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Riggins v. Hunter

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 26, 2018

DARRELL JOE RIGGINS, Petitioner,
v.
MIKE HUNTER, Oklahoma Attorney General,[1] Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. DOWDELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Petitioner's amended 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition (Doc. 7). Petitioner, appearing pro se, challenges the constitutional validity of the judgment and sentence entered against him in Tulsa County District Court Case No. CF-2012-156. In that case, a jury convicted Petitioner of endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine, in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-408 (2011), after former conviction of a felony. Petitioner alleges he is entitled to habeas relief on three grounds: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction, (2) law enforcement officers illegally searched his car, and (3) a trial witness gave false testimony. See Doc. 7. Respondent moved to dismiss the amended petition as a “mixed” petition, arguing Grounds 2 and 3 were unexhausted. See Doc. 11. By Order filed February 5, 2016 (Doc. 14), the Court denied Respondent's motion, but advised Petitioner that it would apply an anticipatory procedural bar[2] to the unexhausted claims raised in Grounds 2 and 3 unless Petitioner could demonstrate either “cause and prejudice” or a “fundamental miscarriage of justice” to excuse his procedural default of these claims. See Doc. 14 at 6. As directed by the Court, Petitioner filed a response addressing the defaulted claims (Doc. 15), and Respondent filed a response addressing the merits of Petitioner's Ground 1 claim (Doc. 16). Respondent also provided the state court records necessary to adjudicate Petitioner's claims (Docs. 16, 17). Petitioner filed a reply to the response (Doc. 18). Respondent filed a response addressing Petitioner's arguments as to his defaulted claims (Doc. 19). For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds the amended habeas petition shall be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         In January 2012, Tulsa Police Officer Michelle Armentrout stopped Petitioner near the intersection of Pine and Lewis for driving a vehicle with an expired tag. Doc. 17-8, Tr. vol. 3, at 272-75.[3] Petitioner pulled into the parking lot of the Springdale Shopping Center. Id. at 275. When Armentrout approached the car, Petitioner confirmed he was the owner of the car and advised Armentrout he had no insurance. Id. at 277. Petitioner's passenger, Ashley Snow, volunteered that she had outstanding warrants. Id. at 280-81. Armentrout performed a records check on Petitioner and Snow, confirmed that Snow had an outstanding arrest warrant, and arrested Snow. Id. at 281-82. Armentrout issued citations to Petitioner for the tag and insurance violations. Id. at 283. Based on the tag violation, Armentrout decided to have the car towed, but she told Petitioner he was free to leave. Id. at 284-88. Petitioner left. Id. at 285. Armentrout and a second officer began an inventory search of the car, discovered what they believed was a possible “meth lab, ” discontinued the search, and called in officers with specialized training in meth lab clean up. Id. at 286-91, 304.

         Based on the items found in Petitioner's car, the State ultimately charged Petitioner with one count of endeavoring to manufacture a controlled dangerous substance (methamphetamine), in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-408, after former conviction of a felony. Doc. 17-10, O.R. vol. 1, at 80-82. Following a trial in Tulsa County District Court, a jury found Petitioner guilty as charged and, consistent with the jury's recommendation, the trial court imposed a 16-year prison sentence. Doc. 17-11, O.R. vol. 2, at 77, 81-82.

         Represented by counsel, Petitioner filed a direct appeal with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), alleging one proposition of error: the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. Doc. 16-1, Pet'r App. Br., at 2. In an unpublished summary opinion, filed October 1, 2013, the OCCA rejected his sufficiency challenge and affirmed the trial court's judgment and sentence. Doc. 16-3, Riggins v. State, No. F-2012-955 (Okla. Crim. App. 2013) (unpublished) (hereafter, “OCCA Op.”). Petitioner then filed an application for post-conviction relief in state district court, raising three propositions of error. See Doc. 16-4 at 3. The state district court denied relief. Id. Petitioner did not file a post-conviction appeal.

         DISCUSSION

         Petitioner, appearing pro se, filed his amended habeas petition on February 26, 2015. Doc. 7. Petitioner alleges he is entitled to habeas relief on three grounds: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction, (2) law enforcement officers illegally searched his car, and (3) a trial witness gave false testimony. See Doc. 7. Respondent concedes, and the Court finds, that Petitioner timely filed his federal habeas petition. Doc. 16 at 2; see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) (imposing one-year statute of limitation for filing § 2254 habeas petition). Respondent argues, however, that § 2254(d) bars Petitioner's request for habeas relief on Ground 1 and that his Ground 2 and Ground 3 claims are procedurally barred. Doc. 16 at 5; Doc. 19 at 1-2.

         I. Scope of habeas review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) guides this Court's review of Petitioner's habeas claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under the AEDPA, a federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner “only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” Id. § 2254(a). In addition, before a federal court may grant habeas relief, a state prisoner must exhaust available state-court remedies, id. § 2254(b)(1)(A), by “fairly present[ing] the substance of his federal habeas claim[s] to state courts, ” Hawkins v. Mullins, 291 F.3d 658, 668 (10th Cir. 2002).

         If the state court adjudicates the merits of a state prisoner's federal habeas claims, a federal habeas court may not grant relief on those claims unless the prisoner demonstrates that the state court's adjudication of those claims either (1) “resulted in a decision that was contrary to . . . clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” id. § 2254(d)(1); (2) “resulted in a decision that . . . involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, ” id.; or (3) “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the record presented to the state court, id. § 2254(d)(2).[4]

         “To determine whether a particular decision is ‘contrary to' then-established law, a federal court must consider whether the decision ‘applies a rule that contradicts [such] law' and how the decision ‘confronts [the] set of facts' that were before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011) (alterations in original) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405, 406). When the state court's decision “‘identifies the correct governing legal principle' in existence at the time, a federal court must assess whether the decision ‘unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.'” Id. (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). Significantly, an “unreasonable application of” clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) “must be ‘objectively unreasonable, ' not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (quoting Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75-76). Likewise, under § 2254(d)(2), “a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010). The Court must also presume the correctness of the OCCA's factual findings unless Petitioner rebuts that presumption “by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         In sum, the standards set forth in § 2254 are designed to be “difficult to meet, ” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011), and require federal habeas courts to give state-court decisions the “benefit of the doubt, ” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). Thus, to obtain federal habeas relief a state prisoner ultimately “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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         II. Analysis

         A. Ground 1- Insufficient evidence

         In Ground 1, Petitioner alleges the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. He argues “[t]here was no evidence presented to the jury that [he] had any knowledge of the evidence they found in [his] car, due to the fact they had already ...


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