United States District Court, D. South Carolina
AMENDED  ORDER
Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge
Saunders ("Petitioner"), a state prisoner
proceeding pro se, filed this action on May 27,
2016, seeking habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
(Dkt. No. 1.) This matter is before the Court on the Report
and Recommendation ("R. & R.") of the Magistrate
Judge (Dkt. No. 22) to grant Respondent's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 9) and to deny the habeas
petition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts
the R. & R. as the Order of the Court. Respondent's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 9) is granted.
Legal Standard - Magistrate's Report and
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility for making a final determination remains with
this Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261,
270-71 (1976). This Court is charged with making a de
novo determination of those portions of the R. & R. to
which specific objection is made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2).
Additionally, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify,
in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by
the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
Magistrate has carefully outlined the facts of this case in
the R. & R., so the Court does not repeat them here. (Dkt.
No. 22 at 9-11.) Petitioner has filed several Objections to
the Magistrate's R. & R. (Dkt. No. 27), and the Court has
considered each one in turn.
has asserted claims for due process violations and
ineffective assistance of counsel based on the trial
court's alleged failure to name the juror who disclosed
during voir dire that s/he had been a classmate of Mr.
Jenkins, a witness in the trial. Petitioner has objected to
the Magistrate's "finding that the Petitioner has
always known the identity of [that] juror." (Dkt. No. 27
at 1.) The R. & R. contains a small error when it says that
Petitioner stated "that [Petitioner] has always known
the identity of the juror." (Dkt. No. 22 at 15, n. 9.)
Petitioner in fact stated that "the identity of the
Juror has always been known by the
Respondent." (Dkt. No. 20 at 12)
(emphasis added.) This error has no impact on this
Court's determination that the Magistrate's analysis
of this issue is thorough and correct.
juror who knew witness Jenkins confirmed that s/he could be
fair and impartial at trial, so there was "no manifest
error in the trial court's handling of voir dire . . .
[when the court] ensured that a juror who knew one of the
witnesses could be fair and impartial in the trial of the
case." (Dkt. No. 22 at 26.) Mr. Jenkins's
credibility was not an issue in the trial, and his testimony
was not inconsistent with Petitioner's testimony because
Petitioner "did not dispute that he originally rented
the trailer and paid the rent. His position, that he paid the
rent although he let his little brother live in the trailer,
is not inconsistent with witness Jenkins' testimony
[that] he did not know who lived in the trailer and would not
be shocked if the Petitioner's brother were living
there." (Id. at 25.) For these reasons, the
trial court did not violate Petitioner's due process
rights in its handling of voir dire. As outlined in the R. &
R., Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim
connected to this issue fails for similar reasons.
(Id. at 26.)
objects to the Magistrate's recommendation as to Ground
One, Petitioner's allegation that the trial court erred
when it denied a motion for directed verdict when Petitioner
was only present at the scene and there was no evidence that
Petitioner possessed the drugs that were found inside the
trailer. (Dkt. No. 27 at 2; Dkt. No. 22 at 21.) The
Magistrate found that a rational trier of fact could have
found that Petitioner had constructive possession of the
drugs in the trailer so was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
based on the following facts: (1) Petitioner leased the
trailer; (2) Petitioner or his girlfriend made all rent
payments; and (3) one witness testified that he had been to
the trailer the night before the execution of the search
warrant to purchase drugs from Petitioner.
Petitioner claims to object to the Magistrate's failure
to consider whether he knowingly constructively
possessed the drugs in the trailer (Dkt. No. 27 at 2), the
only non-conclusory statements in Petitioner's objections
simply re-argue the question of whether Petitioner actually
or constructively possessed the drugs. For example,
Petitioner asserts that he was not physically in the trailer
when the search warrant was executed while others, like Akeem
Saunders, actually held the drugs in their hands.
(Id. at 2-3.) Petitioner has not objected to the
Magistrate's factual findings in support of the
conclusion that a rationale trier of fact could have found
Petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on his
constructive possession of the drugs in the trailer. For this
reason, the Court adopts the Magistrate's well-reasoned
analysis of this issue.