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Lyles v. Reynolds

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 14, 2016

Lance Lyles, Petitioner,
Warden Cecelia Reynolds, Respondent.


          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (R & R) of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 23), recommending that Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted and the habeas petition be dismissed. For the reasons stated below, the Court ADOPTS IN PART the R & R, GRANTS Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment, and DISMISSES the habeas petition.

         I. Background [1]

         In 2005 and 2006, Petitioner was indicted for murder, burglary-first degree, attempted armed robbery, and unlawful possession of a pistol by a person under 21. These charges arose out of an incident on December 8, 2004, when Petitioner and a co-defendant approached the apartment of Clarence Spicer. Spicer testified that one man had a mask and a gun and the other man had a hood covering his face. Spicer testified that when he tried to close the door on the two men, one of them shot inside his home. That shot killed Tavaris Howze. At trial, each defendant claimed that the other was the shooter and both claimed that they had originally gone to the apartment to purchase drugs from Spicer and not to rob him.

         On March 17, 2016, after a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of all charges except burglary; the jury instead found Petitioner guilty of attempted burglary. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to life for the murder conviction and to various lesser sentences on the other convictions, all to run concurrently. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence on direct appeal, and the South Carolina Supreme Court denied certiorari. Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (PCR), which was dismissed on November 1, 2011. The South Carolina Court of Appeals denied Petitioner's petition for certiorari. Remittitur was issued on October 13, 2014, and filed with the Circuit Court on October 17, 2014.

         The instant federal petition was filed on October 14, 2015, raising five grounds for relief. (Dkt. No. 1). The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissing the entire petition as untimely under the statute of limitations. The Magistrate Judge also considered the merits of Petitioner's grounds for relief and recommended granting summary judgment to Respondent on all five grounds. Petitioner filed timely objections to portions of the R&R. (Dkt. No. 31).

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Report & Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the R & R or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Ace. Ins, Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).

         As to portions of the R & R to which no specific objection has been made, this Court "must 'only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'" Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P 72 advisory committee note). Moreover, in the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's analysis and recommendation. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

         B. Federal Habeas Review

         Petitioner's claims are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), which provides that his petition cannot be granted unless the claims "(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). "[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." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000). Importantly, "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct, " and Petitioner has "the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         C. Habeas Review of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Where allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel are made, the question is "whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984). First, the Petitioner must show that counsel made errors so serious that counsel's performance was below the objective standard of reasonableness guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Id. at 687-88. Second, the Petitioner must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694.

         "The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both highly deferential... and when the two apply in tandem, review is doubly so." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 788 (2011). In applying § 2254(d), "the question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard." Id.

         III. Discussion

         A. Statute of Limitations

         There is a one-year statutory deadline for filing a federal habeas petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2244. The statute begins to run on "the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review." Id. at § 2244(d)(1)(A). the statute is tolled during the pendency of PCR proceedings. Id. at ยง 2244(d)(2). Here, Petitioner filed his PCR action before the time expired for him to file a direct appeal to the United States Supreme ...

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