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Floyd v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 24, 2017

BRYAN STIRLING, Commissioner, South Carolina Department of Corrections; and ROBERT STEVENSON, Broad River Correctional Institution, Respondents.



         This case was filed as a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 action. The parties are represented by excellent counsel. The matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (Report) of the United States Magistrate Judge suggesting Respondents' motion for summary judgment be granted and the Petition be dismissed with prejudice. The Report was made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina.

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court need not conduct a de novo review, however, “when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the [Magistrate Judge's] proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Thus, the Court need not-and will not-address any of Petitioner's arguments that fail to point the Court to alleged specific errors the Magistrate Judge made in the Report.

         The Magistrate Judge filed the Report on July 18, 2017, Petitioner filed his objections to the Report on August 7, 2017, and Respondents filed their reply on August 21, 2017. The Court has reviewed Petitioner's objections, but holds them to be without merit. Therefore, it will enter judgment accordingly.

         Petitioner raises three objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report.* The Court will address each one in turn.

         First, Petitioner objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), fails to extend to Ground Two of his Petition because Petitioner ostensibly failed to couch Ground Two in terms of ineffective assistance of counsel. Petitioner claims his Petition states this ground was not previously raised as required because he received ineffective assistance of post-conviction relief (PCR) counsel. Petitioner argues in Ground Two his right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution was violated by the State's failure to disclose its deal with a key prosecution witness-that the witness would receive a reduced sentence in exchange for his incriminating testimony. Petitioner asserts he can establish. the requisite cause and prejudice to excuse his procedural default in light of PCR counsel's failure to raise this claim before the PCR court. The Court is unpersuaded.

         It is uncontested Petitioner's Ground Two is procedurally defaulted due to PCR counsel's failure to raise the claim before the PCR court as required. Nevertheless, Petitioner avers he should be excused from the procedural default under Martinez because he can satisfy the requisite “cause and prejudice” standard. Martinez stands for the proposition a federal habeas court can find “cause” in relation to excusing a procedural default where

(1) the claim of “ineffective assistance of trial counsel” was a “substantial” claim; (2) the “cause” consisted of there being “no counsel” or only “ineffective” counsel during the state collateral review proceeding; (3) the state collateral review proceeding was the “initial” review proceeding in respect to the “ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim”; and (4) state law requires that an “ineffective assistance of trial counsel [claim] . . . be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding.”

Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911, 1918 (2013) (quoting Martinez, 566 U.S. at 13-14)). To satisfy the “cause and prejudice” standard to excuse his procedural default, Petitioner must show “some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule, ” Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986), and (2) “errors at his trial . . . worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error[s] of constitutional dimensions, ” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982).

         As noted above, in Ground Two, Petitioner argues his right to due process was violated by the State's ostensible failure to disclose its deal with Ricky Stinson (Stinson), a co-defendant and key witness for the prosecution, that Stinson would receive a reduced sentence in exchange for his incriminating testimony against Petitioner. PCR counsel neglected to raise this claim before the PCR court, and Petitioner contends this failure should excuse his procedural default on this claim. Petitioner concedes both his counsel and counsel for the State made an inquiry at Petitioner's trial regarding Stinson's understanding as to whether there was a deal in place for his testimony, which Stinson denied in open court, ECF No. 13-13 at 48, 91. Nonetheless, Petitioner points to Stinson's 2006 guilty plea where Stinson received a reduction in his charges and lesser exposure and posits the State was obligated to disclose this deal at Petitioner's trial. Petitioner speculates, based on the entry of Stinson's plea two years after Petitioner's trial, there was a pre-existing conspiracy among State prosecution units and Stinson to avoid disclosure of the alleged deal and allow false testimony at Petitioner's trial. Petitioner is mistaken, however.

         Petitioner has failed to present anything more than mere unfounded speculation that the State conspired to keep secret its deal with Stinson that he would receive a reduced sentence in exchange for his incriminating testimony. At the time of Stinson's testimony at Petitioner's June 23, 2004, trial, Stinson testified on cross-examination he had not received a reduced charge for his testimony. Id. at 91. Subsequent to Petitioner's trial, the other co-defendant, Prentice Floyd, pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter in October 2006. Stinson then pled guilty to accessory after the fact to murder on November 8, 2006.

         Importantly, the State prosecutor, Mr. Myrick, testified at Stinson's plea hearing as follows:

MR. MYRICK: To clarify, Your Honor, the police found Prentice Floyd with Mr. Stinson's help. He testified at the trial of [Petitioner], the actual shooter, which resulted in [Petitioner] getting life. In his statements, which he made during the run-up to the anticipated trial of Prentice Floyd, were instrumental in Prentice Floyd entering a plea of guilty before this Court last month. There's no doubt in my mind, Your Honor, that with respect to Prentice Floyd, in particular, we would not have had the result we had without Mr. Stinson's assistance.

ECF No. 57-1 at 19. This testimony indicates Stinson received a reduced sentence based, at least in part, on Stinson's assistance leading to Prentice Floyd's conviction. Given this conduct occurred subsequent to Petitioner's trial, it is inconceivable the State conspired to avoid disclosure of a deal with Stinson at the time of Petitioner's trial. The disposition of charges against Stinson, occurring two years after his testimony at Petitioner's trial, standing alone, fails to establish the existence of a deal at the time of Petitioner's trial. See Wisehart v. Davis, 408 F.3d 321, 325 (7th Cir. 2005) (“[T]he fact that a prosecutor afforded favorable treatment to a government witness, standing alone, does not establish the existence of an underlying promise of leniency in exchange for testimony.” (quoting Shabazz v. Artuz, 336 F.3d 154, 165 (2d Cir. ...

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