Coleman v. Jones et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 7/1/2014. (JLC)
2014 Jul-01 PM 04:35
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WILLIAM C. COLEMAN,
KENNETH JONES and THE
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE
STATE OF ALABAMA,
) Case No.: 2:11-CV-01345-VEH
On May 21, 2014, the magistrate judge entered a Report and Recommendation
(doc. 21), recommending Petitioner’s motion for review and decision be deemed moot
and the petition for writ of habeas corpus be dismissed with prejudice. Petitioner has
filed objections. (Doc. 24). Petitioner is proceeding pro se.
SUMMARY PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The undersigned will not set out anew the procedural history, as it is set out in
some detail in the Report and Recommendation, and the Petitioner has not objected to
that part of the Report and Recommendation.1 For the reader’s convenience, however,
Accordingly, the court adopts by reference the Procedural History as set out in the
Report and Recommendation.
the court points out a few procedural facts here. On April 7, 2008, Petitioner pled guilty
to one count of first-degree rape, one count of first-degree sodomy, and two counts of
first-degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced to two terms of twenty years and two
terms of ten years in the state penitentiary, with the sentences to run concurrently to
each other. Petitioner contends that his guilty pleas were involuntarily entered because
he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Specifically, Petitioner contends that
his trial counsel, Chris Christ, represented to him that he would “possibly” serve only
one-third of his sentence because he would be eligible for parole after that length of
time, that he could get work release, and that he would be able to have conjugal visits
with his wife. Petitioner contends that he would not have plead guilty but for these
representations by Mr. Christ. However, each of the offenses that Petitioner pled guilty
to was a criminal sex offense involving a child. Therefore, he would never be eligible
for parole. After an evidentiary hearing on Petitioner’s Rule 32 motion, the trial
credited the sworn testimony of Mr. Christ and his associated trial counsel, Steven
Mezrano2 and the portions of Petitioner’s testimony that the trial court found to be
consistent with the sworn testimony of Messers Christ and Mezrano. The trial court
determined that the alleged misrepresentations had not been made by either attorney
Mr. Mezrano’s name is sometimes spelled Mesrano in the exhibits; however, the
undersigned adopts the spelling utilized by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
and accordingly found that Petitioner’s Rule 32 motion should be denied. The Court
of Criminal Appeals affirmed and the Supreme Court of Alabama denied certiorari.
This Petition follows.3
STANDARD OF REVIEW
After conducting a careful and complete review of the findings and
recommendations, a district judge may accept, reject or modify the magistrate judge’s
report and recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Williams v. Wainwright, 681
F.2d 732 (11th Cir. 1982). A district judge “shall make a de novo determination of
those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to
which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This requires that the district
judge “give fresh consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been
made by a party.” Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ., 896 F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir. 1990)
(citation omitted). A district judge must review legal conclusions de novo, even in the
absence of an objection. See Cooper-Houston v. Southern Ry., 37 F.3d 603, 604 (11th
Cir. 1994); Castro Bobadilla v. Reno, 826 F. Supp. 1428, 1431-32 (S.D. Fla. 1993),
aff’d 28 F.3d 116 (11th Cir. 1994). That said, the court also acknowledges the principle
that “[n]either the Constitution nor the statute requires a district judge to review, de
novo, findings and recommendations that the parties themselves accept as correct.”
There is no challenge to the timeliness of the Petition.
United States v. Woodard, 387 F.3d 1329, 1334 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).
Moreover, absent specific objections, there is no requirement that a district judge
review factual findings de novo. See Garvey v. Vaughn, 993 F.2d 776, 779 n.9 (11th
Cir. 1993) (noting that when a party “did not file specific objections to factual findings
by the magistrate judge, there was no requirement that the district court de novo review
those findings”) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted).
OBJECTIONS TO THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Petitioner’s objections are clearly presented. They are based upon his argument
that “the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals’ adjudication of his claim resulted in a
decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the
evidence presented in the state [trial] court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).”
