Williams v. Thaler
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS that the Court DENY Williams' 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and that the issuance of a COA be DENIED. Signed by Judge Andrew W. Austin. (klw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
FRANKLIN LASHAWN WILLIAMS
WILLIAM STEPHENS, Director,
Texas Dept. of Criminal JusticeCorrectional Institutions Division1
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
The Honorable Sam Sparks, United States District Judge
The Magistrate Judge submits this Report and Recommendation to the District Court
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b) and Rule 1(e) of Appendix C of the Local Court Rules this Court.
Before the Court are Petitioner’s Application for Habeas Corpus Relief under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 (Document 1); Respondent’s Answer (Document 9); Respondent’s Amended Answer
(Document 11); and Petitioner’s response thereto (Document 12). Petitioner, proceeding pro se, has
been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned
finds that Petitioner’s application for writ of habeas corpus should be denied.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Petitioner’s Criminal History
According to Respondent, the Director has lawful and valid custody of Petitioner pursuant
to a judgment and sentence of the 26th Judicial District Court of Williamson County, Texas, in cause
number 09-003-K26. Petitioner was charged with two counts of aggravated assault of a public
The previous named respondent in this action was Rick Thaler, who was succeeded by
William Stephens On June 1, 2013. Under Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
Stephens is automatically substituted as a party.
servant and evading arrest or detention with a vehicle, enhanced with two prior felony convictions.
Petitioner entered a plea of not guilty to a jury. On August 19, 2009, the jury found Petitioner guilty
as charged of counts one and three, imposed a deadly weapon finding as to count three, found
Petitioner not guilty of count two, found the enhancement paragraphs true, and assessed punishment
at thirty years’ imprisonment on count one and ten years’ imprisonment on count three. Petitioner’s
convictions were affirmed by the Third Court of Appeals of Texas. Williams v. State, No. 03-0900542-CR, 2011 WL 677390 (Tex. App. – Austin 2011, no pet.).
Petitioner also challenged his convictions in a state application for habeas corpus relief. On
May 2, 2012, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Petitioner’s state application without a
written order on the finding of the trial court without a hearing. Ex parte Williams, Appl.
No. 35,966-03 at cover.
The factual background of this case is found in the Court of Appeals opinion and is repeated
On December 31, 2008, police officers undertook to execute an arrest warrant
on Williams for aggravated robbery involving the use of a handgun. See TEX . PENAL
CODE ANN . § 29.03(a)(2) (West Supp. 2010). The police learned that Williams was
at a particular apartment complex and went to the scene in two cars; officer Jerod
Morris drove one, and officer Michael Hallmark drove the other. As the officers
entered the apartment complex’s parking lot, they saw Williams getting into his car.
The officers attempted to block Williams’s car with their own to prevent Williams
from fleeing. The officers stopped their cars, exited them, and began approaching
Williams’s car on foot while yelling “Stop! Police!” The officers were wearing vests
with the word “Sheriff” printed on them. Williams began driving his car towards
Morris, and Morris ducked back inside his car to avoid being struck. Williams was
able to exit the parking lot and began driving away. The officers followed Williams
in their vehicles and engaged in a lengthy pursuit that covered large portions of west
and central Georgetown. At least six police vehicles representing four different
agencies participated in the pursuit, during which Williams wove in and out of
traffic, disregarded stop signs and traffic signals, drove on the wrong side of the
roadway, left the roadway, and came close to striking two of the police vehicles. The
pursuit ended only after Williams’s vehicle collided with a fence next to a bridge
near downtown Georgetown. Williams fled on foot after his vehicle was disabled,
and officers eventually apprehended him atop a rock embankment next to the San
As a result of the incident, the State charged Williams with two counts of
aggravated assault on a public servant—one each on Officers Morris and
Hallmark—with Williams’s car playing the role of deadly weapon. See TEX . PENAL
CODE § 22.02. The State also charged Williams with one count of evading arrest in
a motor vehicle. See id. § 38.04. Williams pleaded not guilty and went to trial.
