Green v. Stephens
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting in part denying in part 64 MOTION for Reconsideration of 55 Memorandum and Order, denying 57 Opposed MOTION for Reconsideration of 55 Memorandum and Order. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall confer and, within 30 days of the date of this Order, file a joint proposed scheduling order for the conduct of the evidentiary hearing in this case.(Signed by Judge Keith P Ellison) Parties notified.(arrivera, 4)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
TRAVIS DWIGHT GREEN,
WILLIAM STEPHENS, et al,
May 10, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
§ CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:13-CV-1899
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
On March 29, 2016, this Court dismissed with prejudice all but one of the claims for
relief raised in Petitioner Travis Dwight Green’s First Amended Petition for a Writ of Habeas
Corpus. The Court found that an evidentiary hearing will be needed to adjudicate the remaining
claim that Mr. Green was incompetent to stand trial, (Doc. No. 55.)
Respondent has filed a motion for reconsideration of this Court’s ruling that Mr. Green’s
incompetency claim requires an evidentiary hearing. (Doc. No. 57.) Mr. Green filed a response
and a cross-motion for reconsideration of the Court’s rulings on his first, fifth, and sixth claims
for relief, arguing that the denial of relief “rests on manifestly erroneous findings of fact or
manifestly erroneous legal rulings.” (Doc. No. 64.) Respondent responded to the cross-motion
(Doc. No. 68), and Mr. Green replied. (Doc. No. 70.)
The factual background of the case is set out in detail in this Court’s March 29, 2016
Memorandum and Order. In brief, Mr. Green was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to
death for the rape and murder of Kristin Loesch. Prior to trial, Mr. Green waived his right to a
lawyer. After the jury returned a verdict of guilty, Mr. Green withdrew his waiver. On the day
that the punishment phase of his trial was set to begin, his stand-by counsel was appointed as
full-fledged counsel. The claims at issue in these cross-motions pertain to Mr. Green’s
contentions that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase of his trial, that
his lawyers were ineffective in raising his incompetence to stand trial and his incompetence to
invoke his right to self-representation at trial, and that he was actually incompetent to stand trial.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not specifically provide for motions for
reconsideration. See Shepherd v. Int’l Paper Co., 372 F.3d 326, 328 n. 1 (5th Cir. 2004). Courts
typically consider motions for reconsideration under Rule 59(e). A motion under Rule 59(e) must
“clearly establish either a manifest error of law or fact or must present newly discovered
evidence.” Ross v. Marshall, 426 F.3d 745, 763 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Simon v. United States,
891 F.2d 1154, 1159 (5th Cir. 1990)). Motions under Rule 59(e) “cannot be used to raise
arguments which could, and should, have been made before the judgment issued.” Id. In
considering a motion for reconsideration, a court “must strike the proper balance between two
competing imperatives: (1) finality, and (2) the need to render just decisions on the basis of all
the facts.” Edward H. Bohlin Co. v. Banning Co., 6 F.3d 350, 355 (5th Cir. 1993).
In his first claim for relief, Mr. Green argued that he received ineffective assistance of
counsel at the punishment phase of his trial because counsel failed to investigate and present
mitigating evidence. In his fourth claim, on which the Court ruled that an evidentiary hearing is
required, Mr. Green argues that he was incompetent to stand trial. In his fifth claim, Mr. Green
argues that counsel failed to bring evidence of Mr. Green’s incompetence to stand trial to the
trial court’s attention. In his sixth claim, Mr. Green contends that counsel’s failure to contest the
knowing nature of his waiver of counsel deprived Mr. Green of his Sixth Amendment right to
The Court found that Mr. Green’s first, fifth, and sixth claims were unexhausted and
procedurally defaulted. The Court also rejected Mr. Green’s argument that ineffective assistance
by his state habeas counsel provided cause for his procedural defaults. (Doc. No. 55 at 6-14.)
Mr. Green seeks reconsideration of these findings, alleging multiple grounds of manifest error
and manifest injustice committed by the Court. Upon consideration of these arguments, the Court
finds that it previously erred in holding that ineffective assistance of state habeas counsel did not
provide cause for Mr. Green’s procedural defaults. Accordingly, the Court considers Mr. Green’s
first, fifth, and sixth claims, and finds that an evidentiary hearing is required in order to
adjudicate Mr. Green’s first claim for relief, regarding the ineffective assistance of his
punishment phase counsel.
First Claim: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Punishment Phase
Federal habeas corpus proceedings are a historic and critical method for preventing
individuals from being held in custody in violation of the United States Constitution. Trevino v.
