Coffelt v. Sexton et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Chief Judge Todd J. Campbell on 5/26/11. (xc:Pro se party by regular and certified mail.)(dt)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
BILLY JACKSON COFFELT
WARDEN DAVID SEXTON
M E M O R A N D U M
The petitioner, proceeding
pro se, is an inmate at the
Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City, Tennessee. He
brings this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 against David
Sexton, Warden of the facility, seeking a writ of habeas corpus.
On November 29, 1984, a jury in Davidson County found the
petitioner guilty of armed robbery. Docket Entry No.14-1 at pg.31.
For this crime, he received a sentence of twenty five (25) years in
prison. Id. at pg.47. On direct appeal, the Tennessee Court of
Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction. Docket Entry No.2-1 at
pgs.16-18. The Tennessee Supreme Court later denied petitioner’s
application for further review. Docket Entry No.15-6.
In August, 2006, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
vacated two of the petitioner’s prior convictions from 1983. Docket
Entry No.15-8 at pgs.16-31.1 The vacation of those convictions was
due to a finding that the petitioner had been denied the effective
assistance of counsel. That case was remanded for a new trial.
Rather than retry the petitioner, the State chose to dismiss the
charges. Docket Entry No.15-7 at pg.19.
On March 14, 2007, the petitioner filed a pro se petition for
post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court of Davidson County,
arguing that the vacated convictions had been used to enhance his
current sentence. Docket Entry No.2-1 at pgs.1-4. Following the
appointment of counsel and an evidentiary hearing, the trial court
denied the petition for post-conviction relief. Id. at pgs.5-10.
On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed
the denial of post-conviction relief. Id. at pgs.11-15. Once again,
the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected the petitioner’s application
for additional post-conviction review. Docket Entry No.15-12 at
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On July 8, 2010, the petitioner filed the instant petition
(Docket Entry No.1) for federal habeas corpus relief in the
District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.2 By an order
The prior convictions were for assault with intent to
commit murder and assault with intent to commit armed robbery.
The petition was stamped by the Clerk’s Office as filed on
July 13, 2010. A pleading from a prisoner, though, is deemed
filed on the day that it was given to a prison official for
posting. Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988). In this case, the
(Docket Entry No.5) entered February 15, 2011, the case was
transferred to this judicial district.
subsequently vacated convictions were used to enhance his current
Upon its receipt, the Court conducted a preliminary review of
the petition and determined that the petitioner had stated a
colorable claim for relief. Accordingly, an order (Docket Entry
No.7) was entered directing the respondent to file an answer, plead
or otherwise respond to the petition. Rule 4, Rules - - § 2254
Presently before the Court is the respondent’s Answer (Docket
Entry No.13), to which the petitioner has filed his “Antithesis”
(Docket Entry No.16).
Having carefully considered these pleadings and the record as
a whole, it appears that an evidentiary hearing is not needed in
this matter. See Smith v. United States, 348 F.3d 545,550 (6th Cir.
2003)(an evidentiary hearing is not required when the record
conclusively shows that the petitioner is entitled to no relief).
Therefore, the Court shall dispose of the petition as the law and
petitioner avers that his petition was given to prison officials
for posting on July 8, 2010. See Docket Entry No.1 at pg.11. That
date, therefore, is deemed to be the date that the petition was
justice require. Rule 8, Rules - - § 2254 Cases.
III. TIMELINESS OF THE PETITION
In his Answer, the respondent argues that this action is
untimely. A one year period of limitation has been placed on the
filing of § 2254 petitions. Thus, a prisoner in custody pursuant to
the judgment of a state court has one year from the “date on which
the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have
been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.” 28 U.S.C.
The petitioner’s claim for relief is dependent upon two
convictions from 1983 that were later vacated by the Tennessee
Court of Criminal Appeals. That event occurred on August 8, 2006
and is the date where the respondent begins his running of the
limitation period. See Docket Entry No.15-8 at pgs.16-31. The
limitation period, however, did not begin to run from that date. As
long as the State had the option of retrying the petitioner on
litigation. On January 11, 2007, the State decided not to retry the
petitioner and dismissed the assault charges against him. Docket
Entry No.15-7 at pg.19. It was at this point in time that the one
year limitation period began to run.
28 U.S.C. § 2244(d) actually provides that the limitation
period will begin to run from the latest of four dates, one of
which is the date that the factual predicate of a claim began
available. The other three potential dates do not apply in this
After sixty two (62) days had elapsed, the petitioner filed a
pro se petition for state post-conviction relief.4 That filing had
the effect of tolling the limitation period until the postconviction proceeding had concluded in the state courts. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2244((d)(2). The Tennessee Supreme Court denied petitioner’s
application for additional post-conviction review on October 26,
2009. Docket Entry No.15-12 at pg.2. Thus, the limitation period
resumed running on October 27, 2009.
