Williams v. Reynolds
OPINION AND ORDER adopting except as to ground two 35 Report and Recommendation; granting 23 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 59 Motion for Certificate of Appealability. Petitioner's application for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is dismissed with prejudice. Signed by Honorable Cameron McGowan Currie on 11/14/2017.(ssam, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Darrell Williams, #219730,
C/A No. 2:16-2835-CMC
Opinion and Order
Cecelia Reynolds, Warden,
This matter is before the court on Petitioner’s pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus,
filed in this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c), DSC, this
matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker for pre-trial
proceedings and a Report and Recommendation (“Report”). Respondent filed a return and a
motion for summary judgment on January 6, 2017. ECF Nos. 22, 23. After a Roseboro Order
was entered, Petitioner filed a response in opposition. ECF No. 27. Respondent filed a reply
(ECF No. 28) and Petitioner filed a sur reply (ECF No. 29). On May 24, 2017, the Magistrate
Judge issued a Report recommending Respondent’s motion for summary judgment be granted.
ECF No. 9. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and requirements for
filing objections to the Report and Recommendation and the serious consequences if they failed
to do so.
This court previously granted summary judgment for Respondent after Petitioner failed to
timely file objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report. ECF No. 43. The court also denied
Petitioner’s motion for extension of time to file objections. ECF No. 47. However, Petitioner
thereafter filed a “motion for relief on the pleadings,” but an attachment to the motion noted it
was “mislabeled” and sought to file it as a motion for relief from judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P.
60(b)(1). ECF No. 50. Based on Petitioner’s assertion the prison mailroom failed to send his
objections on time, and abnormalities in the prison mailroom stamps on Petitioner’s envelopes,
the court granted the motion, vacated the Judgment, and allowed Petitioner to file objections to
the Report. ECF No. 54. Petitioner then filed his objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report.
ECF No. 57. Petitioner has also filed a motion for certificate of appealability, requesting a
certificate be granted if the court adopts the Report and grants summary judgment for
Respondent. ECF No. 59.
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation
has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the
court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The court is charged with making a de novo
determination of any portion of the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge to
which a specific objection is made. The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part,
the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate
Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).
The Report recommends granting Respondent’s motion for summary judgment on the
merits as to ground one and based on procedural default as to grounds two and three. ECF No.
35. Petitioner offers objections as to each finding of the Magistrate Judge. ECF No. 57. Each
claim will be addressed in turn.
1. Ground one: Whether the State proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
At trial, Petitioner argued the prosecution failed to prove burglary first degree beyond a
reasonable doubt because it did not show the entry was during the nighttime or he did not have
permission to enter the home. Petitioner represented himself and made a motion for directed
verdict on these grounds. ECF No. 22-1 at 354-601. The trial judge denied this motion. Id. at
367-70. On appeal, Petitioner’s counsel filed an Anders brief raising only one issue regarding
admission of Petitioner’s written statement. ECF No. 22-2 at 56-66. Petitioner filed a pro se
brief raising three issues: whether the use of his two prior convictions to enhance his sentence
was unconstitutional; whether failure to bifurcate proceedings was unconstitutional; and whether
submission of indictments to prove an element of the offense implicated his Confrontation
Clause protections. Id. at 71-83. He did not raise the grounds from his directed verdict motion
or ask the Court of Appeals to review the denial of the directed verdict motion.
In her Report, the Magistrate Judge treated this ground as exhausted (and thus not
procedurally defaulted) because Petitioner’s appellate counsel filed an Anders brief, which
triggers appellate review of the entire record for any preserved issue with potential merit. ECF
No. 35 at 9. The Report therefore examined the merits of this ground, finding the state court’s
denial of directed verdict was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly
established federal law, nor did it result in an unreasonable determination of the facts. Id. at 12.
Page numbers for the attachments to ECF No. 22 refer to the pages of the filed document as
seen in the filing header, not the page numbers as previously marked on the documents before
Petitioner, in his objections, appears to concede the denial of his directed verdict motion
was not contrary to established federal law. ECF No. 57 at 2-3. However, he argues the
Magistrate Judge erred in finding the state court decision was a reasonable application of federal
law. Petitioner argues the state court decision was an “unreasonable application of the Jackson
standard,” citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979) regarding sufficiency of the evidence.
