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Saunders v. Warden of Broad River Prison

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 8, 2017

Turuk Saunders, Petitioner,
v.
Warden of Broad River Prison, Respondent.

          AMENDED [1] ORDER

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

         I. Background

         Turuk 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.

         II. Legal Standard - Magistrate's Report and Recommendation

         The 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).

         III. Discussion

         The 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.[2]

         A. First Objection

         Petitioner 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.[3]

         The 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.)

         B. Second Objection

         Petitioner 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.

         Although 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.

         C. ...


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