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Rogers v. Aldridge

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 30, 2018

DEBBIE ALDRIDGE, Warden, [1] Respondent.



         Before the Court is the 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition (Doc. 2) filed by Petitioner Bridgette Rogers, a state inmate appearing through counsel. Rogers challenges the constitutional validity of the judgment and sentence entered against her in Washington County District Court, Nos. CF-2009-45 and CM-2009-90. In those cases, a jury convicted Rogers of one felony, trafficking in illegal drugs after former conviction of two or more drug felonies; and two misdemeanors, operating a defective vehicle and improper tag display. She is currently serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Rogers seeks habeas relief on five grounds. Respondent filed a response to the petition (Doc. 16), and provided the state court records necessary to adjudicate Rogers' claims (Docs. 16, 17). Rogers filed a reply (Doc. 24). For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds and concludes the habeas petition shall be denied.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), a state court's factual findings are presumed correct unless the habeas petitioner rebuts that presumption “by clear and convincing evidence.” Following review of the record, trial transcripts, trial exhibits, and other materials submitted by the parties, the Court finds the factual summary from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals' decision is adequate and accurate. Therefore, the Court adopts the following summary as its own:

On February 4, 2009, at approximately 2:30 a.m., Officer Adam Walker of the Bartlesville Police Department stopped a car being driven by Rogers because he noticed that the car's license tag was not illuminated as required by State law. After stopping Rogers' car, and as he approached the car on foot, Officer Walker noticed a clear plastic covering over the tag.
Officer Walker had a brief conversation with Rogers through the d r i v e r ' s s i d e car window, obtained her driver's license and insurance verification, and then stepped away to run a check on the license. Less than one minute later, Officer Walker's supervisor, Sergeant Glen McClintock arrived and began a drug sweep of the outside of Rogers' car with his drug dog. One minute later, the dog alerted at the driver's side window.
After the dog alert, Rogers was removed from the car and Officer Walker began a search of the passenger compartment. He found an off-white rock-like substance in the driver's seat, on the driver's side floor, and on the front passenger's seat.
While Officer Walker was searching Rogers' car, Officer Denise Silva arrived and performed a pat down search on Rogers, who was wearing a long winter coat. Rogers told Officer Silva she was wearing two sanitary napkins and Officer Silva felt a “crinkle” in that area, but did not check it further. Officer Silva did not find anything incriminating, but did find approximately $500.00 in cash in one of Rogers' pants pockets. After Officer Walker found the rock-like substances, Rogers was arrested and Officer Silva transported her to the Bartlesville jail.
During the ride to the jail, Officer Silva heard “rustling of paper and crunching in the backseat” (Tr. Vol. 2 at 84). She told Rogers that if there was something in the backseat or anywhere on [Rogers'] person, she would find it. She noted that even though Rogers' hands were handcuffed behind her back, there was a lot of movement, “pushing around, moving around” (Tr. Vol. 2 at 85).
After Rogers was delivered to the jail, Officer Silva searched her patrol car and found a white banking envelope stuffed in the corner of the rear seat where Rogers had been sitting. Officer Silva searched the patrol car at the beginning of her shift and had not transported anyone since that search.
Officer Silva summoned Officer Walker, and Walker retrieved the envelope. Inside the envelope, he found two plastic baggies containing off-white rock-like substances similar to the substances he found in Rogers' car. Later, when Officer Walker searched Rogers' purse, he found envelopes similar to the one found in the back of Officer Silva's vehicle. The envelopes from Rogers' purse were the same size and color and had identical bank-related printing in the top and bottom left-hand corners as the envelope containing the substance found in Officer Silva's car.
A criminalist from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation analyzed the rock-like substances found in the envelope in Officer Silva's vehicle. His analysis showed that the substance was cocaine base (crack), and that its total weight was 20.7 grams, a weight well above the five grams necessary for a trafficking conviction.
Six months after Rogers' car was seized, [Sergeant] Steve Gardella examined the car in the daylight at the police impound lot. He discovered that the light bulb that should have illuminated the tag was not in its holder but was instead in a socket outside the socket hole for the tag. Photographs Gardella took showed the socket suspended from the car outside the opening. Gardella said, however, that the bulb did light up “a little bit” (Tr. Vol. 2 at 15). Gardella also took photographs of the rear license tag showing that it was covered by a transparent plastic cover.