Williams v. State, No. 03-09-00542-CR, 2011 WL 677390, at *1 (Tex. App. – Austin 2011, no pet.).
Petitioner’s Grounds for Relief
Petitioner raises the following grounds for relief:
The trial court erred in failing to hold a competency hearing in light of the magistrate
court’s order for mental health or mental retardation examination; and
Petitioner was denied effective assistance of trial counsel when his attorney failed to
investigate if there was an order for a competency evaluation.
Exhaustion of State Court Remedies
Respondent does not contest that Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies regarding
the claims brought in this application. A review of the state court records submitted by Respondent
shows that Petitioner has properly raised these claims in previous state court proceedings.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
The Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to summarize the basic principles that have
grown out of the Court’s many cases interpreting the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act. See Harrington v. Richter, – U.S. –, 131 S. Ct. 770, 783-85 (2011). The Court noted that the
starting point for any federal court in reviewing a state conviction is 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which states
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
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
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). The Court noted that “[b]y its terms § 2254(d) bars relitigation of any claim
‘adjudicated on the merits’ in state court, subject only to the exceptions in §§ 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2).”
Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784.
One of the issues Harrington resolved was “whether § 2254(d) applies when a state court’s
order is unaccompanied by an opinion explaining the reasons relief has been denied.” Id. Following
all of the Courts of Appeals’ decisions on this question, Harrington concluded that the deference due
a state court decision under § 2554(d) “does not require that there be an opinion from the state court
explaining the state court’s reasoning.” Id. (citations omitted). The Court noted that it had
previously concluded that “a state court need not cite nor even be aware of our cases under
§ 2254(d).” Id. (citing Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (per curiam)). When there is no
explanation with a state court decision, the habeas petitioner’s burden is to show there was “no
reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.” Id. And even when a state court fails to state
which of the elements in a multi-part claim it found insufficient, deference is still due to that
decision, because “§ 2254(d) applies when a ‘claim,’ not a component of one, has been adjudicated.”
As Harrington noted, § 2254(d) permits the granting of federal habeas relief in only three
circumstances: (1) when the earlier state court’s decision “was contrary to” federal law then clearly
established in the holdings of the Supreme Court; (2) when the earlier decision “involved an
unreasonable application of” such law; or (3) when the decision “was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts” in light of the record before the state court. Id. at 785 (citing 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S. Ct. 1495, 1523 (2000)). The “contrary to”
requirement “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of . . . [the Supreme Court’s] decisions
as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Dowthitt v. Johnson, 230 F.3d 733, 740 (5th Cir.
2000) (quotation and citation omitted).
Under the “contrary to” clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state
court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by . . . [the Supreme Court] on
a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than . . . [the Supreme
Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.
Id. at 740-41 (quotation and citation omitted). Under the “unreasonable application” clause of
§ 2254(d)(1), a federal court may grant the writ “if the state court identifies the correct governing
legal principle from . . . [the Supreme Court’s] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to
the facts of the prisoner’s case.” Id. at 741 (quotation and citation omitted). The provisions of
§ 2254(d)(2), which allow the granting of federal habeas relief when the state court made an
“unreasonable determination of the facts,” are limited by the terms of the next section of the statute,
§ 2254(e). That section states that a federal court must presume state court fact determinations to
be correct, though a petitioner can rebut that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. See 28
U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). But absent such a showing, the federal court must give deference to the state
court’s fact findings. Id.
Failure to Hold Hearing
In his first ground for relief, Petitioner contends the trial court erred in failing to hold a
competency hearing in light of the magistrate court’s order for mental health or mental retardation
examination. Specifically, Petitioner claims:
[I]f the Courts had complied, the evidence would have created a bona fide doubt of
his ability to competently stand trial not having a sufficient present ability to consult
with his trial counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding or . . . .
possessed an understanding of the proceedings against him, when the now presented
evidence would have shown at least moderate retardation.
