Hatcher v. Knowlin
ORDER ADOPTING 23 Report and Recommendations; GRANTING 15 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Gregory Knowlin; A certificate of appealability is denied. Signed by Honorable Richard M Gergel on 2/16/2012. (mbro, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Ricky L. Hatcher, #305505
Civil Action No.: 6:11-1319-RMG
In this case, Petitioner is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis and seeks habeas
corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. As a result, this case was automatically referred to
the United States Magistrate Judge for all pretrial proceedings pursuant to the provisions of 28
U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2), DSC. On August 4, 2011, Respondent filed a
motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 15-16). On August 19, 2011, Petitioner filed a
(Dkt. No. 20).
On January 26, 2012, the Magistrate issued a Report and
Recommendation recommending that Respondent's motion for summary judgment be granted.
(Dkt. No. 23).
On February 14, 2012, Petitioner filed objections to the Report and
Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 26). As explained herein, the Court adopts the Magistrate's Report
and Recommendation and grants Respondent's motion for summary judgment.
The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation
has no presumptive weight, and responsibility for making a final determination remains with this
Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). This Court is charged with making a
de novo determination of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which specific
objection is made, and this Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings
or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court may also
"receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate with instructions." Id. Where
the Petitioner fails to file any specific objections, the Magistrate Judge's conclusions are
reviewed only for clear error, see Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310,
315 (4th Cir. 2005), and this Court is not required to give any explanation for adopting the
recommendation of the Magistrate. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198 (4th Cir. 1983).
Petitioner is a state prisoner who was previously convicted in state court on certain drug
charges. Petitioner appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in admitting drug
evidence for which the State failed to prove the chain of custody and in misstating to the jury the
State's burden of proof. See State v. Hatcher, 681 S.E.2d 925,926 (S.C. Ct. App. 2009). The
South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed Petitioner's conviction and remanded the case, finding
that the State did not establish a sufficient chain of custody and that the drug evidence therefore
should have been suppressed. Id. at 929. The Court of Appeals declined to reach Petitioner's
challenge to the trial court's jury charge. Id. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the
State's petition for writ of certiorari and reversed the Court of Appeals in a published opinion.
See State v. Hatcher, 708 S.E.2d 750 (S.C. 2011). The South Carolina Supreme Court held that
the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the drug evidence because the State
established the chain of custody to the extent required by South Carolina law. Id. The Court
also held that the issue regarding the trial court's jury instruction was not preserved for review
because no objection was made at trial. Id. at 755 n.2.
In his habeas petition, Petitioner raises the same two arguments which he raised on
appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals and to the South Carolina Supreme Court. (Dk!.
No. 1 at 6-7).
In Ground One, Petitioner argues that "(t]he trial court judge erred by not
excluding the drugs from evidence when the state failed to prove the chain of custody." (ld. at
6). Petitioner argues that this error violated his constitutional right to due process. (Id.). In
Ground Two, Petitioner argues that "[t]he trial judge erred by instructing the jury, with respect to
the proximity charge, that the State had to prove the evidence to "your satisfaction." (Id. at 7).
Petitioner argues that this error also violated his constitutional right to due process. (ld.). The
Court finds that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus relief pursuant to either of these
Section 2254 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides:
(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in
custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with
respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court
proceedings 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.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). "Importantly, in considering federal habeas corpus issues involving state
evidentiary rulings, 'we do not sit to review the admissibility of evidence under state law unless
erroneous evidentiary rulings were so extreme as to result in a denial of a constitutionally fair
proceeding.'" Barbe v. McBride, 521 F.3d 443, 452 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Burket v. Angelone,
208 F.3d 172, 186 (4th Cir. 2000); see also Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011)
("Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a 'guard against extreme malfunctions
in the state criminal justice systems,' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through
appea1.") (internal citation omitted). The Court has reviewed the record and the South Carolina
Supreme Court's opinion in State v. Hatcher, 708 S.E.2d 750 (S.C. 2011), and the Court finds
that Petitioner has failed to meet this burden.
In State v. Hatcher, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that, because Petitioner did
not object to the trial court's jury charge regarding proximity, Petitioner did not preserve that
issue for review. 708 S.E.2d at 755 n.2. "A federal court is unable to consider a claim dismissed
by a state court on a procedural ground, unless the petitioner shows cause and prejudice in failing
to follow the relevant state procedure," see Daniels v. Lee, 316 FJd 477,487 (4th Cir. 2003), or
unless the petitioner can demonstrate that failure to consider the claim will result in a
fundamental miscarriage of justice. Matthews v. Evatt, 105 F3d 907, 916 (4th Cir. 1997),
overruled on other grounds by United States v. Barnette, 644 F3d 192 (4th Cir. 2011). The
Court has reviewed the record and finds no evidence of any particular cause for Petitioner's
procedural default on this claim.
Further, the Court finds no evidence of prejudice, or a
fundamental miscarriage ofjustice, resulting from this procedural default.
the Court adopts the Magistrate's
Recommendation and grants Respondent's motion for summary judgment.
Certificate of Appealability
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 the standard by demonstrating that reasonable jurists
would find this court's assessment of his constitutional claims 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.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.
United States District Court Judge
February f& ,2012
Charleston, South Carolina
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