United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
BRUCE A. WHITE, Petitioner,
WARDEN, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Respondent.
ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE
Bruce A. White seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his murder conviction in
Indiana state court case number 20C01-1003-MR-00001.
Respondent has filed his return and Mr. White has replied.
For the reasons explained below, Mr. White's petition
must be denied.
White was charged on March 1, 2009, in Elkhart County,
Indiana, with murder and felony murder. A jury trial was held
December 13-14, 2010, where Mr. White was convicted of both
counts. The trial court dismissed the felony murder
conviction due to double jeopardy concerns. On January 19,
2011, Mr. White was sentenced to sixty-five years
imprisonment in the Indiana Department of Correction.
direct appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals, Mr. White
raised two issues challenging the sufficiency of the evidence
used to rebut his claim of self-defense and the length of his
sentence. The appeals court affirmed the conviction and
sentence in an unpublished decision on October 13, 2011.
White v. State, No. 20A03-1101-CR-28 (Ind.Ct.App.
Oct. 13, 2011); dkt. 13-6. The Indiana Supreme Court denied a
petition to transfer on December 13, 2011. Dkt. 13-9.
White filed a petition for state post-conviction relief on
September 18, 2012. He withdrew the petition on May 9, 2013,
and refiled a petition on July 24, 2013. Dkt. 13-10. The
trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Mr. White's
claims on April 7, 2016. The trial court denied the petition
on September 27, 2016. On post-conviction appeal, Mr. White
asserted an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim
arguing four acts of deficient performance. Dkt. 13-13. The
Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's
denial of post-conviction relief in an unpublished decision
on July 27, 2017. White v. State, No.
20A04-1610-PC-2490 (Ind.Ct.App. July 27, 2017); dkt. 13-14.
The Indiana Supreme Court denied a petition to transfer on
December 19, 2017.
White filed this habeas corpus action on January 4, 2018.
Habeas Corpus Legal Standard
federal court may grant habeas relief only if the petitioner
demonstrates that he is in custody “in violation of the
Constitution or laws . . . of the United States.” 28
U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) directs how the
Court must consider petitions for habeas relief under §
2254. “In considering habeas corpus petitions
challenging state court convictions, [the Court's] review
is governed (and greatly limited) by AEDPA.” Dassey
v. Dittmann, 877 F.3d 297, 301 (7th Cir. 2017) (en banc)
(citation and quotation marks omitted). “The standards
in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) were designed to prevent federal
habeas retrials and to ensure that state-court convictions
are given effect to the extent possible under law.”
Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted).
federal habeas court cannot grant relief unless the state
court's adjudication of a federal claim 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;
(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).
decision federal courts look to is the last reasoned
state-court decision to decide the merits of the case, even
if the state's supreme court then denied discretionary
review.” Dassey, 877 F.3d at 302.
“Deciding whether a state court's decision
‘involved' an unreasonable application of federal
law or ‘was based on' an unreasonable determination
of fact requires the federal habeas court to train its
attention on the particular reasons - both legal and factual
- why state courts rejected a state prisoner's federal
claims, and to give appropriate deference to that
decision[.]” Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct.
1188, 1191-92 (2018) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
“This is a straightforward inquiry when the last state
court to decide a prisoner's federal claim explains its
decision on the merits in a reasoned opinion.”
Id. “In that case, a federal habeas court
simply reviews the specific reasons given by the state court
and defers to those reasons if they are reasonable.”
purposes of § 2254(d)(1), an unreasonable application of
federal law is different from an incorrect application of
federal law.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S.
86, 101 (2011). “A state court's determination that
a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long
as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of
the state court's decision.” Id. “If
this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was
meant to be.” Id. at 102. “The issue is
not whether federal judges agree with the state court
decision or even whether the state court decision was
correct. The issue is whether the decision was unreasonably
wrong under an objective standard.” Dassey,
877 F.3d at 302. “Put another way, [the Court] ask[s]
whether the state court decision ‘was so lacking in
justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement.'” Id. (quoting
Richter, 562 U.S. at 103). “The bounds of a reasonable
application depend on the nature of the relevant rule. The
more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in
reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.”