He then argues the facts of his criminal case, asserting the prosecutor did not meet his burden
regarding the nighttime or permission elements of first degree burglary.
The court agrees with the Report’s conclusion regarding ground one: “a rational trier of
fact could have found the petitioner guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, of burglary in the first
degree” based on the evidence presented at trial. See Jackson, 443 U.S. at 320 (“[T]he relevant
question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution,
any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a
reasonable doubt.”); Wilson v. Greene, 155 F.3d 396, 405 (4th Cir. 1998) (“Federal review of the
sufficiency of the evidence to support a state conviction is not meant to consider anew the jury’s
guilt determination or replace the state’s system of direct appellate review. Thus, a defendant is
entitled to relief only if no rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt.”). Although Petitioner argues the state trial court and the Magistrate Judge
“ignored material evidence and Petitioner[’s] key arguments,” both addressed the evidence
regarding nighttime and consent and found it was sufficient to meet the standards for denial of
directed verdict and sufficiency of the evidence.
This court agrees.
Petitioner’s arguments in support of his positions, a rationale trier of fact could have found him
Therefore, the directed verdict motion was properly denied, and there was no
unreasonable application regarding sufficiency of the evidence or an unreasonable determination
of the facts.
2. Ground two: Application of Old Chief
The Magistrate Judge concluded Petitioner’s second ground, regarding admission of his
prior convictions for burglary and the application of Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172
(1997), was procedurally defaulted as Petitioner failed to raise this ground at his state court trial.
ECF No. 35 at 13-15. Petitioner objects to this conclusion. ECF No. 57.
In order to determine whether this ground is procedurally defaulted, the court must
examine what Petitioner argued at trial and how it differs from his argument in this petition.
Before trial, Petitioner made a motion and was heard by the state court seeking to preclude the
state from admitting the prior burglary convictions in the guilt phase of his trial. ECF No. 22-1
at 38-40; 56-67. He discussed the limitation “as to how far certain convictions they can bring in
on other things,” and sought to challenge how and when the burglary convictions could be
introduced. Id. The judge at that proceeding held Petitioner’s motion in abeyance and explained
the trial judge would determine when and how they would come into evidence. Id. at 67.
At trial, Petitioner argued South Carolina Rule of Evidence 404(b) renders South
Carolina Code § 16-11-311(a)(2) “unconstitutional,” because it allows prior convictions to be
admitted in the guilt phase as an element of first degree burglary when such admission may
allow the jury to “draw inferences or decide the accused’s guilt based on a prior conviction.”
ECF No. 22-1 at 150-52. He also cited State v. Moye2, as holding the state may not use a prior
conviction to prove an the element of the charge for which a defendant is on trial, because that
would violate double jeopardy. Id. at 152. Petitioner argued “prior criminal acts independent of
the crime here . . . should not be admitted during the course of the trial to prove the defendant’s
guilt,” that such admission would deny a fair trial and make it “much easier” for the State to
convict. Id. at 153-55. Petitioner requested Rule “404(b) be applied to exclude any evidence of
any past prior conviction that either the defendant has been convicted of or he has not been
convicted of.” Id. at 155. Further, Petitioner stated “the stipulation matters not. It’s the fact
they’re using those convictions for a conviction.” Id. at 156-57.
In response to Petitioner’s argument, the trial court noted proof of two or more
convictions for burglary or housebreaking or both can be an element of the crime of first degree
burglary by statute. Id. at 157. The court noted she would give a limiting instruction that the
jury could not use the fact of prior convictions for any purpose other than determining whether
the state had met an element of the statute, and that they must decide guilt as to the charged
burglary itself before considering whether the prior convictions warrant a conviction for burglary
first degree. Id. The court noted South Carolina appellate courts have held prior convictions to
be a valid element of first degree burglary. Id. at 157-58. Thereafter, the court gave a limiting
instruction. Id. at 472.
