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Taylor v. Crow

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

September 6, 2019

KEITH G. TAYLOR, JR., Petitioner,
SCOTT CROW, Interim Director[1], Respondent.



         Now before the Court is petitioner's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition (Dkt. # 1). For the reasons below, the petition will be denied.


         This cases arises from petitioner's rape convictions. In 2014, his stepdaughter, A.H., told her mental health provider that she engaged in intercourse with petitioner. See Dkt. # 7-2 at 1. A.H. was eighteen at the time, but the record reflects she is “mentally disabled and has the mental capacity of a ten to twelve year old girl.” Id. The state charged petitioner with five counts of first degree rape of a victim mentally incapable of giving consent (Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1115). See Dkt. # 7-1 at 1-3. Alex Braumlett was appointed as defense counsel. See Dkt. # 1 at 12.

         On December 12, 2014, petitioner entered a negotiated plea. See Dkt. # 7-3. He agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of 15 years on each count, to run concurrently. Id. at 3. The state court accepted the plea and sentenced petitioner accordingly. See Dkt. # 7-4. On December 29, 2014, petitioner filed a letter in the state court indicating that he wished to withdraw his plea. See Dkt. # 7-5. It does not appear that the state court construed the letter as a motion or issued any ruling. Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief the following year. See Dkt. # 7-6 at 1. He requested permission to file an appeal out of time. Id. The state court denied the motion, finding that counsel rendered effective assistance and that petitioner's ignorance of the law did not justify his failure to comply with procedural rules. See Dkt. # 7-8. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) affirmed. See Dkt. # 7-13.

         Petitioner filed the federal § 2254 petition (Dkt. # 1) on March 31, 2016. He raises three propositions of error:

(Ground 1): Petitioner was not competent enough to understand his appeal rights;
(Ground 2): The plea was involuntary;
(Ground 3): Ineffective assistance of plea counsel.

See Dkt. # 1 at 6, 12, and 17. Respondent filed a response (Dkt. # 7), along with copies of the state court record. Respondent concedes, and the Court finds, that petitioner timely filed his federal habeas petition. See Dkt. # 7 at 2; see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244(d), 2254(b)(1)(A). However, Respondent argues that Grounds 1 and 2 are procedurally barred, and Ground 3 fails on the merits. Petitioner filed a reply (Dkt. # 11) on June 2, 2016, and the matter is fully briefed.


         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) governs this Court's review of petitioner's habeas claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Relief is available under the AEDPA only 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). Where the OCCA already adjudicated petitioner's claims, this Court may not grant habeas relief unless he demonstrates that the OCCA's ruling: (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);[2] (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) (quotations omitted). 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. (quotations omitted). 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) (quotations omitted). “[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 state court'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 ...

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