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McClellan v. Sharp

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

July 19, 2019

TOMMY SHARP, Warden, Respondent.



         Before the Court is Petitioner David McClellan's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition. He challenges his Tulsa County District Court convictions for rape and sodomy, No. CF-2011-3245. Dkt. 3 at 2. For the reasons discussed below, the petition is denied.

         I. Background

         This case arises from allegations that Petitioner had anal and oral sex with a thirteen year-old girl. The State charged him with: (Count I) first-degree rape of a victim under 14, Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1115; and (Counts II-III) forcible oral sodomy, Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 888. Dkt. 11-1. Petitioner retained Sharon Holmes as defense counsel. Dkt. 11-7 at 4. The case was originally set for jury trial on March 12, 2012. Dkt. 12-2 at 19-20. However, it was continued multiple times over a period of fifteen months. Id. At the final trial setting on October 8, 2013, the prosecutor offered Petitioner a plea bargain of “seven in, five out.” Dkt. 12-1 at 2. Petitioner would be sentenced to twelve years imprisonment, with five years suspended. Id. Petitioner rejected the bargain but entered a blind guilty plea. Dkt. 11-2; see also Dkt. 12-1 at 16. It appears he hoped to obtain a lower sentence after the state court ordered a presentence investigation report (PSI). Id.

         Six days later, counsel filed an application to withdraw the plea. Dkt. 11-3. The application alleges Petitioner was confused, distraught, and felt pressured by conflicting advice from his family members. Id. The state court denied the application and sentenced Petitioner to twelve years imprisonment, with five years suspended (i.e., the sentence specified in the rejected plea bargain). Dkt. 12-3 at 4. Petitioner appealed, but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) denied certiorari review. Dkts. 11-5 and 11-6. Petitioner then filed an application for post-conviction relief, which reiterated his argument that the plea was involuntary. Dkt. 11-7. Petitioner also argued plea counsel rendered ineffective assistance. Id. The state court denied the post-conviction application, and the OCCA affirmed. Dkts. 11-8 and 11-10.

         Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition on May 26, 2016. Dkt. 3. He raises three propositions of error:

(Ground 1): Ineffective assistance of plea counsel;
(Ground 2): Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel; and
(Ground 3): Involuntary Plea.

Dkt. 3 at 5, 9, and 11. Respondent filed an answer along with copies of the state court record. Dkts. 11 and 12. Respondent concedes, and the Court finds, the Petition is timely and Petitioner exhausted Ground 3. Dkt. 11 at 2; see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244(d)(1) and (b)(1)(A). However, Respondent argues Grounds 1 and 2 are procedurally barred, and the Petition otherwise fails on the merits. Dkt. 11.

         II. Analysis

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) governs this Court's review of Hobson's habeas claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Relief is only available under the AEDPA where the petitioner “is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). “Before addressing the merits of [the] claim, [the petitioner] must show that he can satisfy [certain] procedural requirements.” U.S. v. Greer, 881 F.3d 1241, 1245 (10th Cir. 2018). Those requirements generally include timeliness, exhaustion, and - at issue here - the absence of a procedural bar. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244(d)(1) and (b)(1)(A); Fairchild v. Workman, 579 F.3d 1134, 1141 (10th Cir. 2009). If the procedural requirements are satisfied or excused, the petitioner must then show the OCCA's adjudication of the claim: (1) “resulted in a decision that was contrary to ... clearly established Federal law as determined by Supreme Court of the United States, ” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1);[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. § at 2254(d)(2).

         “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 v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-6 (2006)). 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, 562 U.S. at 413). Significantly, an “unreasonable application of” clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) “must be ‘objectively unreasonable,' not merely wrong.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003)). “[E]ven clear error will not suffice.” Id. 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 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).

         Essentially, 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). A state prisoner ultimately “must show that the state court's ruling … 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.

         A. Ground 3: Involuntary Plea

         Petitioner primarily argues he did not understand the nature or consequences of his blind plea. Dkt. 3 at 11. According to Petitioner, he was not competent to plead guilty and was confused, incoherent, and “mentally broken down” on the day of the plea hearing. Id. at 11-12. The state court rejected this argument in an oral ruling, reasoning:

[T]his case has been set six times in the past…. I consider [Ms. Holmes] to be one of the best defense attorneys that you could ever hire…. I gave you hours to be in here. When you were upset and didn't know what you wanted to do, sir, I said, ‘No problem. You go talk to your loved ones and you guys make a choice.' And then when you came back, I was - you did ask for more time and I said no, because I had given you plenty of time at that point, not to even mention the time before that you had to make this consideration on what you wanted to do. You're a grown man. I know it was a difficult decision for you and it's an emotional decision. I have taken all those things into consideration [in denying the motion to withdraw].

Dkt. 12-3 at 3-4. The OCCA also found the plea was “knowing and voluntary.” Dkt. 11-6. ...

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