United States District Court, D. Maryland
Xinis United States District Judge.
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
Standard of Review
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.
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)).
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
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 ...