Thaler, 133 S. Ct. 1911, 1917 (2013). Yet, in considering petitions for writ of habeas corpus,
federal courts are “guided by rules designed to ensure that state-court judgments are accorded the
finality and respect necessary to preserve the integrity of legal proceedings within our system of
federalism.” Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 9 (2012). “These rules include the doctrine of
procedural default, under which a federal court will not review the merits of claims, including
constitutional claims, that a state court declined to hear because the prisoner failed to abide by a
state procedural rule.” Id. In order to preclude federal review, a state court’s procedural rule
denying a claim must be a “nonfederal ground adequate to support the judgment.” Id. This is
known as an “adequate and independent state ground.” Additionally, the rule must be “firmly
established and consistently followed.” Id. The doctrine of procedural default is not without
exceptions. A federal court may hear an incarcerated person’s defaulted claim if he can show
“cause” for the default and “prejudice” resulting from the alleged constitutional violation. Id.
Texas prohibits successive writs challenging the same conviction except in narrow
circumstances, none of which Mr. Green claims to meet. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 11.071
§ 5(a). This prohibition has already been found to be an “adequate and independent state
ground,” and it is firmly established and consistently followed. Coleman v. Quarterman, 456
F.3d 537, 542 (5th Cir. 2006) (“Texas's abuse of the writ doctrine is a valid state procedural bar
foreclosing federal habeas review”). Thus, this Court can only hear Mr. Green’s ineffective
assistance of counsel claim if he can show “cause” to excuse the default.
Mr. Green argues that he has shown cause for the default because his state habeas counsel
was ineffective and failed to raise his trial-level ineffectiveness claim during state habeas
proceedings. “Inadequate assistance of counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings may
establish cause for a prisoner’s procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance at trial.”
Martinez, 566 U.S. at 10. In Texas, state habeas review is the first meaningful opportunity to
present a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911, 1919
(2013). This is because “Texas procedure makes it ‘virtually impossible for appellate counsel to
adequately present an ineffective assistance [of trial counsel] claim’ on direct review.” Id.
(quoting Robinson v. State, 16 S.W.3d 808, 810 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000)). Thus, if Mr. Green can
show that his state habeas counsel was ineffective in failing to raise an ineffective assistance of
trial counsel claim, he can show cause for his procedural default, and this Court can review his
ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim—a claim that has yet to be reviewed by any court.
To prevail on a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, Mr. Green must first show that
counsel “made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed by
the Sixth Amendment. Second, the [petitioner] must show that the deficient performance
prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel’s errors were so serious as to deprive
the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Matthews v. Davis, 665 F. App’x
315, 317 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). In order to
prevail on the first prong of the Strickland test, Petitioner must demonstrate that counsel’s
representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688.
Reasonableness is measured against prevailing professional norms, and must be viewed under
the totality of the circumstances. Id. Although the American Bar Association Standards for the
Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases do not establish binding rules,
they have long been accepted by the Supreme Court as “guides to determining what is
reasonable.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 524 (2003). Review of counsel’s performance is
deferential. In the context of a capital sentencing proceeding, “the question is whether there is a
reasonable probability that, absent the errors, the sentencer . . . would have concluded that the
balance of aggravating and mitigating circumstances did not warrant death.” Strickland, 466 U.S.
at 695. “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the
outcome.” Id. at 694.
The issues in this case concern state habeas counsel’s limited investigation into potential
claims on appeal—including an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim—and trial counsel’s
limited investigation into mitigating evidence. “[T]he crux of [Mr. Green]’s claim is not that his
trial counsel made an informed decision not to present certain evidence following a
constitutionally sufficient investigation, but that his trial counsel failed to conduct such an
investigation in the first place. [Mr. Green] argues that the state trial counsel’s failure to
investigate would have been obvious to his state habeas counsel as well.” Trevino v. Davis, 829
F.3d 328, 348 (5th Cir. 2016). Counsel has a “duty to investigate.” Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 522.
“[S]trategic choices made after less than complete investigation are reasonable precisely to the
extent that reasonable professional judgments support the limitations on investigation. In other
words, counsel has a duty to make reasonable investigations or to make a reasonable decision
that makes particular investigations unnecessary.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690-691. In light of
these standards, this Court’s principal concern in deciding whether Mr. Green’s counsel were
ineffective “is not whether counsel should have presented a mitigation case. Rather, we focus on
whether the investigation supporting counsel’s decision not to introduce mitigating evidence of
[Mr. Green’s] background was itself reasonable.” Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 522-23.
Mr. Green was represented by Ken McLean in his state habeas corpus proceeding. Mr.
McLean filed a twelve-page Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus, alleging seven claims for
relief. (Doc. No. 64 at 9.) Of these seven, three claims had already been raised and rejected on
direct appeal. Regarding the four claims that had not been briefed, Mr. McLean promised to
develop facts and law and brief them “with all deliberate speed.” (Id.) Mr. McLean never briefed
those claims. Instead, six years later, Mr. McLean filed a “Statement of Counsel” informing the
court that he “cannot in good faith file Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
requesting that the Trial Court recommend to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that relief be
granted.” (Doc. No. 30-2 at 1.) He goes on to explain why each of the seven claims raised in Mr.