(Doc. 24 at p. 1; see also id. at p. 2 (“The state courts seem to be giving greater
credence to the testimony of Christ and Mezrano regarding statements about parole and
work release, than is given to [Petitioner’s] testimony which is substantiated by
affidavits from [Petitioner and his] wife.”); id. (“The court’s selective utilization of
sworn testimony, while ignoring evidence in the form of sworn affidavits, resulted in
a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of facts....”); id. at p. 3
(“the [trial] court erred in not considering all testimony....”); id. (“[Petitioner’s] and
Christ’s testimonies are diverse of each other, but the court has ignored or dismissed
as untrue, the statements in the affidavits by [Petitioner and his] wife, while selectively
citing contradictory and varied testimony by Christ to substantiate a decision that no
misrepresentation was made. Said decision was not based on all the facts available in
the [trial] court’s record.”); id. at p. 6 (“The state courts’ decisions that no
misrepresentations were made to [Petitioner by his attorneys, regarding parole, work
release, weekend [conjugal] visits, or the length of sentence to be served, could not
have been based on equal consideration of all testimony and evidence.”)).
The court has considered the entire file in this action, together with the Report
and Recommendation and Petitioner’s Objections thereto, and has reached an
independent conclusion that the Report and Recommendation is due to be adopted and
Initially, the court notes that, in his Objections, the Petitioner does not dispute
any of the facts found by the Magistrate Judge. Rather, he disputes the facts found by
the trial judge. However, where testimony is opposed, it is the function of a finder of
fact (here, the trial court at the evidentiary hearing) to determine which testimony to
accept in whole or in part, and which testimony to reject. That is what the trial court
Further, the Petitioner has not argued that the Magistrate Judge applied the
wrong law, or misapplied the law. Rather, the Petitioner’s argument is that the Report
and Recommendation is wrong because it is based on the erroneous factual findings of
the trial judge.
Because a state court initially considered the issues raised in the petition, §
2254(d) governs the review of Petitioner’s claim. See Mobley v. Head, 267 F.3d 1312,
1316 (11th Cir. 2001). Habeas relief may not be granted with respect to a claim
adjudicated on the merits in a state court 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.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 638-39 (2003); Clark v.
Crosby, 335 F.3d 1303, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003). Further, a state court's factual finding
is presumed to be correct. See 28 U.S.C. §2254(e); see also, Henderson v. Campbell,
353 F.3d 880 at 890-91 (11th Cir.2003).
Petitioner has failed to show that the trial court’s factual findings, in light of the
evidence presented in the State court evidentiary hearing on his Rule 32 motion, was
unreasonable. He has argued that the trial court should not have believed the sworn
testimony of Messers Christ and Mezrano over his own sworn testimony and the
affidavits of himself and of his wife. He has also argued that it was unreasonable for
the trial court to do so.
As the Supreme Court has recognized,
“[t]he term ‘unreasonable’ is no doubt difficult to define. That said, it is a
common term in the legal world and, accordingly, federal judges are familiar
with its meaning.
[However, i]n § 2254(d)(1), Congress specifically used the word
“unreasonable,” and not a term like “erroneous” or “incorrect.”
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410-411, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1522 (2000). While
Petitioner has shown that the trial court could have decided the credibility issue
differently, he has not shown that the trial court was unreasonable in making the
credibility determination that it made.
The trial court’s fact determinations were not unreasonable. Accordingly, the
court hereby adopts and approves the findings and recommendation of the magistrate
judge as the findings and conclusions of this court. The petition for writ of habeas
corpus is due to be DISMISSED. Further, Petitioner’s Motion requesting review of his
petition (doc. 20) is due to be DENIED as MOOT. A separate Order will be entered.
DENIAL OF CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
This court may issue a certificate of appealability “only if the applicant has a
made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C.
2253(c)(2). To make such a showing, a “petitioner must demonstrate that a reasonable
jurist would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable
and wrong,” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000),or that “the issues presented
were adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.” Miller-El v. Cockrell,
537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003) (internal quotations omitted). This court finds Petitioner’s
claims do not satisfy either standard. Accordingly, the court will not issue a certificate
DONE this the 1st day of July, 2014.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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