Doc. 16-3, Rogers v. State, No. F-2010-509 (Okla. Crim. App. 2012) (unpublished) (hereafter, “OCCA Op.”), at 3-5.[2]

         In Washington County District Court, Nos. CF-2009-45 and CM-2009-90, a jury convicted Rogers of trafficking in illegal drugs, in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-415 (2007 Supp.), after former conviction of more than two drug felonies; operating a defective vehicle, in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 47, § 13-101 (2001 Supp.); and improper tag display, in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 47, § 1113 (2008 Supp.).[3] Doc. 16-3, OCCA Op., at 1; Doc. 17-7, Tr. vol. 2, at 200-02. Consistent with the jury's recommendations, the trial court sentenced Rogers to life without the possibility of parole and imposed a $100, 000 fine for the drug trafficking conviction, and imposed a $100 fine for each misdemeanor conviction. See Doc. 17-7 at 225; Doc. 17-9, Tr. Sent. Hr'g (May 24, 2010), at 24-25.

         Rogers filed a direct appeal with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), raising 17 propositions of error. Doc. 16-1, Pet'r App. Br., at 2-4. In an unpublished opinion filed September 21, 2012, the OCCA affirmed Rogers convictions and sentences. Doc. 16-3, OCCA Op, at 1, 35. The United States Supreme Court denied Rogers' petition for a writ of certiorari on March 4, 2013. See Doc. 2 at 4. Rogers filed an application for post-conviction relief in state district court. Doc. 16-4. The state district court denied Rogers' application for post-conviction relief by order filed November 25, 2014. Doc. 16-5. Rogers did not file a post-conviction appeal with the OCCA. See Doc. 16 at 2.

         Rogers filed the instant federal habeas petition (Doc. 2), along with a supporting brief (Doc. 13) on February 9, 2015.


         I. Limited scope of federal habeas review

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), a federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner “only on the ground that [s]he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 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 h[er] federal habeas claim[s] to state courts, ” Hawkins v. Mullins, 291 F.3d 658, 668 (10th Cir. 2002). A state prisoner is not required to cite “book and verse on the federal constitution” to fairly present a federal claim. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 278 (1971) (quoting Daugharty v. Gladden, 257 F.2d 750, 758 (9th Cir. 1958)). However, the prisoner “cannot assert entirely different arguments from those raised before the state court.” Bland v. Sirmons, 459 F.3d 999, 1011 (10th Cir. 2006).

         If the state court adjudicates the merits of a state prisoner's federal claims, a federal 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). As used in § 2254(d)(1), the phrase “clearly established Federal law” means “the governing legal principle or principles” stated in “the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000)).

         “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). 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). As previously stated, the federal court must also presume the correctness of the state court's factual findings unless the state prisoner rebuts that presumption “by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         The standards set forth in § 2254 are “difficult to meet” by design, 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, as a precondition to obtaining federal habeas relief 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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         Even if a state prisoner overcomes § 2254(d)'s “formidable barrier, ” Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. 12, 16 (2013), federal habeas relief is not automatic. Instead, overcoming that barrier permits the federal court to review the state prisoner's constitutional claims de novo, rather than through AEDPA's deferential lens. See Milton v. Miller, 744 F.3d 660, 670-71 (10th Cir. 2014) (explaining that satisfaction of § 2254(d)'s standards “effectively removes AEDPA's prohibition on the issuance of a writ” and “requires [federal habeas court] to review de novo” petitioner's claims- without deference to state court's decision-to determine whether petitioner is entitled to habeas relief). And, even if the federal court finds constitutional error on de novo review, it “must assess the prejudicial impact of [that] constitutional error . . . under the ‘substantial and injurious effect' standard set forth in Brecht [v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993)], whether or not the state appellate court recognized the error and reviewed it for harmlessness.” Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 121-22 (2007). Under the Brecht standard, “when a habeas court is in grave doubt as to the harmlessness of an error that affects substantial rights, it should grant relief.” O'Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 445 (1995).

         II. Analysis

         Rogers seeks federal habeas relief on five grounds:

Ground 1: The district court refusing to disqualify the trial judge denied Petitioner due process of law under the United States Constitution and the Oklahoma State Constitution.
Ground 2: The traffic stop of Petitioner was improper and violated Petitioner's rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and therefore all ...

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