Green’s writ of habeas corpus was “unsupportable.”
Troublingly, Mr. McLean states in his Statement of Counsel that he had “reviewed Mr.
Green’s most recent mental health examination dated May 17, 2007, at the Jester IV Unit. There
is no indication in those records that Mr. Green is mentally ill or incompetent.” (Id.) Yet a review
of the mental health examination cited by Mr. McLean immediately reveals the falsity of this
statement. On the first page of a “Mental Health Inpatient Psychosocial Evaluation,” taken on
May 17, 2007, in Jester IV, Mr. Green is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. (Doc. No. 30-3
at 2.) Also on the first page, the report indicates that, when Mr. Green was asked to summarize
his clinical complaint, he stated that he needed “someone to take this locator out of my head. The
FBI put it in my brain sometime [sic] ago. Now I have headaches all the time.” (Id.) The next
page reports that Mr. Green received mental health treatment in the “free world” before he was
sent to death row, and had received mental health treatment while incarcerated. (Id.) It also
states: “[Mr. Green] has a history of suicide attempts and self-mutilation” and “has been
diagnosed with Delusional Disorder, Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type, Polysubstance Dependence,
and Antisocial Personality Disorder.” (Id.) At the time of the report, Mr. Green was taking
Haldol, an antipsychotic drug. (Id.) The report cited by Mr. McLean was replete with evidence of
current, longstanding mental illness. This directly contradicts the assertion made by Mr. McLean
and raises questions as to the veracity of his contention of having reviewed the record.
Mr. McLean never raised an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. There is no
indication that he conducted an investigation into Mr. Green’s background.1 Yet, as the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals has explained, “[i]n most instances, the record on direct appeal is
inadequate to develop an ineffective assistance claim.” Ex parte Torres, 943 S.W.2d 469, 475
Respondent appears to concede that Mr. McLean did not conduct any investigation into Mr.
Green’s past by arguing that “[t]he trial record is where reasonable postconviction counsel would
begin. And for claims largely refuted by the trial record, the trial record is where reasonable
postconviction counsel would end.” (Doc. No. 68 at 7.)
(Tex. Crim. App. 1997). “[T]he inadequacy of the appellate record in these situations is due to
the inherent nature of most ineffective assistance claims. The very ineffectiveness claimed may
prevent the record from containing the information necessary to substantiate such a claim.” Id;
see also Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1, 13, 132 S. Ct. 1309, 1318, 182 L. Ed. 2d 272 (2012)
(“Ineffective-assistance claims often depend on evidence outside the trial record”).
Respondent maintains that Mr. McLean could have deduced from the trial record that an
ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim was unsupportable, making his failure to investigate
with regard to that claim reasonable. Indeed, Mr. Green insisted on representing himself for
much of the pre-trial period, as well as the guilt-innocence phase of his trial. “[W]hen a
convicted defendant has insisted upon self-representation, any subsequent claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel is not to be considered.” Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S. Ct.
2525, 45 L. Ed. 2d 562 (1975). Thus, the Court agrees that Mr. McLean’s failure to investigate
an ineffective assistance of counsel claim as to Mr. Green’s representation of himself during the
guilt-innocence phase of the trial was reasonable.
But the record also reflects that, at the end of the guilt-innocence phase, when the jury
pronounced its guilty verdict, Mr. Green withdrew his waiver of counsel. (Doc. No. 30 at 6.)
Tyrone Moncriffe, who had previously been appointed as Mr. Green’s standby counsel, was
appointed as full-fledged counsel for the punishment phase of the trial. While Mr. Moncriffe was
standby counsel, he does not appear to have engaged in any sort of investigation of the case or
Mr. Green’s background—nor was he required to. “There can be no question that the roles of
standby counsel and full-fledged defense counsel are fundamentally different. The very
definition of full-fledged counsel includes the proposition that the counselor, and not the
accused, bears the responsibility for the defense; by contrast, the key limitation on standby
counsel is that such counsel not be responsible—and not be perceived to be responsible—for the
accused’s defense.” United States v. Taylor, 933 F.2d 307, 312 (5th Cir. 1991).
Once he was appointed as full-fledged counsel, Mr. Moncriffe bore the responsibility for
Mr. Green’s defense and was constitutionally required to provide effective assistance of counsel.
The ABA Guidelines in place at the time of Mr. Moncriffe’s representation provide that
investigations into mitigating evidence “should comprise efforts to discover all reasonably
available mitigating evidence and evidence to rebut any aggravating evidence that may be
introduced by the prosecutor.” ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of
Counsel in Death Penalty Cases 11.4.1(C), p. 93 (1989). Mitigating evidence has been defined as
“any aspect of a defendant’s character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that
the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death.” Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586,
604 (1978). “A decision not to investigate must be directly assessed for reasonableness in all the
circumstances.’” Canales v. Stephens, 765 F.3d 551, 570 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Wiggins, 539
U.S. at 533).
