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Brooks v. Warden

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 3, 2019

JACOB LYNTELLUS BROOKS, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Jacob Lyntellus Brooks, currently confined at North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. Petitioner, who is self-represented, challenges the validity of his 2009 conviction in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland for carjacking, second-degree assault, auto theft, and transporting a handgun on a roadway. Id. at 1. Respondents filed an Answer, in which they seek dismissal of the Petition on the merits and on the basis of procedural default. ECF No. 6. The Court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; Md. Local Rule 105.6; see also Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000). For the reasons that follow, the Petition is denied and dismissed, and a Certificate of Appealability shall not issue.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 9, 2008, Brooks was indicted in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County for carjacking and related offenses arising from events that took place on November 7, 2008. ECF No. 6-1 at 1, 4-7. After a three-day trial, on August 28, 2009, a jury convicted Brooks of carjacking, second-degree assault, auto theft, and transporting a handgun on a roadway. ECF No. 6-4 at 20-23. On October 23, 2009, Brooks was sentenced to a total of 30 years imprisonment. ECF No. 6-1 at 12.

         At trial, the State introduced evidence to establish the following. On the evening of November 7, 2008, Brooks and Clarence Butler arrived at an elementary school dressed in black and wearing masks. ECF No. 6-2 at 131. Butler testified that both men were armed with guns. Id. at 132. As a woman placed something in the trunk of her vehicle in the school's parking lot, the two men approached her and demanded her car keys. Id. at 134. Brooks displayed his weapon, and the woman complied with their commands. Id. A family in a minivan witnessed the carjacking and pulled up behind the stolen vehicle in an attempt to prevent Brooks and Butler from leaving the parking lot. Id. at 30, 135. Butler stepped out of the vehicle and pointed his gun at the driver of the minivan. Id. at 74, 135. Brooks was then able to drive the stolen car over a curb and exit the parking lot. Id. at 136. After Brooks drove off, the victim called the police. Several police officers were able to pursue the stolen vehicle and eventually arrested Brooks and Butler after they had exited the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot. Id. at 97, 117.

         Several days before the carjacking, a homicide had occurred several blocks from the elementary school. ECF No. 6-8 at 13. During the arrest of Butler and Brooks immediately following the carjacking, the police seized a weapon, which they determined was linked to the homicide. Id. While Butler was in custody for the carjacking, he told the police that Brooks had confessed to the murder. Id. at 15-16. Brooks was then charged for both the homicide and the carjacking. Id. at 16. Butler, in contrast, entered into a cooperation agreement with the State and agreed to testify against Brooks at both trials. Id. at 17. As part of that deal, Butler pleaded guilty to carjacking and two counts of first-degree assault, while a number of other charges were dismissed. Id. at 40-41. Moreover, the State agreed he would receive a sentence within the range of two to 21 years total, rather than the 30 years he could have faced on one count of carjacking. Id. at 41. When Butler testified at Brooks' carjacking trial, he stated that he pleaded guilty to carjacking and to two counts of first-degree assault. ECF No. 6-2 at 139. On cross-examination, however, Brooks' trial counsel did not ask a single follow-up question about Butler's plea deal. Id. at 140-49. Accordingly, no testimony was elicited as to the favorable terms of his deal.

         After sentencing, Brooks challenged his conviction on direct appeal. ECF No. 6-5 at 2. On June 7, 2011, the Court of Special Appeals, finding no reversible error, affirmed Brooks' conviction. Id. at 1-2.

         On July 12, 2011, Brooks filed a pro se petition for state post-conviction relief, asserting similar claims as those raised on direct appeal. ECF No. 6-6 at 5. On October 6, 2014, Brooks, through counsel, amended his petition withdrawing the claims he initially raised and asserting two claims based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel. ECF No. 6-7 at 4; ECF No. 6-8 at 5. Brooks claimed he received ineffective assistance when trial counsel failed (1) to cross-examine Butler with impeachment evidence of his favorable plea deal and prior convictions, and (2) to object to certain statements made by the State during closing argument. ECF No. 6-7 at 4. After holding a hearing on the amended petition, the state court denied Brooks' petition on May 14, 2015. ECF No. 6-9 at 1-3. Brooks filed an application for leave to appeal that decision, which the Court of Special Appeals summarily denied. ECF Nos. 6-10, 6-11.

         On February 7, 2017, Brooks filed his federal Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. In his petition, Brooks asserts two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 5, 7. Respondent filed an Answer, arguing Brooks' petition should be denied based on the merits and procedural default. ECF No. 6.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         The federal habeas statute at 28 U.S.C § 2254 states that a district court “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         The statute sets forth a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings.” Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n.7 (1997); see also Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 853 (2005). This standard is “difficult to meet, ” and requires federal courts to give state-court decisions the benefit of the doubt. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A state prisoner must show that a state court ruling on a claim presented in federal court was “so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011).

         A federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus unless the state's adjudication on the merits: (1) “resulted in 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 (2) “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of ...


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