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Smith v. Bonner

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 12, 2015

WILLARD C. SMITH, Applicant,
BOBBY BONNER, Warden, and CYNTHIA COFFMAN, [1] Attorney General, State of Colorado, Respondents

Willard C. Smith, Petitioner, Pro se, Burlington, CO.

For Bobby Bonner, Warden, Attorney General of the State of Colorado, The, John Suthers, Respondents: Ryan Alan Crane, LEAD ATTORNEY, Colorado Attorney General's Office, Denver, CO.


Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.

This matter is before me on the [Amended] Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (" Amended Application" ) [#10][2] filed February 12, 2014, by Applicant, Willard C. Smith. Respondents answered the Amended Application [#28], and Applicant filed a traverse [#29]. After reviewing the pertinent portions of the record in this case including the Amended Application, the Answer, the Traverse, and the state court record, I conclude that the Application should be denied.


In 2005, Applicant was convicted by a jury of second degree murder in Otero County District Court Case No. 04CR247.[3] [# 18-1, at 3]. During trial, Applicant pled guilty to Count 4 of the Information, charging him with possession of a weapon by a previous offender (" POWPO" charge). [ Id. at 3-4]. He was sentenced to an aggregate prison term of 48 years with the Colorado Department of Corrections. [ Id. at 3].

The Colorado Court of Appeals summarized the relevant facts on direct review of Applicant's convictions, in People v. Willard Clayton Smith ( Smith I ), No. 06CA0935 (Colo.App. April 17, 2008):

In October 2004, defendant was living in a bus parked next to a house occupied by T.H. and her boyfriend, the victim.
On October 7, 2004, defendant went to a local bar where he drank with T.H. and the victim. Defendant insulted T.H., and defendant and the victim argued. During the argument, defendant threatened to kill the victim. Defendant and the victim resolved the argument and eventually became intoxicated. Later, defendant, T.H., and the victim left the bar together, stopped at a liquor store to purchase beer and whiskey, and returned home.
T.H. testified that defendant and the victim were very intoxicated, loud, and obnoxious and she told them to leave the house. Defendant and the victim resumed their drinking spree in defendant's bus. Later, T.H. observed defendant and the victim having a " heated conversation."
Later, during dinner, T.H. asked the victim to leave the house and with the aid of her son, locked the victim out of the house. Angry, the victim threw a cooler at the front door, got into his truck, and drove in circles in the yard. The next morning, the victim was gone.
T.H.'s children each testified that they heard a gunshot after they went to bed, but did not tell anyone until a few days later.
Over the next few days, defendant told inconsistent stories about the victim's disappearance, stating that the victim had " run off" with another woman, that he had loaned the victim $50 and he had walked away through a field, that the victim had met with a man about a methamphetamine deal, and that he had shot the victim and " fed him to the pigs."
On October 9, 2004, T.H. filed a missing person's report. The next day, T.H.'s son found the victim's body in a ditch near a hog pen and telephoned the police. The victim had been shot in the head and dragged into the ditch. The police officers found the victim's blood in and on the steps leading to defendant's bus and the gun used to shoot the victim under the bus.
Defendant was arrested on October 11, 2004. At the time of his arrest, defendant had two small cuts on his torso. Defendant told the police officer that " he got them from working on a car."
On October 13, 2004, defendant gave oral and written statements to the police. Defendant stated that on October 7, 2004, he had gone to bed, was awakened by the sound of the victim's truck, and got out his gun. After looking out his window and seeing that it was the victim, defendant sat down and laid his gun on the table. The victim then came into his bus, sat down at the table, asked to borrow $50, and offered his truck as collateral for the loan. When defendant refused to loan him money, the victim took a knife out of his back pocket and swung at him. Defendant stated that he picked up the gun and shot the victim in self-defense. Defendant stated he dragged the victim's body into the ditch, put the victim's knife back into its sheath, and placed the knife in the victim's truck.

[# 18-2 at 2-5].

The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed Applicant's convictions and sentence on direct appeal. [ Id. ]. The Colorado Supreme Court denied Applicant's petition for certiorari review on August 18, 2008. [# 18-9].

Applicant thereafter filed a motion for state post-conviction relief, pursuant to Colo. Crim. P. Rule 35(c). [# 18-1, at 13]. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's order denying the motion in People v. William Clayton Smith ( Smith II ), No. 11CA1034 (Colo.App. March 21, 2013) [#18-3]. The Colorado Supreme Court denied Applicant's request for certiorari review on December 9, 2013. [#18-14].

Mr. Smith initiated this action on December 27, 2013. He asserts the following claims in his Amended Application:

o Trial counsel was ineffective in handling the POWPO charge (claims one and two) [#10, at 10-12];
o Trial counsel was ineffective in failing to present a defense under Colorado's " " make my day" statute (claim three) [ Id. at 14];
o Trial counsel was ineffective in: (a) requesting a competency evaluation for Applicant; and, (b) thereafter failing to adequately advise Applicant concerning the necessity and implications of waiving his right to a speedy trial (claim four) [ Id. at 15];
o The trial court violated Applicant's constitutional rights by failing to grant Applicant's request for substitution counsel (claim five) [ Id. at 16];
o Applicant's constitutional rights were violated when the police failed to collect and preserve a knife found at the crime scene (claim six) [ Id. at 17]; and,
o The trial court violated Applicant's constitutional rights by denying newly-appointed sentencing counsel's request for a continuance of the sentencing hearing to allow him to obtain the trial transcripts (claim seven) [ Id. at 18].

