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Best v. Hooks

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

March 29, 2018

ERIK A. HOOKS, Respondent.[1]


          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, United States District Judge

         Petitioner petitions this court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This matter is before the court on respondent's motion for summary judgment (DE 13). Petitioner did not respond to the motion. In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the court grants respondent's motion.


         Petitioner, a state inmate incarcerated at Pasquotank Correctional Institution, entered an Alford plea[2] in the Brunswick County Superior Court on June 15, 2015, to a single count of possession of a schedule II controlled substance, and was sentenced to 26-44 months imprisonment. (Resp't's App. (DE 15) Exs. 1, 2). Petitioner was sentenced as an habitual felon at the lowest possible mitigated range, and his sentence was ordered to run consecutive to a sentence petitioner was already serving on unrelated charges. (Id. Ex. 2; Pet. (DE 1) at 5) Petitioner filed a pro se certiorari petition seeking a belated direct appeal of his conviction and sentence, but the North Carolina Court of Appeals denied the certiorari petition. (Resp't's App. (DE 16) Exs. 6, 8).

         Petitioner then filed a pro se motion for appropriate relief (“MAR”) in the Superior Court of Brunswick County. (Id. Ex. 9). On September 19, 2016, the MAR was summarily denied. (Id. Ex. 10). The state trial judge, however, noted in the order denying the MAR that a hearing was held in petitioner's case on August 9, 2016, for the purpose of correcting petitioner's sentence. (Id.) Ultimately, petitioner's prior record level (used to calculate his sentence under North Carolina's Structured Sentencing Act), was changed from Level V to Level IV and his sentence was correspondingly reduced to 23-40 months imprisonment. (Resp't's App. (DE 17) Ex. 11).

         Petitioner filed a pro se certiorari petition with the North Carolina Court of Appeals on October 31, 2016, seeking to appeal the state court's denial of his MAR. (Id. Ex. 12). The North Carolina Court of Appeals summarily denied the petition on November 15, 2016. (Id. Ex. 14).

         Petitioner filed the instant habeas petition on November 28, 2016, alleging the following claims for relief: (1) the state trial court erred by accepting petitioner's guilty plea where there was no factual basis for the plea and the plea was coerced because petitioner was misadvised by counsel that he would receive concurrent sentences; (2) petitioner's sentence was grossly disproportionate and (an unidentified) new law came into effect and retroactivity is applicable; (3) petitioner's counsel was ineffective because: counsel misadvised him to plead guilty to a crime that did not amount to a misdemeanor, petitioner's sentence should have run concurrently to any other sentence, and petitioner was inappropriately sentenced at a prior record level V when he should have been sentenced at level IV; and (4) petitioner is entitled to the advanced supervised release program because his counsel promised him that he would be enrolled in the program, and the habitual felon indictment is defective and duplicious [sic] because the prosecuting attorneys used the same habitual felon indictment in two of petitioner's criminal cases.

         On July 11, 2017, respondent filed the instant motion for summary judgment, arguing that petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief. The following day, the court sent petitioner a notice pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), providing notice that the summary judgment motion had been filed, the deadline for responding, and explaining the potential consequences of failing to respond. Letter from Peter A. Moore, Clerk of Court, to James Staccato Best (July 12, 2017) (DE 19). Despite this notice, petitioner did not respond to the motion.


         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there exists no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of initially coming forward and demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party then must affirmatively demonstrate that there exists a genuine issue of material fact requiring trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         The standard of review for habeas petitions brought by state inmates, where the claims have been adjudicated on the merits in the state court, is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). That statute states that habeas relief cannot be granted in cases where a state court considered a claim on its merits unless the decision was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court, or the state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2). A state court decision is “contrary to” Supreme Court precedent if it either arrives at “a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law” or “confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite” to that of the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 406 (2000). A state court decision “involves an unreasonable application” of Supreme Court law “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the state prisoner's case.” Id. at 407. A state court decision also may apply Supreme Court law unreasonably if it extends existing Supreme Court precedent to a new context where it does not apply, or unreasonably refuses to extend existing precedent to a new context where it should apply. Id. The applicable statute

does not require that a state court cite to federal law in order for a federal court to determine whether the state court's decision is an objectively reasonable one, nor does it require a federal habeas court to offer an independent opinion as to whether it believes, based upon its own reading of the controlling Supreme Court precedents, that the [petitioner's] constitutional rights were violated during the state court proceedings.

Bell v. Jarvis, 236 F.3d 149, 160 (4th Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 830 (2001). Moreover, a determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed correct, unless rebutted by clear and convincing ...

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