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Aiken v. Lewis

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 15, 2019

Stevie Lamont Aiken, a/k/a Stevie Aiken, Petitioner,
v.
Warden Scott Lewis, Respondent.

          ORDER

          Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Stevie Lamont Aiken, a/k/a Stevie Aiken (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a petition seeking habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”) on August 28, 2018. (ECF Nos. 1, 19). Petitioner is currently confined at Lieber Correctional Institution in Dorchester County, South Carolina. (ECF No. 34 at 2). On November 6, 2018, Respondent Warden Scott Lewis (“Respondent”) filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”). (ECF No. 15). After reviewing the pleadings, the Magistrate Judge assigned to this action[1] prepared a thorough Report and Recommendation (“Report”) and recommends that the Motion (ECF No. 15) be granted and that the Petition (ECF No. 1, 19) be denied. (ECF No. 34). The Report sets forth, in detail, the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter, and this Court incorporates those facts and standards without a recitation. (ECF No. 34).

         The Report was filed on March 29, 2019 and Petitioner was advised of his right to file objections to the Report by April 12, 2019. (ECF No. 34-1). Petitioner's Objections were filed on April 15, 2019 (ECF No. 36) and the Court accepted his filing pursuant to Rule 6(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[2] Accordingly, the Motion is ripe for review.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A district court is required to conduct a de novo review only of the specific portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report to which objections are made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); see also Carniewski v. W.Va. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 974 F.2d 1330 (4th Cir. 1992). In the absence of specific objections to portions of the Report, the Court is not required to give an explanation for adopting the Report. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Thus, the Court must only review those portions of the Report to which Petitioner has made specific written objections. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 316 (4th Cir. 2005).

         “An objection is specific if it ‘enables the district judge to focus attention on those issues- factual and legal-that are at the heart of the parties' dispute.'” Dunlap v. TM Trucking of the Carolinas, LLC, No. 0:15-cv-04009-JMC, 2017 WL 6345402, at *5 n.6 (D.S.C. Dec. 12, 2017) (citing One Parcel of Real Prop. Known as 2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996)). A specific objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report thus requires more than a reassertion of arguments from the Complaint or a mere citation to legal authorities. See Workman v. Perry, No. 6:17-cv-00765-RBH, 2017 WL 4791150, at *1 (D.S.C. Oct. 23, 2017). A specific objection must “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).

         “Generally stated, nonspecific objections have the same effect as would a failure to object.” Staley v. Norton, No. 9:07-0288-PMD, 2007 WL 821181, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 2, 2007) (citing Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991)). The Court reviews portions “not objected to-including those portions to which only ‘general and conclusory' objections have been made-for clear error.” Id. (emphasis added) (citing Diamond, 416 F.3d at 315; Camby, 718 F.2d at 200; Orpiano, 687 F.2d at 47).

         Where an objection is “nonspecific, unrelated to the dispositive portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, or merely restate[s] . . . claims, ” the Court need not conduct any further review of that objection. Field v. McMaster, 663 F.Supp.2d 449, 452 (D.S.C. 2009); see also McNeil v. S.C. Dept. of Corrections, No. 5:12-2880-MGL, 2013 WL 1102881, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 15, 2013) (finding petitioner's objections to be without merit where the objections were “non-specific, unrelated to the dispositive portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report, and consist[ed] of a reassertion of the arguments” made in the petition); Arbogast v. Spartanburg Cty., No. 07:11-cv-00198-GRA, 2011 WL 5827635, at *2 (D.S.C. Nov. 17, 2011) (finding that plaintiff's objections were not specific where the objections were “general and conclusory in that they merely reassert[ed] that his conviction was wrongful.”).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Petitioner raises two arguments: 1) at a pre-trial suppression hearing, Petitioner's attorney rendered ineffective assistance by failing to put Petitioner on the stand to testify; and 2) the South Carolina Court of Appeals violated clearly established federal law by holding the trial court merely committed harmless error when it prevented Petitioner's trial counsel from cross-examining a co-defendant witness regarding the maximum sentence the co-defendant could have received before cooperating with law enforcement. (ECF No. 34 at 10-11). The Magistrate Judge concludes that both of Petitioner's arguments are unavailing and recommends this Court grant Respondent's Motion. (ECF No. 34 at 18).

         A. Ground 1

          In Ground 1, Petitioner argues that had he been allowed to testify at his suppression hearing, he would have testified that law enforcement officers attempted to coerce him to confess to murder and that the written statement of admission that he signed was not actually signed by him. (ECF No. 34 at 15). However, as noted in the Report, Petitioner offers no evidentiary support for this premise other than his own testimony, which the PCR court rejected as not credible. (ECF No. 34 at 15-16). The Report also asserts that in the absence of any further testimony contradicting the State's evidence that Petitioner signed the agreement, there was no basis for the PCR court to conclude that Petitioner's testimony would have been at all helpful to him in the suppression hearing, that counsel was deficient for failing to call him as a witness, or that Petitioner was prejudiced by that decision. (ECF No. 34 at 16).

         In his Objection, Petitioner merely reasserts the argument made by his counsel at the suppression hearing that he lacked sufficient mental capacity to knowingly make the written statement, arguing that if Petitioner would have been allowed to testify at the suppression hearing then he would have been able to offer evidence that he did not make the statement in question. (ECF No. 34 at 4-5, 36 at 6). However, Petitioner's Objection fails to “direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano, 687 F.2d at 47. As such, Petitioner's Objection is not specific to the Report, and the Court may therefore adopt the Report without an explanation. See ...


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