Mr. Moncriffe conducted no investigation into Mr. Green’s background and did not ask
the court to appoint a mitigation specialist, an investigator, a psychiatric expert, or any other
assistance that courts regularly provided capital defense lawyers for the development of a
mitigation case. He requested no school records, criminal records, medical records, or
employment records. Mr. Moncriffe did not present any mitigating evidence, beyond examining
the eight witnesses whom Mr. Green had originally planned to call. These witnesses consisted of
Mr. Green’s mother, brother, and uncle, and five individuals loosely related to Mr. Green.2 Mr.
These witnesses included the director of a recreational center where Mr. Green spent some
time; an individual who volunteered with Mr. Green as part of a church group; an individual who
played pick-up basketball with Mr. Green; Mr. Green’s gym coach from seventeen years prior;
and Mr. Green’s former Sunday school teacher with whom he lived for some time. (R.R. Vol. 17
Moncriffe did not elicit any information about Mr. Green’s impoverished and abusive
upbringing, nor about his family’s history of mental illness. The examination of both the state’s
and Mr. Green’s witnesses in the punishment phase lasted one day, and Mr. Moncriffe’s direct
examination of the mitigation witnesses comprises 18 pages in the trial transcript. Mr. Green’s
mother could have told the jury about the deprivation and abuse Mr. Green had suffered as a
child, as well as the mental illness that runs through their family. Yet her direct examination by
Mr. Moncriffe totals three pages of transcript and touched on neither of these topics. (Reporter’s
Record (“R.R.”) Vol. 17 at 97, 99, 106.) Similarly, the direct examination of Mr. Green’s uncle
consists of one page of testimony, while Mr. Green’s brother’s direct examination went on for
two pages. Importantly, Mr. Moncriffe could not have made a strategic decision to focus on other
aspects of Mr. Green’s childhood, because he did not conduct a reasonable investigation on
which to base any strategic decision. Escamilla v. Stephens, 749 F.3d 380, 392–93 (5th Cir.
2014) (“[I]f a purportedly tactical decision is not preceded by a reasonable investigation, then it
is not sufficiently informed and not entitled to the deference typically afforded counsel's
Because Mr. Moncriffe did not conduct any investigation into Mr. Green’s background,
he failed to uncover and elicit powerful mitigating evidence. Contrary to the prosecution’s
unchallenged assertion that Mr. Green “was brought up in the best of circumstances,” Mr. Green
was one of three children born into extreme poverty to a single mother, Betty Ivy, in Shreveport,
Louisiana. (R.R. Vol. 18 at 33.) He suffered extreme physical abuse at the hands of his alcoholic
biological father, who beat him regularly from the time he was a very young child. Mr. Green
witnessed his father beat Ms. Ivy and his siblings as well. Mr. Green eventually moved to
Houston with Ms. Ivy. There, Ms. Ivy married twice. Both of her husbands continued the
at 86, 91, 94, 103, 110.)
physical abuse that Mr. Green experienced at the hands of his biological father. To escape the
abuse, Mr. Green and his brothers left home. They lived on the streets, in shelters, and
occasionally with Ms. Ivy’s sister, experiencing little stability. When Mr. Green was
approximately 12 years old, another teenager smashed a brick into Mr. Green’s head, leaving Mr.
Green bloody and disoriented. Several years later, Mr. Green was severely beaten by a
Mr. Moncriffe also failed to uncover and present powerful evidence regarding the
family’s history of mental illness. Mr. Green’s maternal aunt suffers from schizoaffective
disorder, hallucinations and depression. Mr. Green’s mother has been hospitalized for a nervous
breakdown, and stated that she has been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. Mr. Green’s
brother Thomas has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his other brother, Oscar, has been
diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Even without investigating this background, Mr. Moncriffe was concerned about Mr.