The case Petitioner relied on at trial appears to be State v. Moyd, 468 S.E.2d 7 (S.C. Ct. App.
1996). Moyd found no double jeopardy violation when a driver was charged with driving while
suspended and habitual traffic offender, because the elements did not overlap. This case does
not appear to assist Petitioner in his argument.
In his § 2254 petition, Petitioner listed ground two as “Whether State Incorrectly Applied
Old Chief,” and explained further, verbatim: “[a]t trial, post trial, it was argued that use of prior
conviction contributed to verdict when Jury considered prior convictions to determine guilt. The
same crime for which trial was based on was burglary and so were priors used.” ECF No. 1 at 6.
In his response to Respondent’s motion for summary judgment, Petitioner argued the
“constitutionality of statute concerning bifurcation,” which he alleges was argued at trial. ECF
No. 27 at 9. He argued allowing the jury to deliberate with indictments from prior convictions
denied him the right to a fair trial and violated Old Chief. Id. He contended a bifurcated trial
would remedy this, as his “prior convictions has [sic] no relevance to question of guilt and is
prejudicial to a fair determination of that question.” Id. at 9-10. Petitioner further argued “the
nature and underlying story of that prior conviction, however, were not necessary or admissible
merely to prove prior burglary convictions.” Id. at 11. He asserted the burglary conviction
evidence was more prejudicial than probative, and again argued Rule 404(b). Id at 12.
As noted above, the Report concludes ground two was procedurally defaulted because
Petitioner did not raise his current Old Chief theory in the state court. ECF No. 35 at 14 (“[I]t
does not appear that Petitioner argued at trial that the state court was incorrectly applying the Old
Chief case.”). The Report further notes Petitioner “set forth no circumstances sufficient to set
aside the procedural default.” Id. at 14-16. Finally, the Report also explains an asserted
violation of state law or state rule of evidence is not cognizable in federal habeas corpus
proceedings. Id. at 15.
In his objections, Petitioner argues the probative value of his prior convictions for
burglary was substantially outweighed by the prejudice to him in admitting them. ECF No. 57 at
13. He contends he argued at trial the admission of his prior burglary convictions might cause
the jury to convict due to improperly inferring propensity to commit such a crime. He notes the
trial judge “did not balance the relevance of proposed use of this evidence . . . against the high
risk that the evidence will also tend to establish bad character and propensity to commit crime.”
Id. Therefore, Petitioner argues, his trial should have been bifurcated into a guilt phase and a
sentencing phase. Id. at 14.
The court agrees Petitioner challenged admission of his prior burglary convictions at trial.
See ECF No. 22-1 at 151-63. While the specific reference to Old Chief may not have been
raised, the court concludes Petitioner raised the substance of his arguments regarding the use of
prior convictions to meet an element of first degree burglary at the trial court level. Therefore,
this claim is not procedurally defaulted and the court declines to adopt the Recommendation of
the Report on ground two.
However, Petitioner’s claim regarding the use of his previous convictions fails on the
merits. While Petitioner now argues his “two prior convictions has no relevance to the question
of guilt,” this is incorrect – one of the ways a prosecutor can establish first degree burglary in
South Carolina is if the burglary “is committed by a person with a prior record of two or more
convictions for burglary or housebreaking or a combination of both.” S.C. Code § 16-11311(A). As prior convictions can be an element of first degree burglary, such evidence is
relevant in the guilt/innocence phase of a trial for that offense. This was recognized by the trial
court when she denied Petitioner’s motions on this issue.
Further, upon review of the transcript, it is apparent the trial court applied Old Chief: in
addition to the limiting instruction, the trial judge allowed only a stipulation from the parties
regarding Petitioner’s previous burglary convictions, and did not permit the State to go into
details regarding the circumstances of the crimes or convictions. ECF No. 22-1 at 360 (“The
defendant has stipulated, the State has introduced the two prior convictions for burglaries.”); 222 at 34 (“[W]e chose to do the burglary first because he stipulated to it . . . He admitted that he
had two prior burglaries by virtue of stipulation.”). Therefore, Petitioner’s claim that Old Chief
was not followed is without merit.