Schmidt v. Foster, 911 F.3d 469, 477 (7th Cir. 2018)
(en banc) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
Facts of the Case
Indiana Court of Appeals summarized the facts of the case in
its decision in Mr. White's direct appeal and repeated
the same summary in its post-conviction appeal decision:
On the evening of July 25, 2009, White, Charles Farrell
(“Farrell”), and an unidentified third man drove
to Elkhart[, Indiana, ] to purchase two kilo[gram]s of
cocaine from [James] for a price of $64, 000. The men met
Daron Tuggle (“Tuggle”) at a convenience store,
and then followed Tuggle's vehicle to the Old Farm
Apartments. Upon their arrival at the apartment complex, the
group found James and Noble Dennie (“Dennie”)
waiting for them. Tuggle, White, and Farrell got out of their
vehicles and joined James and Dennie, and all five men
entered an apartment.
Once inside the apartment, James grabbed two packages of
cocaine from a table. Farrell asked to look inside the
packages, and Tuggle turned toward the kitchen to retrieve
something to use to open them. At that time, Tuggle heard
White tell James “give it up, Cuz.” Tuggle turned
back around and saw that White was holding a gun to
James's head. Tuggle took a step forward, and Farrell
pulled out a gun and pointed it at Tuggle, telling him not to
move. James struggled with White, unsuccessfully attempting
to disarm him. James then backed away as White continued to
point the gun at him. Tuggle then heard a gunshot and James
fell to the ground.
Multiple other shots were fired, and Dennie knocked Tuggle to
the ground. When the gunfire stopped, Tuggle looked up and
saw that only he and James remained in the apartment. Tuggle
then got up and went over to check on James, who had been
shot in the abdomen, but was still breathing. Tuggle called
an ambulance, but James later died from the gunshot wound. A
single .45 caliber bullet was recovered during James's
autopsy. The police recovered seven .45 caliber shell
casings, all of which were fired from one weapon, as well as
six 9 [millimeter] shell casings, all of which were fired
from one [other] weapon. No. gun was seen or found on or near
White suffered three gunshot wounds during the shooting, and
he later sought treatment at a hospital in South Bend. White
told the treating nurse that he was walking near a local
restaurant and “minding his own business” when
“these guys just came up and shot him.” The next
morning, after reading about James's death in the
newspaper, White fled to Indianapolis, where he stayed at a
friend's house . . . . White [later] learned that a
warrant had been issued for his arrest, and he fled to
Atlanta, Georgia. While in Atlanta, . . . White was arrested,
and before being fingerprinted, he admitted to the Atlanta
police that he had shot someone and there was a warrant for
his arrest in Indiana. Thereafter, White was extradited to
Indiana and brought to the Elkhart County Jail.
On March 1, 2010, the State charged White with murder and
felony murder. A three-day jury trial commenced on December
13, 2010, at which Tuggle testified for the State. At the
conclusion of the evidence, White was found guilty of murder.
The trial court held a sentencing hearing on January 6, 2011,
and White was sentenced to an executed term of sixty-five
years in the Department of Correction.
Dkt. 13-6, pp. 2-4.
Ground for Habeas Corpus Relief
White's habeas petition presents one issue - whether his
trial counsel was ineffective. Dkt. 2, p. 7. The claim is
divided into five subparts, each contending that a specific
event or action was ineffective assistance. These subparts
are not separate claims, but individual instances of
performance to be considered together in evaluating the
single claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Peoples v. United States, 403 F.3d 844, 848 (7th
Cir. 2005) (holding that “ineffective assistance of
counsel is a single ground for relief no matter how many
failings the lawyer may have displayed. Counsel's work
must be assessed as a whole; it is the overall deficient
performance, rather than a specific failing, that constitutes
the ground of relief.”).
criminal defendant has a right under the Sixth Amendment to
effective assistance of counsel. Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). For a habeas
corpus petitioner to establish that “counsel's
assistance was so defective as to require reversal, ”
he must make two showings: (1) that counsel rendered
deficient performance that (2) prejudiced him. Id.
With respect to the performance requirement, “[t]he
proper measure of attorney performance remains simply
reasonableness under prevailing professional norms.”
Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521 (2003) (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688). “[T]o establish
prejudice, a ‘defendant must show that there is a
reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.'” Id. at 534 (quoting
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694).
the deferential AEDPA standard is applied to a
Strickland claim, the following calculus emerges:
Establishing that a state court's application of
Strickland was unreasonable under § 2254(d) is
. . . difficult. The standards created by Strickland
and § 2254(d) are both “highly deferential,
” [Strickland] at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052;
Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n.7 (1997), and
when the two apply in tandem, review is “doubly”
so, Knowles, 556 U.S. at 123. The
Strickland standard is a general one, so the range
of reasonable applications is substantial. 556 U.S. at 123.
Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of
equating unreasonableness under Strickland with
unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d)
applies, the ...