Green’s behavior. According to the report prepared by the psychologist appointed to evaluate
Mr. Green’s competency, Mr. Moncriffe “indicated that Mr. Green occasionally appears to be
suspicious and paranoid . . . Mr. Moncriffe also stated that occasionally Mr. Green ‘acts like he’s
talking to a third party.’” (Competency Evaluation, Clerk’s Record, Volume 1, at 266.) Although
Mr. Green was found competent to stand trial and to waive his right to an attorney, a minimal
investigation into Mr. Green’s personal and family history would have yielded evidence of brain
damage or mental illness. Mr. Moncriffe could have presented that evidence to the jury as a way
to explain Mr. Green’s behavior in representing himself, as well as a reason to find Mr. Green
less personally culpable for his acts. See, e.g., California v. Brown, 479 U.S. 538, 545 (1987)
(O’Connor, J., concurring) (emphasis in original) (“[E]vidence about the defendant's background
and character is relevant because of the belief, long held by this society, that defendants who
commit criminal acts that are attributable to a disadvantaged background, or to emotional and
mental problems, may be less culpable than defendants who have no such excuse. . . . Thus, the
sentence imposed at the penalty stage should reflect a reasoned moral response to the
defendant’s background, character, and crime”); Smith v. Texas, 543 U.S. 37, 44 (2004)
(reversing Texas’s rule requiring a defendant to show that his mitigation evidence rises to the
level of a “severe permanent handicap” as overly restrictive in light of the fact that “the jury
must be given an effective vehicle with which to weigh mitigating evidence so long as the
defendant has met a ‘low threshold for relevance’”); see also Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782,
797 (2001) (internal quotations and citations omitted) (“[T]he jury [must] be able to consider and
give effect to a defendant’s mitigating evidence in imposing sentence . . . . For it is only when
the jury is given a vehicle for expressing its reasoned moral response to that evidence in
rendering its sentencing decision that we can be sure that the jury has treated the defendant as a
uniquely individual human being and has made a reliable determination that death is the
Mr. Moncriffe’s preparation for the punishment phase of Mr. Green’s trial was even more
desultory than that of trial counsel in Wiggins and Trevino, whose performance was found
constitutionally deficient. In Wiggins, trial counsel’s failure to investigate Wiggins’ background
was held, by the Supreme Court, to constitute deficient performance. The Court found that
counsel’s strategy of retrying the guilt-innocence issue at punishment was unreasonable, because
they failed to uncover significant evidence of Wiggins’ deprived childhood. Wiggins, 539 U.S. at
536 (2003) (“[C]ounsel were not in a position to make a reasonable strategic choice as to
whether to focus on Wiggins’ direct responsibility, the sordid details of his life history, or both,
because the investigation supporting their choice was unreasonable”); see also Smith v. Dretke,
422 F.3d 269, 284 (5th Cir. 2005) (“If trial counsel’s investigation was unreasonable then
making a fully informed decision with respect to sentencing strategy was impossible,” and the
district court’s decision “to give deference to trial counsel’s strategic decision would also be
In Trevino, the Fifth Circuit found that trial counsel’s performance was constitutionally
deficient when counsel conducted a “minimal investigation” (involving interviewing a few of
Trevino’s family members), failed to request mitigation experts, and called only one witness.
Trevino v. Davis, 829 F.3d 328, 350 (5th Cir. 2016). This witness’s testimony comprised
approximately five transcript pages. Id.; see also Canales, 765 F.3d at 569 (“By Canales’s trial
counsel’s own admission, they did not conduct any mitigation investigation. A declaration from
his trial counsel shows that trial counsel did not hire a mitigation specialist, interview family
members or others who knew him growing up, or ‘collect any records or any historical data on
his life’ . . . . Thus, we conclude that Canales’s claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel
during sentencing is substantial.”)
Here, Mr. Moncriffe conducted no investigation (beyond interviewing a few of Mr.
Green’s family members when he was stand-by counsel), requested no experts, and presented
only the witnesses prepared by Mr. Green. With those witnesses, Mr. Moncriffe engaged in
perfunctory questioning which revealed none of Mr. Green’s traumatic childhood or potential
brain damage and mental illness. The jury heard none of the powerful evidence that could have
been proffered as a basis for a sentence less than death.
Respondent argues that Mr. Moncriffe did not need to conduct the investigation outlined
above, because he had acted as stand-by counsel for Mr. Green for eight months. Therefore,
when Mr. Moncriffe was appointed as Mr. Green’s full-fledged counsel on the morning the
punishment phase began, “Moncriffe was ready.” (Doc. No. 43 at100.) This argument fails,
because of the “limited role” played by a standby attorney. Taylor, 933 F.2d at 312.
Although a defendant should not be allowed to abuse the right to counsel or the right to
waive it, “a defendant who waives the right to counsel is entitled to withdraw that waiver and
reassert the right.” Id. at 311. “There can be no question that the roles of standby counsel and
full-fledged defense counsel are fundamentally different. The very definition of full-fledged
counsel includes the proposition that the counselor, and not the accused, bears the responsibility
for the defense; by contrast, the key limitation on standby counsel is that such counsel not be
responsible —and not be perceived to be responsible—for the accused's defense.” Id. at 312. As
standby counsel, Mr. Moncriffe may have spent time with Mr. Green, advising him on “the
important aspects of a punishment defense” and “walking him through the procedures to
subpoena witnesses,” as Respondent asserts. (Doc. No. 43 at 99.) But this is a far cry from the
type of “intensive mitigation investigation” that a full-fledged lawyer has the responsibility to
conduct in a capital case. Trevino, 829 F.3d at 350 (5th Cir. 2016). Although Mr. Moncriffe may
have felt ready to examine the witnesses that Mr. Green had planned to call, this does not mean
that his representation of Mr. Green was constitutionally adequate. Instead of relying on Mr.
