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Hobson v. Bear

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

September 20, 2019

CARL BEAR, Warden, Respondent.



         Before the Court is Christopher Hobson’s 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition. He challenges his Tulsa County District Court convictions for assaulting police officers with a deadly weapon, No. CF-2012-3081. Dkt. 1 at 1. For the reasons discussed below, the petition is denied.

         I. Background

         This case arises from a tense police standoff at a Tulsa café. Hobson entered the café on July 7, 2012 and announced he had no money. Dkt. 11-1 at 117-118. A cook offered to buy Hobson coffee and food. Id. After the cook entered the kitchen, Hobson started cutting the café’s seats with a knife. Id. at 118. Police arrived and evacuated the building. Id. at 123. Hobson refused to drop the knife, which was tied to his wrist with string. Id. at 124. He was pacing around listening to something on MP3 player earbuds, which he periodically removed from his ears. Id. Hobson purportedly started gripping his face and clenching his hands, and officers believed he was “getting psyched up” to attack. Id. at 125. Police requested backup from officers with nonlethal equipment such as tasers, pepper-ball guns, and bean bag guns. Id. at 127.

         The Tulsa Police Department dispatched a special operations team to the scene, who arrived with the nonlethal (or less lethal) equipment. Dkt. 11-1 at 128. According to Corporal Miller, Hobson made numerous remarks about wanting to hurt the officers. Id. at 169. Hobson also stated his intention to “run at [the officers] and make [them] shoot him.” Id. Sergeant Moudy similarly stated Hobson wished to be shot and killed with a shotgun, preferably in the chest or face. Id. at 192. Sergeant Moudy explained to Hobson they would only use nonlethal weapons if he attacked. Id. After about an hour, Hobson put his earbuds in, assumed a determined look on his face, and said something like “let’s do this.” Id. at 129-130; 172; 195. Multiple officers testified Hobson ran at them with the knife in an attack position. Id. The officers immobilized Hobson with a pepperball gun and taser. Id. They recall him gripping the knife as he fell to the ground. Id.

         The State charged Hobson with: (Count I) assault with a dangerous weapon after nine prior convictions, Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 645; (Count II) obstructing an officer, Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 540; and (Count III) malicious injury to property, Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 1760. Dkt. 11-5 at 17. J. Brian Rayl was appointed to represent Hobson. Dkt. 3 at 13. He later retained Kathy Fry as trial counsel. Id.; see also Dkt. 10-4. His defense theory was that he lacked the requisite mens rea and only intended to commit “suicide by cop.” The jury rejected this theory and convicted Hobson of all charges. Dkt. 11-2 at 61. The state court sentenced Hobson to a total term of 40 years imprisonment, in accordance with the jury’s recommendation. Dkt. 11-4.

         Hobson appealed the decision with the assistance of new counsel, Laura Arledge. Dkt. 10-1 at 1. He argued: (1) the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate he intended to assault the officers (“Ground 1”); and (2) the sentence is excessive (“Ground 2”). Id. at 2. By a Summary Opinion entered August 7, 2014, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) affirmed the conviction and sentence. Dkt. 10-3. Hobson then filed a post-conviction application raising ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel (“Ground 3”). Dkt. 10-4. The state court denied the application, and the OCCA again affirmed. Dkts. 10-7 at 10-11.

         Hobson filed the instant § 2254 Petition on June 3, 2016. Dkt. 3. He raises the three grounds identified above. Id. Respondent filed an answer (Dkt. 10) along with copies of the state court record (Dkt. 11). Respondent concedes, and the Court finds, the Petition is timely and Hobson exhausted Grounds 1 and 2 by presenting them to the OCCA. Dkt. 10 at 2; see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244(d)(1) and (b)(1)(A). However, Respondent argues Ground 3 is procedurally barred and that the claims otherwise fail on the merits. Petitioner filed a reply (Dkt. 12), and the matter is fully briefed.

         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.

         1. Ground 1: Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Hobson first argues he was deprived of due process because the State’s evidence is insufficient to support an assault conviction. Dkt. 3 at 10. He maintains he did not intend to hurt anyone and only wanted police to end his life. Id. The OCCA rejected this argument after determining “any rational finder of fact could have found the elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.” Dkt. 10-3 at 2.

         Federal courts use the same legal standard. Under the Due Process Clause, a criminal defendant cannot be convicted of a crime unless the state proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, every essential element of the crime charged. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 316 (1979); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). On federal habeas review, “the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. “Jackson claims face a high bar in federal habeas proceedings because they are subject to two layers of judicial deference.” Coleman v. Johnson, 566 U.S. 650, 651 (2012) (per curiam). As the Supreme Court explained:

First, on direct appeal, “it is the responsibility of the jury-not the court-to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial. A reviewing court may set aside the jury’s verdict on the ground of insufficient evidence only if no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the jury.” Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U.S. 1, 132 S.Ct. 2, 4, 181 L.Ed.2d 311 (2011) (per curiam). And second, on habeas review, “a federal court may not overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court. The federal court instead may do so only if the state court decision was ‘objectively unreasonable.’” Ibid. (quoting Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 1862, 176 L.Ed.2d 678 (2010)).

Id. The Court looks to state law to determine the substantive elements of the crime, “but the minimum amount of evidence that the Due Process Clause requires to prove the offense is purely a matter of federal law.” Coleman, 566 U.S. at 655.

         The elements of assault-with-a-dangerous-weapon are set forth in Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 645. To obtain Hobson’s conviction, the State had to prove: (1) an assault; (2) upon another person; (3) with a dangerous weapon; (4) without justification or excusable cause; and (5) with intent to do bodily harm. See Okla. Crim. Jury Instruction No. 4-12; Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 645. At issue here is the fifth element, which requires “either direct or circumstantial evidence which might infer intent from the act done.” James v. State, 599 P.2d 411, 412 (Okla. App. 1979).

         After reviewing the record, the Court agrees any rational factfinder could have inferred Hobson intended to inflict harm. Several officers testified Hobson made comments about hurting them before running towards them with a knife. Dkt. 11-1 at 129-130, 169. There is nothing in the record to ...

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