To the extent Petitioner argues admission of the prior convictions violated South Carolina
Rule of Evidence 404(b), a federal court may not entertain such a claim. See Estelle v. McGuire,
502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991).
3. Ground three: Constitutionality of S.C. Code § 17-25-453
Regarding the final ground raised by Petitioner, that S.C. Code § 17-25-45 is
unconstitutional “when blacks receive life sentences more than whites,” the Magistrate Judge
found this defaulted. ECF No. 35 at 16. While Petitioner raised this issue during his PCR
hearing, he admitted he did not raise the issue at trial. ECF No. 22-2 at 110; 112 (“[T]he
disparity of sentencing when it comes to life without parole sentences. That was never raised.”).4
Because Petitioner did not raise the issue at trial, it was not preserved for appellate review and
not considered on appeal. See State v. Dunbar, 587 S.E.2d 691, 693 9S.C. 2003) (“Issues not
This is listed as Ground Four in the Petition; however, no ground three was listed.
While Petitioner may have raised an argument the South Carolina statute was unconstitutional
for other reasons at trial, it is clear he did not present the same argument he presents in this
habeas petition, regarding sentencing disparity. The Order denying Petitioner’s application for
PCR lists as an allegation “Prior conviction used to enhance unconstitutional” and notes
“applicant had a full opportunity to argue both the constitutionality of the statute and whether the
use of his prior burglary convictions violated the rule against evidence of prior bad acts at trial
and on appeal.” R. at 625 (ECF No. 22-2 at 129, PCR decision). However, challenging the
constitutionality of the statute as it was applied in Petitioner’s criminal case is different from
alleging racial disparity in sentencing, as he does in the instant petition.
raised and ruled upon in the trial court will not be considered on appeal.”). Therefore, this
ground was not exhausted and is procedurally barred.
Petitioner objects, citing Lance v. State, 279 S.C. 144 (1983), renewing his request for
discovery on this point, and arguing the merits of the issue. ECF No. 57 at 17-20. Petitioner
argues the PCR court did not address his argument on this issue and Lance is “directly on point.”
As explained thoroughly by the Magistrate Judge in her Report (ECF No. 35) and by this
court in the Order denying Petitioner’s appeal of the Magistrate Judge’s previous order denying
discovery (ECF No. 40), this ground is procedurally defaulted and Petitioner has not shown good
cause and actual prejudice or a miscarriage of justice as required to excuse the default.
Petitioner’s objections clearly admit “there is no state court analysis of the issue.” ECF No. 57 at
18. This is further evidence this ground is procedurally defaulted.5
After a de novo review of the entire record, the applicable law, the Report and
Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, and Petitioner’s objections, the court agrees with the
conclusions of the Magistrate Judge as to grounds one and three. The court declines to adopt the
recommendation of procedural default on ground two.
Accordingly, the Report and
Recommendation is adopted except as to ground two, and incorporated by reference as modified
herein. Respondent’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and Petitioner’s application for
writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is dismissed with prejudice.
CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
In addition, Petitioner’s reliance on Lance is misplaced. Lance concerns a habitual traffic
offender who could not contest this designation under the Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure
Act and has no bearing on this case.
The governing law provides that:
(c)(2) A certificate of appealability may issue . . . only if the applicant has made a
substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.
(c)(3) The certificate of appealability . . . shall indicate which specific issue or issues
satisfy the showing required by paragraph (2).
28 U.S.C. § 2253(c). A prisoner satisfies this standard by demonstrating that reasonable jurists
would find this court’s assessment of his constitutional claims is debatable or wrong and that any
dispositive procedural ruling by the district court is likewise debatable. See Miller-El v. Cockrell,
537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003); Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000); Rose v. Lee, 252 F.3d
676, 683 (4th Cir. 2001). In this case, the legal standard for the issuance of a certificate of
appealability has not been met. Therefore, a certificate of appealability is denied, as is
Petitioner’s motion for one (ECF No. 59).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Cameron McGowan Currie
CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE
Senior United States District Judge
Columbia, South Carolina
November 14, 2017
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