Green’s trial strategy, Mr. Moncriffe was responsible for conducting his own investigation and
preparing a mitigation case—because the counselor, and not the accused, bears the responsibility
for the defense. Furthermore, Mr. Green’s refusal to utilize court-appointed experts and
investigators when he was insisting on representing himself does not mean, once he withdrew his
waiver of counsel, that his appointed counsel had no obligation to try to conduct a
constitutionally adequate investigation. While Mr. Green may have been pursuing, as his own
lawyer, a mitigation case that did not include the presentation of his family and social history,
once Mr. Green changed his decision about his desire to represent himself, Mr. Moncriffe had a
duty to independently explore those aspects of mitigation. Cf. Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S.
465, 477 (2007) (state court did not unreasonably apply Strickland in denying habeas relief
where defendant refused to allow counsel to present mitigating evidence from his family, and
was questioned about this decision by trial court).
The tight timeline between Mr. Moncriffe’s appointment as full-fledged counsel and the
start of the punishment phase also cannot excuse his complete failure to investigate. “A fair
assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting
effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to
evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689. Given
that Mr. Green's life was on the line, and that Mr. Moncriffe had not conducted any investigation
or preparation for the punishment phase of the trial, Mr. Moncriffe should have requested a
continuance from the trial.
Granting a continuance is within the trial court’s discretion, and given the circumstances
here—where Mr. Green had, until that morning, waived his right to counsel and during his selfrepresentation refused to cooperate with an appointed investigator—there is reason to believe the
trial court would have granted the request. Furthermore, there is no indication that Mr. Moncriffe
made a strategic decision not to ask for a continuance. Indeed, there is simply no strategic reason
for not doing so, as the only negative outcome could have been a denial of said request. See, e.g.,
Canales v. Stephens, 765 F.3d 551, 569 (5th Cir. 2014) (“[C]ounsel did not make a strategic
choice to forego a mitigation investigation. Instead, he chose not to pursue that claim in any
depth because he thought he could not receive any additional funding to pursue those claims.
Accordingly, his performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.”)
Even if the trial court had denied the request, Mr. Green would have likely prevailed on
an appeal of this denial. A denial of a request for a continuance is reviewed for abuse of
discretion. United States v. Davis, 61 F.3d 291, 298 (5th Cir.1995). Although “not every denial
of a request for more time that violates due process . . . a myopic insistence upon expeditiousness
in the face of a justifiable request for delay can render the right to defend with counsel an empty
formality.” Ungar v. Sarafite, 376 U.S. 575, 589 (1964). Factors considered by the Fifth Circuit
when determining whether a continuance was warranted are: “the amount of time available for
preparation; defendant’s role in shortening the time needed; the likelihood of prejudice from
denial; and the availability of discovery from the prosecution.” United States v. Messervey, 317
F.3d 457, 462 (5th Cir. 2002).
In Powell v. Collins, the Eleventh Circuit, considering a similar set of factors, held that
the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s request for a continuance between the guilt and
punishment phases of his capital trial was an abuse of discretion. 332 F.3d 376, 397 (6th Cir.
2003). Part of the trial court’s reasoning in denying the request was the inconvenience imposed
on the jury by causing further delay. But the Eleventh Circuit stated that “any inconvenience to
the jury in this regard pales when compared to the gravity and magnitude of the issue involved—
i.e., whether the death penalty should be imposed.” Id. The court also found that the defendant
was prejudiced by the trial court’s denial of the request, because “the additional time would have
afforded him the opportunity to gather additional mitigation evidence from his family and
friends . . . .” Id.
The Fifth Circuit has found no abuse of discretion when the trial court granted a oneweek continuance instead of the requested four-week continuance, and the defendant’s counsel
had over one month in which to prepare for trial. United States v. Flores, 63 F.3d 1342, 1364
(5th Cir. 1995). Similarly, the Fifth Circuit found that a trial court was within its discretion in
denying a request for a 30-day continuance when the defendant’s “second team of attorneys had
over six months in which to prepare for trial.” United States v. Hall, 152 F.3d 381, 420 (5th Cir.
1998). These cases are easily distinguishable from Mr. Green’s situation: neither involved the
“ultimate punishment” of the death penalty, and in both instances, the defendants’ trial teams had
been given ample time to prepare for trial, but were requesting more time. Johnson v. Texas, 509
U.S. 350, 380 (1993). Here, however, Mr. Moncriffe had no time to prepare for the punishment
phase, and was thus unable to present any of the significant mitigating evidence that existed to
the jury. Accordingly, there is reason to believe that the trial court would have granted Mr.
