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Ankh El v. Butts

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

April 10, 2019

MENES ANKH EL, Petitioner,
KEITH BUTTS, Warden, Respondent.



         Petitioner Menes Ankh El, formerly known as Wendell Brown, an inmate in the Indiana Department of Correction, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges his conviction entered by the Marion County Superior Court, case number 49G04-1502-F5-003976, for attempted fraud on a financial institution. For the reasons explained below, the petition is denied. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I. State Court Proceedings

         Federal court review of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus centers on the state court proceedings and presumes all factual findings of the state court to be correct, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See Daniels v. Knight, 476 F.3d 426, 434 (7th Cir. 2007). In Mr. Ankh El's state direct appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals recited the factual background of the case:

In December 2014, Brown purchased a car from a car dealership in Marion County with a cashier's check. Shortly thereafter, a bank employee informed the car dealership that Brown's check was not valid. Based upon this incident, the State charged Brown with attempted fraud on a financial institution, a Level 5 felony; two counts of forgery, both Level 6 felonies; and auto theft, a Level 6 felony.
A bench trial was held on May 26, 2015, and Brown was found guilty as charged. At sentencing, the trial court entered judgment of conviction only on the offense of attempted fraud on a financial institution, sentenced Brown to five years, and ordered the sentence to run consecutively to his sentences in other causes.

Dkt. 17-6 (Indiana Court of Appeals Memorandum Decision, Jun. 29, 2017).

         Mr. Ankh El raised four issues in his direct appeal. First, he asserted the trial court lacked jurisdiction because, among other things, he is an “Aboriginal and Indigenous Moorish American National” and therefore not a citizen of the United States nor Indiana. Second, he asserted the state court charging information was defective because it did not identify to whom he presented the check. Third, he asserted that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. Fourth, he asserted that the trial court committed a number of fundamental errors in his trial, including the failure to require the prosecution to prove its or the trial court's jurisdiction, and the failure of the trial court to take judicial notice of its lack of jurisdiction. Mr. Ankh El also asserted there were evidentiary errors, the trial judge was not impartial, and the trial court interfered with his pro se defense of his case. The state appellate court discussed and rejected each claim, affirming Mr. Ankh El's conviction. Dkt. 17-6, p. 13.

         Mr. Ankh El sought transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court, raising the first three issues, but abandoning the fourth issue (the trial court's alleged fundamental errors). Transfer was denied. Brown v. State, 95 N.E.3d 1292 (Ind. 2018).

         Mr. Ankh El did not pursue state post-conviction relief, but instead filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Respondent acknowledges that Mr. Ankh El has completed direct review in state court and has no other state remedies available. He also argues that Mr. Ankh El's claims are either not cognizable federal habeas corpus claims or meritless, and the petition should be denied. Mr. Ankh has replied to respondent's return and contends he is entitled to relief.

         II. Legal Standards

         Federal habeas corpus is a remedy for the violation of federal constitutional claims. A writ of habeas corpus may only issue if the petitioner is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). In Schmidt v. Foster, 911 F.3d 469, 476-477 (7th Cir. 2018) (en banc), the now-familiar standard of review for habeas cases was recited:

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), a federal court may grant habeas relief after a state-court adjudication on the merits only when that decision (1) ‘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) ‘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)(1), (2).

         Federal courts focus on whether the last reasoned state court opinion on the merits of a petitioner's claims unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court precedent. Schmidt, 911 F.3d at 477 (citing Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).

         Furthermore, the claims a state inmate makes must have been exhausted in the state courts before a federal court may consider them. “‘Inherent in the habeas petitioner's obligation to exhaust his state court remedies before seeking relief in habeas corpus, is the duty to fairly present his federal claims to the state courts.'” King v. Pfister, 834 F.3d 808, 815 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Lewis v. Sternes, 390 F.3d 1019, 1025 (7th Cir. 2004) (in turn citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A)). To meet this requirement, a petitioner “must raise the issue at each and every level in the state court system, including levels at which review is discretionary rather than mandatory.” Id. at 1025-26. “A federal court will not hear a state prisoner's habeas claim unless the prisoner has first exhausted his state remedies by presenting the claim to the state courts for one full round of review.” Davila v. Davis, 137 S.Ct. 2058, 2064 (2017)).

         Thus, the only claims Mr. Ankh El has exhausted are the three that he presented to the Indiana Supreme Court in his petition to transfer. All other claims are ...

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