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Yates v. Bishop

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 10, 2019

WARREN JEROME YATES, #360364 Petitioner


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Warren Jerome Yates challenges his 2009 conviction in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County for second degree felony murder and related offenses pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, primarily contending that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. ECF No. 1. The Petition is ready for resolution and the Court has determined it need not hold a hearing. See Loc. R. 105.6; see also Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (petitioner not entitled to a hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)). For the following reasons, the Court denies the Petition and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

         I. Background

         Yates, along with his co-defendant Donald Kohler, stood trial for felony murder and drug distribution offenses arising from an incident that occurred on January 7, 2009. The evidence at trial demonstrated that Kohler had purchased four pounds of marijuana from Yates. Kohler gave cash in a bag in exchange for the marijuana. After Kohler left, Yates discovered the cash was counterfeit and chased after Kohler. Id. at 1074. Witnesses testified to having seen Yates run after Kohler into an alley, heard gunshots, and then saw Yates running back toward them. Yates then got into a car with another individual, to whom Yates ultimately disclosed that he had fired the gun shortly before. ECF No. 12-11 at p. 130-32 (Tx. 10/8/2009). A single shot hit and killed bystander Shirley Worcester.

         A jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County convicted Yates of second degree felony murder, using a handgun during the commission of a violent crime, drug trafficking with a firearm, marijuana distribution, conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and first-degree assault. On December 7, 2009, the Circuit Court sentenced Yates to 95 years' confinement. See Yates v. State, 33 A. 3d 1071');">33 A. 3d 1071, 1074 (Md.App. 2011).

         Yates appealed his convictions, challenging the admission of certain hearsay statements, the sufficiency of the evidence on the felony murder and handgun offenses, and substantive jury instructions. Yates, 33 A. 3d at 1071. On December 22, 2011, the Court of Specials of Maryland affirmed the convictions in a reported opinion. Yates, 33 A. 3d at 1072; see also ECF No. 12-3. Thereafter, the Court of Appeals of Maryland affirmed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals. Yates v. State, 55 A.3d 25 (Md. 2012).

         On October 22, 2013, Yates moved for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, raising eighteen claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County held a hearing on the Petition for Post-Conviction Relief and, by order filed on June 26, 2015, denied relief except as to whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a timely motion for a new trial. Yates was permitted to file a belated motion for new trial. ECF No. 12-7 at p. 21. Yates applied for leave to appeal the denial of post-conviction relief which the Court of Special Appeals denied on July 28, 2016. ECF Nos. 12-8, 12-9.

         Yates next filed his federal habeas petition on October 14, 2016. ECF No. 1. In it, Yates presses only two of the ineffectiveness claims raised previously: that counsel was ineffective for failing to (1) request voir dire questions concerning juror biases regarding handgun use and narcotics offenses; and (2) move for judgment of acquittal sufficient to preserve certain arguments for appeal regarding sufficiency of evidence. ECF No. 12-7 at pp. 3 ¶4, 4 ¶ 12. Because neither is availing, the Petition must be denied.

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court may grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus only to address violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal court reviewing a habeas petition that a state court has adjudicated previously must give “considerable deference to the state court decision, ” and may not grant habeas relief unless the state court arrived at a “‘decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,' or ‘a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.'” Nicolas v. Att'y Gen. of Md., 820 F.3d 124, 129 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). In reviewing the Petition, the Court “must presume that the state court's factual findings are correct unless the petitioner rebuts those facts by clear and convincing evidence, ” and “cannot disturb the state court's ruling simply because it is incorrect; it must also be unreasonable.” Id.

         For a state court's decision to be contrary to established federal law, the state court must have arrived at a conclusion contrary to the United States Supreme Court on a question of law or must have confronted facts that are “materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court” case but nevertheless arrived at the opposite result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000); see Lovitt v. True, 403 F.3d 171, 178 (4th Cir. 2005); Barnes v. Joyner, 751 F.3d 229, 238 (4th Cir. 2014). As to an unreasonable determination, a federal court “may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Lovitt, 403 F.3d at 178 (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 411). Rather, the Petitioner 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.” Barnes, 751 F.3d at 238 (quoting White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 419-20 (2014)).

         At base, for a § 2254 claim to be cognizable, the petitioner must assert a violation of federal statutory law or of the United States Constitution. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 1 (2010); Larry v. Branker, 552 F.3d 356, 368 (4th Cir. 2009) (“[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions. In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”) (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)). “The role of a federal habeas court is to guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not to apply de novo review of factual findings and to substitute its own opinions for the determinations made on the scene by the trial judge.” Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2202 (2015) (internal marks and citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Every accused enjoys the Sixth Amendment right to “the effective assistance of counsel.” Garza v. Idaho, 139 S.Ct. 738, 743-44 (2019) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984)). Challenges to the effectiveness of criminal counsel are reviewed under the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Pursuant to Strickland, a petitioner must demonstrate both that his counsel's performance was deficient, and that the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Strickland at 687. A strong presumption of adequacy attaches to counsel's conduct such that a petitioner alleging ineffective assistance must show that the proceeding was rendered fundamentally unfair due to counsel's errors. Id. at 689, 700. “A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every ...

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