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Crockett v. Superintendent

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

July 31, 2017

WILLIAM B. CROCKETT III, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge United States District Court

         William B. Crockett, III, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging his murder conviction and 65 year sentence in the St. Joseph Superior Court on January 25, 2005, under cause number 71D01-310-MR-27. ECF 2 at 1. Mr. Crockett raises one ground arguing that his direct appeal counsel "was ineffective in that he raised ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct appeal and thereby failed to preserve for postconviction relief ineffective assistance claims based on evidence outside of the record on appeal." To succeed on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim on post-conviction review in the state courts, Mr. Crockett had to show that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced him. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). This claim was adjudicated on the merits and the Indiana Court of Appeals decided that he had not met either prong of the Strickland test.

         "Federal habeas review . . . exists as a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S.__, __; 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

[This] standard is intentionally difficult to meet. We have explained that clearly established Federal law for purposes of §2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions. And an unreasonable application of those holdings must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice. To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to show that the state court's ruling on the claim being 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.

Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S.__, __; 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Mr. Crockett argues that neither the post-conviction trial court nor the Indiana Court of Appeals "officially reached the 'performance' prong [of the Strickland test], although the postconviction trial court essentially found that Petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective and the Indiana Court of Appeals essentially found that Petitioner's appellate counsel was ineffective." ECF 2-2 at 5. Mr. Crockett is incorrect. Both courts addressed the performance prong and neither found that appellate counsel was deficient. In its amended findings of fact and conclusions of law, the post-conviction trial court found:

Based on the testimony of appellate counsel, this court concludes that appellate counsel's performance was not deficient when he decided to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct appeal. Appellate counsel made a tactical decision based on his reading of the trial record and believed he had sufficient grounds on the face of that record to support the claim. The fact that the claim was not ultimately successful or that the decision to raise it in the direct appeal can be questioned did not render appellate counsel's performance deficient.

Appellant's [Post-Conviction] Appendix at 155; ECF 2-3 at 29. The Indiana Court of Appeals didn't disturb that finding when it addressed appellate counsel's performance.

During the post-conviction hearing, Crockett's appellate counsel acknowledged that ineffective assistance of counsel claims should rarely be raised on direct appeal, but explained that he decided to present such issues on direct appeal because he "thought [they] were supported by facts that were in the record" and were "legitimate appellate issues." Transcript of Post-Conviction Hearing at 85. Crockett's appellate counsel further stated that, case law notwithstanding, in his "opinion, " he did not believe that raising a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal would necessarily preclude the petitioner from raising the issue again on completely different grounds through a petition for postconviction relief. Id. at 87.
Crockett's appellate counsel clearly misunderstood the state of the law insofar as it was his "opinion" that presenting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal would not foreclose Crockett from presenting additional claims of ineffective assistance of counsel during post-conviction proceedings. Id. Since our Supreme Court's decision in Woods v. State, [701 N.E.2d 1208 (Ind.1998)], it has been clear that such is in fact the effect of presenting a claim of ineffective assistance on direct appeal - any additional claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are foreclosed from collateral review. While appellate counsel's decision to present such issue on direct appeal was, in part, a tactical decision, it cannot be said that his misunderstanding or "opinion" of the law could serve as the basis for sound appellate strategy. That said, the post-conviction court properly concluded that Crockett's claim of ineffective ...

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