With sixty two days already elapsed, there remained three
hundred three (365-62=303) days in the limitation period. DiCenzi
v. Rose, 452 F.3d 465,468-69 (6th Cir.2006)(the limitation period
resumes at that point where it was tolled rather than starting
anew). Therefore, the limitation period for the filing of this
action did not expire until August 25, 2010.5 As noted above, the
habeas corpus petition initiating the instant action was filed on
July 8, 2010. Consequently, this action is timely.
IV. ANALYSIS OF THE CLAIM
The petitioner believes that his constitutional rights were
The 62 days is calculated as follows : 1/12-1/31/07 = 20
days + 2/1-2/28/07 = 28 days + 3/1-3/14/07 = 14 days for a total
of 62 days.
The 303 days are calculated as follows : 10/27-10/31/09 =
5 days + 11/1-11/30/09 = 30 days + 12/1-12/31/09 = 31 days + 1/11/31/10 = 31 days + 2/1-2/28/10 = 28 days + 3/1-3/31/10 = 31 days
+ 4/1-4/30/10 = 30 days + 5/1-5/31/10 = 31 days + 6/1-6/30/10 =
30 days + 7/1-7/31/10 = 31 days + 8/1-8/25/10 = 25 days for a
total of 303 days.
violated because two vacated convictions were used to enhance his
current sentence. This claim was fully litigated in the state
courts and was found to be without merit. Docket Entry No.2-1 at
When a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state
court, the state court adjudication will not be disturbed unless it
resulted in a decision contrary to clearly established federal law
or involved an unreasonable application of federal law in light of
the evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Nevers v. Killinger, 169 F.3d
352, 357 (6th Cir.1999). In order for a state adjudication to run
“contrary to” clearly established federal law, the state court must
arrive at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the United
States Supreme Court on a question of law or decide a case
differently than the United States Supreme Court on a set of
materially indistinguishable facts. To grant the writ for an
“unreasonable application” of federal law, the petitioner must show
principle involved but unreasonably applied that principle to the
facts of the case. Williams v. Taylor, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1523 (2000).
In short, state court judgments must be upheld unless, after an
examination of the state court judgment, the Court is firmly
convinced that a federal constitutional right has been violated.
Id. at 120 S.Ct. 1511.
To prove his claim, the petitioner must show that his current
sentence “.... might have been different if the sentencing court
had not relied on erroneous information.” United States v. Tucker,
404 U.S. 443,448 (1972). The respondent argues that the trial judge
determined the petitioner’s sentence based upon the seriousness of
convictions. Docket Entry No.13 at pg.14.
At sentencing, the trial judge gave no specific reason for
setting the petitioner’s sentence at twenty five years. As a Range
punishment from ten (10) to thirty five (35) years in prison, which
was not based on the petitioner’s criminal history. Docket Entry
No.2-1 at pg.13. The trial judge was free to pronounce a sentence
anywhere within the statutory range. Id. at pg.8.
To arrive at a sentence within the permissible range, the
trial judge was required to consider the sentencing factors set
forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-103, the evidentiary requirements
of Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-210(b), and any relevant enhancing or
mitigating factors.6 There was no set formula, however, for the
mechanical application of these factors. Rather, sentencing was to
be accomplished on a case by case basis. State v. Moss, 727 S.W.2d
229, 235 (Tenn.1986).
During sentencing, the trial judge observed that :
There were no mitigating or enhancing factors considered
in this case. Docket Entry No.2-1 at pgs.9-10.
It was a very serious - - - a very serious
type offense. It took planning. It involved
the kidnapping of a - - - not kidnapping - - well, kidnapping in a sense of a security
guard, taking his clothes, posing as the guard,
and all in accordance to this preconceived
plan. Its a very serious offense, a very, very
serious offense, an offense which could have
resulted in loss of life and for all intents
and purposes would have resulted in loss of
life had not the victim been able to alert
someone to call emergency aid.
Docket Entry No.15-7 at pgs.95-96.
The trial judge did not reference the presentence report
during sentencing, even though it showed that the petitioner had,
in addition to the two convictions that were ultimately vacated,
numerous convictions for armed robbery, robbery, burglary and
possession of a controlled substance. Docket Entry No.14-1 at
pgs.38-46. In fact, the petitioner had already been declared an
habitual criminal and was serving a life sentence.
The petitioner has failed to show that the trial judge relied
upon the vacated convictions during sentencing. Nor does the record
suggest otherwise. Clearly, the seriousness of the offense was the
consequence, the state court rulings as they pertain to this claim
were not contrary to federal law.
In the absence of an actionable claim, the Court finds no
merit in the petition for writ of habeas corpus. Accordingly, an
order will be entered denying the petition and dismissing the
United States District Judge