Pet. Memo. at 5. Petitioner raised this claim in his state application for habeas corpus relief. The
state habeas court found:
The Court never entered an order for [Petitioner] to be evaluated for competency or
insanity because there was no indication that [Petitioner] was either incompetent to
stand trial or insane at the time he committed the offenses in this case.
Ex parte Williams, Appl. No. 35,966-03 at 36. Petitioner objected to the findings and provided the
Court of Criminal Appeals at least three copies of the magistrate court’s order for mental health or
mental retardation examination. Each copy was “received” by the Clerk for the Court of Criminal
Appeals and then subsequently marked “FILE IN WRIT FILE” by the staff attorney. Apparently, the
district court was unaware of the magistrate court’s order.
A defendant has a procedural due process right to a competency hearing when the evidence
raises a bona fide doubt as to the defendant’s competence at the time of trial and any immediately
related proceedings. Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 385 (1966); McInerney v. Puckett, 919 F.2d
350, 351 (5th Cir. 1990). Three factors should be considered when determining whether a “bona fide
doubt” exists: the existence of any history of irrational behavior, defendant’s demeanor at trial, and
prior medical opinion. Chenault v. Stynchcombe, 546 F.2d 1191, 1193 (5th Cir. 1977) (citing Drope
v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 180 (1975)); Mata v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 324, 329 (5th Cir. 2000).
There is no evidence in Petitioner’s case that the trial court had a bona fide doubt as to
Petitioner’s competency at the time of trial. Petitioner has provided the Court with no evidence that
the trial court was aware the magistrate court had issued an order calling for a mental health or
mental retardation examination of Petitioner. There was no mention of an order for mental health
evaluation during the two pretrial hearings held by the district court. Although Williams addressed
the Court at both hearings, he did not inform the court of any mental health issues. In addition, trial
counsel attested there was never any indication Petitioner was not competent to stand trial. Ex parte
Williams, Appl. No. 35,966-03 at Supp. Rec. 6. Finally, Petitioner did not provide the habeas court
or this Court with any evidence demonstrating he was incompetent to stand trial.
Having independently reviewed the entire state court record, this Court finds nothing
unreasonable in the state court’s application of clearly established federal law or in the state court’s
determination of facts in light of the evidence. Accordingly, Petitioner’s claim does not warrant
federal habeas relief.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
In his second ground for relief, Petitioner argues that he was denied effective assistance of
counsel when his attorney failed to investigate if there was an order for a competency evaluation.
Ineffective assistance of counsel claims are analyzed under the well-settled standard set forth in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984):
First, the defendant must show that counsel’s performance was deficient. This
requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not
functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.
Second, the defendant 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. Unless a defendant can make
both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction or death sentence resulted from
a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.
Id. at 687. In deciding whether counsel’s performance was deficient, the Court applies a standard
of objective reasonableness, keeping in mind that judicial scrutiny of counsel’s performance must
be highly deferential. Id. at 686-689. “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.”
Id. at 689. “Because of the difficulties inherent in making the evaluation, a court must indulge a
strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional
assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the
challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy.” Id. (Citation omitted). Ultimately, the
focus of inquiry must be on the fundamental fairness of the proceedings whose result is being
challenged. Id. at 695-97. Accordingly, in order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel, a convicted defendant must show that (1) counsel’s representation fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness, and (2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. Id. at 687.
Petitioner’s court-appointed counsel provided his affidavit to the state habeas court. Counsel
I was appointed to represent Franklin Lashawn Williams in Cause Number
09-003-K26. Prior to trial I met with Mr. Williams on several occasions to discuss
his case. He never exhibited any signs of mental illness. At no time did I have any
difficulty communicating with Mr. Williams. He understood the proceedings and the
charges against him and was able to assist me with his defense. There was never any
indication that he was not competent to stand trial. Therefore, I did not request a
competency hearing. Likewise, there was never any indication that Mr. Williams was
insane at the time he committed the offenses in this case. The allegation in this case
was that while law enforcement was attempting to serve an arrest warrant on Mr.
