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Morris v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

April 2, 2014

DEREK LEE MORRIS, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

PHILIP P. SIMON, Chief District Judge.

Derek Lee Morris, a pro se prisoner, filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his 2007 conviction in Marion County for felony child molestation. (Docket Entry 1.) The respondent argues that Morris's claims are procedurally defaulted or otherwise not cognizable on federal habeas review. (DE 10.) For the following reasons, the petition is denied.

Background

In reviewing the petition, I must presume the facts set forth by the state courts are correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). It is Morris's burden to rebut this presumption with clear and convincing evidence. Id. Here are the facts as stated by the Indiana Court of Appeals:

In August 2005, Morris spent the night at his girlfriend's home. When his girlfriend left for work the following morning, Morris held her thirteen year-old daughter down by her arms and removed her clothing. He then placed his penis inside the daughter's vagina. After the victim told her mother what happened, Morris was charged with Class A felony child molesting.

Morris v. State, No. 49A02-0702-CR-172, slip op. at *2 (Ind.Ct.App. Feb. 11, 2008). Following a jury trial, Morris was found guilty. Id. He appealed, presenting two issues to the Indiana Court of Appeals: (1) the trial court improperly admitted certain hearsay testimony; and (2) the trial court improperly instructed the jury. Id. The appellate court affirmed. Id. at *3-5. Morris did not seek transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court. ( See DE 10-2.)

In 2008, Morris filed a petition for state post-conviction relief. Morris v. State, No. 49A04-1106-PC-379, slip op. at *3 (Ind.Ct.App. Apr. 27, 2012). Following a two-day evidentiary hearing, the petition was denied. Id. He appealed, asserting claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel on various grounds, and errors in the post-conviction proceedings. Id. at *2. The appellate court found no merit to his claims. Id. The court also noted that Morris raised several free-standing claims pertaining to errors at trial, but the court found these claims waived under state law. Id. *2 n.1. Accordingly, the court affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. Id. at *12. Morris sought transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court, asserting claims that the appellate court failed to adequately address his arguments; the trial court failed to make specific findings of fact on certain claims raised in the post-conviction proceedings; and both courts "significantly departed from accepted laws, Rules & Constitution." (DE 10-11.) The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer. (DE 10-6 at 6-7.)

Thereafter, Morris filed a federal habeas petition raising six claims: (1) his trial counsel was ineffective on various grounds; (2) his appellate counsel was ineffective on various grounds; (3) the trial judge abused his discretion in various respects; (4) the Indiana Court of Appeals abused its discretion on post-conviction review; (5) the prosecutor committed misconduct; and (6) he is actually innocent of the offense. (DE 1 at 3-5.)

Analysis

Morris's petition is governed by the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 322, 336 (1997). AEDPA allows a district court to issue a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to a state court judgment "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 court may grant an application for habeas relief only if it meets the stringent requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), set forth as follows:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(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 the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

Under this deferential standard, a federal habeas court must "attend closely" to the decisions of state courts "and give them full effect when their findings and judgments are consistent with federal law." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 383 (2000). A state court decision is "contrary to" federal law if the state court applies a rule other than the one set out for the situation by the U.S. Supreme Court, or reaches a different result in a case involving facts materially indistinguishable from relevant U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). A federal court may grant habeas relief under the "unreasonable application" clause "if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the U.S. Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of petitioner's case." Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To warrant relief, a state court's decision must be more than incorrect or erroneous; it must be "objectively unreasonable." Id. at 520-21 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In other words, "[a] state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief ...


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