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Lynch v. Hall

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

June 8, 2017

HILTON HALL, Warden, and GREGORY C. DOZIER, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Corrections, Respondents.


         Reginald Lynch, currently incarcerated at Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Georgia, seeks habeas relief from his Chatham County conviction for murder and possession of a firearm during a crime. Doc. 1 at 1-2; see also Lynch v. State, 291 S.E.2d 672 (Ga. 2012) (affirming criminal conviction). He has exhausted his state court remedies, having challenged the effectiveness of his appellate counsel through a state habeas petition. Doc. 1 at 3 (after a hearing, the state habeas court denied his petition on the merits); id. at 5 & 7 (the Georgia Supreme Court denied his application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal). He now seeks habeas relief from this Court, id. at 5, 7, and the State opposes.[1] Doc. 7.

         I. BACKGROUND

         “‘Reggie Lynch, shot me.'” That's what victim Marcus Givens told Detective Dantzler when Givens was discovered lying mortally wounded in an alley. Lynch, 731 S.E.2d at 674. A second officer, Star Corporal Angel Grant, also heard Givens identify his shooter. Id. Another witness, Tiffany Davis (a relative of both Lynch and Givens), explained that on the day before, the two men had argued and “Lynch [had] told her that he was going to kill the victim.” Id. Finally, Givens' cousin Leisha Givens testified that Givens had told her at the scene that Lynch had shot him, and that she had seen Lynch leaving the scene of the shooting in a white truck. Id. Based on that evidence, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Lynch's conviction. Id.

         Lynch argued to the state habeas court that his appellate counsel was deficient for failing to raise on appeal several defects in his trial counsel's performance. Doc. 1 at 3. In particular, appellate counsel should have argued that trial counsel erred in failing to object, on Confrontation Clause grounds, to the testimony that Givens identified Lynch as his shooter. Also, appellate counsel should have challenged trail counsel's failure to object to a detective's testimony that invaded the province of the jury. Doc. 1 at 3. The state habeas court denied relief, and the Georgia Supreme Court denied him a certificate of probable cause. Id. (habeas denied); doc. 11-8 (denial of certificate of probable cause).

         Lynch retreads those state-habeas grounds in support of his current petition. Doc. 1 at 5, 7. The State opposes, contending that the judgment of the state habeas court[2] is entitled to deference under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Doc. 7-1 at 4.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Applicable Standards

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) bars federal courts from granting habeas relief to a state petitioner on a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's 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).

         “AEDPA's standard is intentionally difficult to meet.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (internal quotes and cites omitted). “[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.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011); id. at 102-03 (federal habeas review exists as “a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.”); see also White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014) (the “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) “must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice.”); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003) (same).

         As to the “facts” prong, the inquiry focuses not on whether “the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable -- a substantially higher threshold.” Shiriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); see Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003) (it is not sufficient that “the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Rather, the state court's decision must be “objectively unreasonable”). State factual findings have been found “unreasonable” under § 2254(d)(2) when the direction of the evidence, viewed cumulatively, was “too powerful to conclude anything but [the petitioner's factual claim], ” Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 265 (2005), and when a state court's finding was “clearly erroneous, ” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 528-29 (2003); see Landers v. Warden, 776 F.3d 1288, 1294 (11th Cir. 2015).

         AEDPA's requirements reflect a “presumption that state courts know and follow the law.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam). “When reviewing state criminal convictions on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong.” Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376. This is especially true for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, [3] where AEDPA review must be “doubly deferential” in order to afford “both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt.” Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 10, 13 (2013) (quoting Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 190 (2011)).

         Finally, sandbagging is prohibited. Petitioners must submit their claims to the state courts first. New claims advanced to a federal habeas court but not to the proper state court face ...

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