Moncriffe’s request for a continuance. If it had denied his request, this denial could have been
appealed, with ample merit, as an abuse of discretion. But Mr. Moncriffe failed, for no strategic
reason, to request a continuance. Because of Mr. Moncriffe’s failure to take the appropriate steps
to conduct a constitutionally adequate investigation into Mr. Green’s background, Mr. Green
presents a substantial claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
Furthermore, this Court finds that state habeas counsel was ineffective in failing to raise
the ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. Despite a record which revealed Mr. Moncriffe’s
last-minute appointment, his failure to request a continuance, and a non-existent investigation
into Mr. Green’s family and social history, state habeas counsel appears to have conducted no
investigation outside the record. “In most instances, the record on direct appeal is inadequate to
develop an ineffective assistance claim.” Ex parte Torres, 943 S.W.2d 469, 475 (Tex. Crim.
App. 1997); see also Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. at 11 (“Claims of ineffective assistance at trial
often require investigative work . . . .”). “[T]he inadequacy of the appellate record in these
situations is due to the inherent nature of most ineffective assistance claims. The very
ineffectiveness claimed may prevent the record from containing the information necessary to
substantiate such a claim.” Id. Here, the record would have revealed the utter lack of
investigation and preparation of a mitigation case, as well as Mr. Moncriffe’s failure to request a
continuance or any other assistance from the trial court. Mr. McLean should have known that
these deficiencies required at least investigating a potential ineffective assistance of trial counsel
claim. See Trevino, 829 F.3d at 349 (“Trevino’s state trial counsel presented only one mitigation
witness and no other evidence during the punishment phase. The deficiency in that investigation
would have been evident to any reasonably competent habeas attorney.”) This investigation is so
important because Mr. McLean would not have known the powerful mitigating evidence that Mr.
Moncriffe failed to present, precisely because of Mr. Moncriffe’s ineffectiveness. Thus, Mr.
McLean should have conducted his own investigation into Mr. Green’s background. Trevino v.
Davis, 829 F.3d at 348–49 (5th Cir. 2016) (“If state habeas counsel is not subject to the same
requirement to perform some minimum investigation prior to bringing the initial state habeas
petition, the Martinez/Trevino rule [allowing ineffective assistance of state habeas counsel to
serve as “cause” for a procedural default] would have limited utility (if any) in addressing
Mr. McLean’s failure to do so fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness, and as such, Mr. Green’s procedural default in failing to raise ineffective
assistance of trial counsel at the state habeas level is excused.
The Court also finds, for the above reasons, that Mr. Green has presented a substantial
claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel necessary under the Martinez/Trevino rubric. An
evidentiary hearing is needed to further evaluate this claim, specifically to determine whether
Mr. Green can prove prejudice as a result of his trial counsel’s deficient performance. Schriro,
550 U.S. at 468 (“In cases where an applicant for federal habeas relief is not barred from
obtaining an evidentiary hearing by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2), the decision to grant such a hearing
rests in the discretion of the district court”). This case presents exactly the set of facts that the
Supreme Court was concerned about in Martinez and Trevino. Because of the performance of
Mr. Green’s trial counsel, the jury never heard any of a wealth of mitigating evidence about Mr.
Green’s family and social history. And because of the performance of Mr. Green’s state habeas
counsel, no appeals court has considered his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. Trevino
v. Thaler, 133 S. Ct. at 1921 (quoting Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. at 1320). (“[F]ailure to
consider a lawyer's ‘ineffectiveness’ during an initial-review collateral proceeding as a potential
‘cause’ for excusing a procedural default will deprive the defendant of any opportunity at all for
review of an ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim.”) For these reasons, Mr. Green’s
motion for reconsideration is granted as to his first claim for relief.
Fifth & Sixth Claims
In his fifth claim, Mr. Green argues that trial counsel failed to bring evidence of Mr.
Green’s incompetence to stand trial to the trial court’s attention, and that Mr. Green’s procedural
default should be excused because state habeas counsel was ineffective in failing to raise the
claim. The Court observed, in its March 29, 2016 Memorandum and Order, that the trial record
showed that “two judges conducted several separate colloquies with Green to determine the
knowing and voluntary nature of his waiver of his right to counsel,” and that “Green’s answers to
their questions . . . were lucid and responsive.” (Doc. No. 55 at 13.) The Court further noted that
the trial court appointed an independent expert to evaluate Mr. Green’s competency to stand trial,
and that the expert determined that Mr. Green was competent. Based on the record, state habeas
counsel was reasonable and was justified in concluding that trial counsel was not ineffective for
failing to challenge the competency and knowing and voluntary waiver determinations, and thus
deciding not to investigate further.