Respondents concede that the Application is timely pursuant to the AEDPA one-year limitation period, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). [# 18, at 4-7]. Respondents further concede that Applicant exhausted state remedies for all of his claims, except for claim four. [ Id. at 9-12]. In a May 1, 2014 Order, Senior Judge Lewis T. Babcock rejected Respondents' assertion of the failure to exhaust defense as to claim four. [# 21, at 3-4]. In a separate Order, Judge Babcock directed Respondents to file an Answer to the Amended Application. [# 19].

I address below the merits of Applicant's claims under the deferential AEDPA standard of review.


Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that a writ of habeas corpus may not be issued with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court adjudication:

(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). The applicant bears the burden of proof under § 2254(d). See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25, 123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279 (2002) (per curiam).

A claim may be adjudicated on the merits in state court even in the absence of a statement of reasons by the state court for rejecting the claim. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). In particular, " determining whether a state court's decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court's reasoning." Id. at 784. Thus, " [w]hen a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Id. at 784-85. Even " [w]here a state court's decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner's burden still must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Id. at 784. In other words, the Court " owe[s] deference to the state court's result, even if its reasoning is not expressly stated." Aycox v. Lytle, 196 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 1999). Therefore, the court " must uphold the state court's summary decision unless [the court's] independent review of the record and pertinent federal law persuades [the court] that its result contravenes or unreasonably applies clearly established federal law, or is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented." Id. at 1178. " [T]his 'independent review' should be distinguished from a full de novo review of the petitioner's claims." Id.

The Richter presumption is also applicable when a state-court opinion addresses some but not all of those claims. Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1094-98, 185 L.Ed.2d 105 (2013). For purposes of § 2254(d), when a state court rules against a defendant in an opinion that rejects some of the defendant's claims but does not expressly address a federal claim, a federal habeas court must presume, subject to rebuttal, that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits. Id. at 1094-96. Federal habeas courts should not assume that any unaddressed federal claim simply was overlooked because a state court does not uniformly discuss separately every claim referenced by a defendant. Id.

The court reviews claims of legal error and mixed questions of law and fact pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). See Cook v. McKune, 323 F.3d 825, 830 (10th Cir. 2003). The threshold question the court must answer under § 2254(d)(1) is whether the applicant seeks to apply a rule of law that was clearly established by the Supreme Court at the time his conviction became final. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). Clearly established federal law " 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." Id. at 412. Furthermore,

clearly established law consists of Supreme Court holdings in cases where the facts are at least closely-related or similar to the case sub judice. Although the legal rule at issue need not have had its genesis in the closely-related or similar factual context, the Supreme Court must have expressly extended the legal rule to that context.

House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1016 (10th Cir. 2008). If there is no clearly established federal law, that is the end of the court's inquiry pursuant to § 2254(d)(1). See id. at 1018.

If a clearly established rule of federal law is implicated, the court must determine whether the state court's decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of that clearly established rule of federal law. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 404-05.

A state-court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if: (a) " the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases" ; or (b) " the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [that] precedent." Maynard [v. Boone ], 468 F.3d [665,] 669 [(10th Cir. 2006)] (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). " The word 'contrary' is commonly understood to mean 'diametrically different,' 'opposite in character or nature,' or 'mutually opposed.'" Williams, 529 U.S. at 405 (citation omitted).
A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law when it identifies the correct governing legal rule from Supreme Court cases, but unreasonably applies it to the facts. Id. at 407-08. Additionally, we have recognized that an unreasonable application may occur if the state court either unreasonably extends, or unreasonably refuses to extend, a legal principle from Supreme Court precedent to a new context where it should apply.

House, 527 F.3d at 1018.

The court's inquiry pursuant to the " unreasonable application" clause is an objective inquiry. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-10. " [A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 411. " [A] decision is 'objectively unreasonable' when most reasonable jurists exercising their independent judgment would conclude the state court misapplied Supreme Court law." Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671. In addition,

evaluating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations. [I]t is not an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by [the Supreme] Court.

Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (internal quotation marks omitted). " [R]eview under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398, 179 L.Ed.2d 557 (2011).

Under this standard, " only the most serious misapplications of Supreme Court precedent will be a basis for relief under § 2254." Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671; see also Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (stating that " even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable" ).

As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Richter, 131 S.Ct. 786-87. See also White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 188 L.Ed.2d 698 (2014) (citing and quoting Richter ).

The court reviews claims asserting factual errors pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). See Romano v. Gibson, 278 F.3d 1145, 1154 n. 4 (10th Cir. 2002). Section 2254(d)(2) allows the federal court to grant a writ of habeas corpus only if the relevant state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented to the state court. Pursuant to ยง 2254(e)(1), the court must presume that the state court's factual determinations are correct and the petitioner bears the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. " The standard is demanding but not insatiable . . . [because] '[d]eference does not by definition preclude relief.'" ...

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