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Puckett v. Warden, Chester County Detention Center

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

December 11, 2018

Clarence Julius Puckett, III, Petitioner,
v.
Warden, Chester County Detention Center, Respondent.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY M. CAIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by Petitioner Clarence Julius Puckett, III. In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., all pre-trial proceedings were referred to a magistrate judge.[1] Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin filed a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending Respondent's Summary Judgment Motion (ECF No. 11) be granted. (ECF No. 19). The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the Report and the serious consequences if they failed to do so. (ECF No. 19-1). Petitioner has timely filed objections to the Report. (ECF No. 21).

         The court is obligated to conduct a de novo review of every portion of the magistrate judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed, specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         I. Background/Procedural History

         In January 2009, Petitioner was indicted for trafficking cocaine and, in 2010, he was also indicted for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. (ECF No. 10-1 at 446-47). On August 21, 2009, narcotics investigator Lieutenant John Sherfield was performing surveillance of Petitioner's home in Union County while another officer obtained a search warrant. (ECF No. 10-1 at 75, 109, 150). Lt. Sherfield saw co-defendant Travis Anderson arrive at Petitioner's house, park his car, and enter the residence. (ECF No. 10-1 at 75). Lt. Sherfield noted that Anderson was not carrying anything when he entered Petitioner's home. Id. Based on information from a confidential informant, Officer Johnson obtained a search warrant for Petitioner's home. (ECF No. 10-1 at 150). Officers executed the search warrant and forcibly entered the home, where they found Anderson standing beside a couch and Petitioner locked in a bathroom. (ECF Nos. 10-1 at 77-78; 117). After the officers heard flushing noises, Lt. Sherfield attempted to gain entry to the bathroom by knocking a hole in an adjacent wall. Id. Officer Johnson was able to open the bathroom door at about the same time as Lt. Sherfield knocked a hole in the bathroom wall. (ECF No. 10-1 at 78). Both officers saw Petitioner leaning over the toilet. (ECF No. 10-1 at 82). Petitioner immediately surrendered to the officers. Id. at 79.

         Officers recovered almost two ounces of powder cocaine in a plastic bag from the rim of the toilet, and approximately fourteen grams of marijuana from the bathroom trash can. Id. Petitioner and Anderson were arrested and read their Miranda rights. Id. at 80-81. Petitioner commented to the officers that the drugs in the house were his, and that Anderson had nothing to do with them. Id. at 80. Petitioner admitted that he had flushed some of the cocaine down the toilet. Id. Petitioner also told the officers where a set of scales could be found. Id. at 82. The scales had a white powdery substance on them, which the officers believed to be cocaine. Id. The officers also found two small bags containing crack cocaine near the couch, and $1177 in cash in Petitioner's pocket. Id. at 83-84. Additionally, they searched Anderson's vehicle and found a second set of scales, forty Xanax pills, and more marijuana. Id. at 84-85.

         During an interview the next day, Petitioner again admitted that the drugs found in his home were his. Id. at 86. He indicated that would consider possibly assisting police by conducting a controlled buy from his supplier. Id. He also provided the names of some other local dealers. No. written or recorded statements were taken from this interview. Id. Petitioner's first trial resulted in a hung jury, and the trial court declared a mistrial. (ECF No. 10-1 at 415). During the Petitioner's second trial, the following questioning occurred between Officer Johnson and trial counsel:

Q.: . . . And I want to go to the point where you, before you get to the residence you received a call, say that it was information and you were going to use that information to go get a search warrant; is that right?
A.: Yes. Lieutenant Sherfield gave me a call [and] advised me that one of our confidential informants -
Q.: Trial Counsel: Right.
A.: - that we had used had been to [Petitioner's] location -
Q.: Right.
A.: - and witnessed him sell -
Trial Counsel: Your Honor.
The Court: Just - Go on to your next question.

(ECF No. 10-1 at 160). Trial counsel, as directed, moved on to other questions. Id. Later that day, after several other witnesses had testified, trial counsel moved for a mistrial on the ground that Petitioner was prejudiced by the jury hearing the comments from Officer Johnson as to Petitioner selling something, presumably drugs. (ECF No. 10-1 at 210). The trial court noted that the statement was hearsay and gratuitous, but denied the motion for a mistrial finding that there was no manifest necessity requiring a mistrial. Id. at 212. The trial court also stated it would not give a curative instruction because that would merely highlight the testimony. Id. After the State rested, trial counsel renewed his motion for a mistrial. (ECF No. 10-1 at 228). The trial court again denied the motion finding no manifest necessity and again stating that he would not give a curative instruction. Id. at 229.

         Petitioner then testified. Id. at 246-310. He testified that co-defendant Anderson came to his house that day so that they could go to the drag racing strip to watch the races. Id. at 257-58. He testified that although he thought there was a possibility that Anderson might bring marijuana into his house, there were no drugs of any kind in his house before Anderson came over. Id. at 258. He said Anderson brought in marijuana and scales, and he handed the marijuana to Petitioner. Id. at 259. He testified that Anderson then walked outside to his car to put his cigarettes into the car, and then Anderson immediately returned to the house. Id. He stated that he was going to pay Anderson later for the marijuana. Id. Petitioner testified that he began rolling a joint at the bar while Anderson sat on the couch. Id. at 261. Petitioner then testified that Anderson had to go and get his cigarettes out of his car. Id. He testified that after Anderson returned and sat back down on the couch, they heard loud banging on the door. Id. at 262. Petitioner testified that he looked out the window and saw the police. Id. He testified that he had the blunt in his mouth and the remaining marijuana in a bag, which he put into his pocket. Id. at 263. He said Anderson had run past him towards the bathroom, and that he and Anderson bumped into each other as Anderson came back from the bathroom. Id. at 264-67, 284. Petitioner testified that, once he was in the bathroom, he closed the door and threw some of the marijuana into the toilet. Id. at 268-70. He testified that when he saw the officer knock a hole in the bathroom wall, he threw the remaining marijuana towards the toilet. Id. at 268, 270. Petitioner acknowledged that he said the marijuana was his, but he denied stating that the cocaine was his. Id. at 273. He denied making any statements abut giving the officers any names of drug dealers. Id. at 275. On cross-examination, Petitioner admitted that at his first trial he had testified that Anderson had given him the bag of cocaine, told him to flush it, and threatened him to not say the cocaine was Anderson's. Id. at 277. Petitioner stated that he was nervous and had simply made a mistake in his prior testimony. Id. at 277-78.

         Petitioner was convicted of trafficking cocaine and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He filed a direct appeal raising the following grounds for relief:

1. The Trial Court erred in refusing to grant a mistrial where the police officer testified about a confidential informant witnessing Appellant selling drugs where such evidence constituted improper evidence of prior bad acts and where the Trial Court's only basis for denying Appellant's motion for a mistrial was because the Trial Court did not want the case to be tried for a third time.
2. The Trial Court erred in refusing to allow Appellant to introduce his prior consistent statement made in his first trial pursuant to Rule 801(d)(1)(B), SCRE where (1) Appellant testified at the trial and was subject to cross-examination; (2) the State accused Appellant of fabricating a new story at the second trial about whether Travis Anderson gave him the cocaine before Appellant entered the bathroom; (3) Appellant's statement at the first trial that he sought to have admitted was consistent with his testimony on direct at the second trial; and (4) the statement at his first trial that he sought to have admitted was made before the alleged recent fabrication.

(ECF No. 10-2 at 4). On October 1, 2014, the South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction in an unpublished decision, 2014-UP-347. (ECF No. 10-2 at 47-48). The remittitur was sent ...


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