 2254(b)(1)(A).

         II. Discussion

         A. Ground One: Prosecutorial Misconduct

         In Ground One, Petitioner alleges that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during its closing argument at trial by: (i) attempting to shift the burden of proof to the defense; (ii) improperly invoking societal alarm; and (iii) vouching for the credibility of a key prosecution witness. See Pet. at 5-6; Pet. Ex. 1, at 14-23. Petitioner further argues that the alleged instances of prosecutorial misconduct, when considered cumulatively, were sufficiently prejudicial to deprive him of a fair trial. See Pet. Ex. 1, at 14. These arguments were rejected on their merits by the OCCA:

Ingram complains that several instances of prosecutorial misconduct deprived him of his right to a fair trial. When the challenged actions of the prosecutor are read and viewed in context, considering the corresponding arguments of defense counsel and the strength of the evidence, there is nothing in any of the challenged actions, individually or cumulatively, that deprived Ingram of a fair trial.

         OCCA Summ. Op. at 2 (citing Hanson v. State, 206 P.3d 1020 (Okla. Crim. App. 2009)); see also Hanson v. Sherrod, 797 F.3d 810, 843 (10th Cir. 2015)).

         1. Standard of Review

         Where, as here, a § 2254 habeas claim has been adjudicated on the merits by the state courts, a deferential standard of review applies:

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), we must apply a highly deferential standard in § 2254 proceedings, one that demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt. If a claim has been “adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings, ” we may not grant relief under § 2254 unless the state-court decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or “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)(1), (2). The phrase “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” id. § 2254(d)(1), refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of the Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.
Under the “contrary to” clause of § 2254(d)(1), we may grant relief only if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than the Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. And under the “unreasonable application” clause, we may grant relief only if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case. An unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law. Indeed, a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.

Dodd v. Trammell, 753 F.3d 971, 982 (10th Cir. 2013) (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted).

         2. Statements Relating to the Burden of Proof

         When considering a habeas challenge based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct, courts differentiate between conduct that would deprive the Petitioner of a specific constitutional right and that which would otherwise render the trial fundamentally unfair:

Ordinarily, a prosecutor's misconduct will require reversal of a state court conviction only where the remark sufficiently infected the trial . . . to make it fundamentally unfair, and, therefore, a denial of due process. Nonetheless, when the impropriety complained of effectively deprived the defendant of a specific constitutional right, a habeas claim may be established without requiring proof that the entire trial was thereby rendered fundamentally unfair.

Id. at 990 (omission in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Here, because only Petitioner's contention regarding the State's burden of proof implicates the deprivation of a specific constitutional right, the undersigned addresses this argument first. See Id. at 990-91 (analyzing claim that State improperly characterized its burden of proof to determine if the misconduct “effectively deprived the defendant of a specific constitutional right” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Morris v. Workman, 382 F. App'x 693, 696 (10th Cir. 2010) (“Where prosecutorial misconduct directly affects a specific constitutional right such as the presumption of innocence, a petitioner may obtain relief by demonstrating that the constitutional guarantee was so prejudiced that it effectively amounted to a denial of that right.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         In support of this argument, Petitioner points to the prosecutor's comments during the State's final closing argument for the first stage of trial. First, the prosecutor stated:

It's not reasonable to come to the conclusions that [defense counsel] is asking you to come to. [Defense counsel] says it's our burden, which it fully, completely is. The State always has the burden of proof. He's absolutely right. Do you know what? They also have subpoena power. They have subpoena power to call in anybody that they want, and they didn't do that.

Vol. III Trial Tr. 31. Petitioner's counsel then objected at the bench that the State was trying to shift the burden of proof. See Id. at 31-32. The trial court overruled the objection, and the prosecutor concluded:

         The burden lies on us, but he has that subpoena power .....

[Detective Jacob McClain] was the witness the State called because he's the one that saw all of the elements of this crime, all of the elements that we have to prove to you. He can produce his own witnesses. Burden is on us. He has that power. I submit to you that there's absolutely no evidence to suggest he wasn't holding that bag of crack cocaine.

Vol. III Trial Tr. 32-33; see also Id. at 35; Pet. Ex. 1, at 20.

         A prosecutor making a closing argument may properly “comment on the circumstances of the crime made known to the jury during trial” and “possesses reasonable latitude in drawing inferences from the record.” Hooper v. Mullin, 314 F.3d 1162, 1172 (10th Cir. 2002). Rather than reflecting an attempt to shift the burden of proof, the prosecutor's remark as to the absence of any evidence to contradict the State's case was “a fair comment on the evidence” that had been presented during the trial. Id. The statements made by the prosecutor, as quoted above, accurately reference the State's burden of proof and do not mischaracterize or negate that burden. See Sanchez v. Bryant, 652 F. App'x 599, 606-07 (10th Cir. 2016) (rejecting argument that the prosecution improperly attempted to shift the burden of proof when the prosecutor had “noted the lack of evidence to substantiate” the defense theory and “acknowledged the State's burden of proving every element, but contended that the evidence showed guilt”). Moreover, the jury was instructed on the presumption of innocence afforded Petitioner and as to the burden upon the State to ...

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