In his sixth claim, Mr. Green contends that trial counsel’s failure to contest the knowing
nature of his waiver of counsel deprived Mr. Green of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and
that Mr. Green’s procedural default should be excused because state habeas counsel was
ineffective in failing to raise the claim. As discussed in more detail in the March 29, 2016
Memorandum and Order, Mr. Green’s waiver of counsel was knowing and voluntary. Because
the waiver was valid, counsel did not abandon him. Moreover, because the waiver was valid,
state habeas counsel did not render ineffective assistance by failing to raise this issue. Thus, Mr.
Green is not entitled to a hearing on these issues.
The Court noted, in its previous Memorandum and Order, that there is a split of authority
as to whether a defendant can waive a substantive claim that he was incompetent to stand trial.
Based on evidence presented in this federal petition, the Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on
Mr. Green’s claim that he was incompetent to stand trial. Respondent argues that the Court erred
because the claim is unexhausted, and because Mr. Green failed to develop the factual basis for
the claim in state court.
Respondent correctly notes that petitioners are generally required to exhaust their claims
in state court before raising them in a federal habeas corpus petition. See, e.g., Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991). However, this Court addressed that argument in its March 29,
2016 Memorandum and Order:
Courts are split . . . as to whether a substantive claim of incompetence, i.e.,
a claim that the defendant stood trial while he was actually incompetent, can be
procedurally defaulted. While many courts have found that substantive claims of
incompetency may be procedurally defaulted, see Smith v. Moore, 137 F.3d 808,
818-19 (4th Cir. 1998); Martinez-Villareal v. Lewis, 80 F.3d 1301, 1306-07 (9th
Cir. 1996); Bainter v. Trickey, 932 F.2d 713, 716 (8th Cir. 1991); United States ex
rel. Lewis v. Lane, 822 F.2d 703, 705 (7th Cir. 1987), other courts have held that
language in Pate [v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 384 (1966)] prohibiting the waiver
of competency claims applies to the procedural default doctrine as well, see
Rogers v. Gibson, 173 F.3d 1278, 1289 (10th Cir. 1999); Medina v. Singletary, 59
F.3d 1095, 1111 (11th Cir. 1995); Silverstein v. Henderson, 706 F.2d 361, 367 (2d
Cir.1983), Zapata v. Estelle, 588 F.2d 1017, 1021 (5th Cir. 1979). While Green’s
claims of incompetency are unexhausted, this Court is disinclined to find the
substantive claim procedurally barred. Due to this split in the courts, this Court
will consider the merits of the substantive competency claim.
(Doc. No. 55 at 15). Respondent’s argument on this issue boils down to pointing out that the
factual scenarios in the cases cited by this Court were somewhat different that this case. While
this may be true, these differences do not negate the broader principle that substantive
competency claims are not subject to procedural default. Therefore, respondent’s motion for
reconsideration of this Court’s ruling on Mr. Green’s substantive competency claim is denied.
Respondent also correctly points out that 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) prohibits evidentiary
hearings in federal habeas corpus proceedings when “the applicant has failed to develop the
factual basis for his claim in State court proceedings.” The Supreme Court has explained that a
petitioner does not “fail” to develop the factual basis if he makes “a reasonable attempt, in light
of the information available at the time, to investigate and pursue claims in state court.”
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 420, 435 (2000). Respondent argues that Mr. Green was not diligent
in state court because he did not seek an evidentiary hearing.
In most cases, Respondent’s argument would be correct. The facts of this case are,
however, somewhat unusual. As discussed above, and in the March 29, 2016 Memorandum and
Order, state habeas counsel was reasonable in deciding not to raise a competency claim because
the record amply supported a finding that Mr. Green was, in fact, competent. Evidence
developed since Mr. Green’s state habeas proceedings, however, suggests that Mr. Green suffers
from serious mental illness which may have existed at the time of his trial, and which may have
rendered him incompetent.
Because state habeas counsel was reasonable in deciding not to conduct further
investigation into Mr. Green’s competency, the lack of factual development in the state
proceeding was not a result of lack of diligence. Therefore, the Court finds that § 2254(e)(2) does
not prohibit an evidentiary hearing. Notwithstanding the lack of a state court record on this issue,
evidence now exists raising serious questions about Mr. Green’s competency to stand trial. The
Court therefore maintains that an evidentiary hearing is required to resolve these questions.
For the foregoing reasons,
It is ORDERED that Respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. No. 57) is
It is FURTHER ORDERED that Petitioner’s Cross-Motion for Reconsideration (Doc.
No. 64) is GRANTED as to Petitioner’s first claim for relief, and DENIED as to Petitioner’s
fifth and sixth claims for relief;
It is FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall confer and, within 30 days of the date
of this Order, file a joint proposed scheduling order for the conduct of the evidentiary hearing in
IT IS SO ORDERED.
SIGNED at Houston, Texas, on this 10th day of May, 2017.
KEITH P. ELLISON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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