Williams at his home for aggravated robbery, he fled in his car. The State alleged
further that when he sped out of his apartment complex parking lot, Mr. Williams
attempted to run over two police officers and then engaged in a high-speed chase
through Georgetown. This encounter was videotaped by the officers’ dashboard
video recorders. There was never any indication that Mr. Williams was insane at the
time he engaged in this conduct. Specifically, there was never any indication that Mr.
Williams suffered from a severe mental disease or defect which prevented him from
knowing his conduct was wrong. Therefore, I did not urge an insanity defense.
Ex parte Williams, Appl. No. 35,966-03 at Supp. Rec. 6.
The state habeas court found counsel’s recollections were consistent with the recollections
of the trial court in that the trial court never observed Petitioner exhibit any signs of mental illness,
incompetence, or insanity. Id. at 7. Specifically, the court concluded there was no indication
Petitioner was either incompetent to stand trial or insane at the time he committed the offenses in
this case. Id. at 8. The court further concluded Petitioner failed to show counsel’s performance was
deficient for failing to request an unnecessary evaluation which would have been of no benefit to
Petitioner. Id. Finally, the court concluded Petitioner was unable to show that but for counsel’s
performance, the outcome of his trial could have been different because, again, there was no
indication that Petitioner was either incompetent to stand trial or insane at the time he committed the
offenses in this case. Id.
Having independently reviewed the entire state court record, this Court finds nothing
unreasonable in the state court’s application of clearly established federal law or in the state court’s
determination of facts in light of the evidence. Accordingly, the Court is of the opinion that 28
U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the AEDPA, bars habeas corpus relief on Petitioner’s claim that he
received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Alternatively, Petitioner has simply not shown that
his counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness or that he suffered
It is recommended that Petitioner’s application for writ of habeas corpus be denied.
CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
An appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals from a final order in a habeas corpus
proceeding “unless a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2253(c) (1)(A). Pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, effective
December 1, 2009, the district court must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters
a final order adverse to the applicant.
A certificate of appealability may issue only if a petitioner has made a substantial showing
of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). The Supreme Court fully explained
the requirement associated with a “substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right” in
Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484, 120 S. Ct. 1595 (2000). In cases where a district court
rejected a petitioner’s constitutional claims on the merits, “the petitioner must demonstrate that
reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable
or wrong.” Id. “When a district court denies a habeas petition on procedural grounds without
reaching the petitioner’s underlying constitutional claim, a COA should issue when the petitioner
shows, at least, that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim
of the denial of a constitutional right and that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the
district court was correct in its procedural ruling.” Id.
In this case, reasonable jurists could not debate the dismissal or denial of the Petitioner’s
section 2254 petition on substantive or procedural grounds, nor find that the issues presented are
adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327, 123 S. Ct.
1029 (2003) (citing Slack, 529 U.S. at 484). Accordingly, it is respectfully recommended that the
Court shall not issue a certificate of appealability.
The parties may file objections to this Report and Recommendation. A party filing
objections must specifically identify those findings or recommendations to which objections are
being made. The District Court need not consider frivolous, conclusive, or general objections.
Battles v. United States Parole Comm’n, 834 F.2d 419, 421 (5th Cir. 1987).
A party’s failure to file written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations
contained in this Report within fourteen (14) days after the party is served with a copy of the Report
shall bar that party from de novo review by the district court of the proposed findings and
recommendations in the Report and, except upon grounds of plain error, shall bar the party from
appellate review of unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the
district court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150-153, 106 S. Ct.
466, 472-74 (1985); Douglass v. United Servs. Auto. Assoc., 79 F.3d 1415 (5th Cir. 1996)(en banc).
To the extent that a party has not been served by the Clerk with this Report and
Recommendation electronically, pursuant to the CM/ECF procedures of this District, the Clerk is
ORDERED to mail such party a copy of this Report and Recommendation by certified mail, return
SIGNED this 9th day of September, 2013.
ANDREW W. AUSTIN
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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