RICHARD MARK GERGEL, District Judge.
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).
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.
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
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 nonconclusory 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. Third Objection
Finally, Petitioner objects to the Magistrate's "factual and legal resolution of Grounds Ten, Sixteen, and Twenty-One." (Id. at 5.) These grounds all tum on the question of whether defense counsel was ineffective for allegedly failing to challenge the search warrant. Petitioner claims the trial judge unconstitutionally limited his rights when he told defense counsel that Petitioner could not make contradictory arguments at the suppression hearing and during the defense's case in chief.
For the reasons above, this Court adopts the Magistrate's R. & R. as the Order of this Court. Respondent's motion for summary judgment is
V. Certificate of Appealability
The governing law provides that:
28 U.S.C. § 2253(c). A prisoner satisfies the standard by demonstrating that reasonable jurists would find this court's assessment of his constitutional claims debatable or wrong and that any dispositive procedural ruling by the district court is likewise debatable. See Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003); Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000); Rose v. Lee, 252 F.3d 676, 683 (4th Cir. 2001 ). In this case, the legal standard for the issuance of a certificate of appealability has not been met. Therefore, a certificate of appealability is
VI. Effect of this Order
This Order is an Amendment to the Court's February 22, 2017 Order (Dkt. No. 24.) This Order also has the effect of vacating two of this Court's previous orders (Dkt. No. 28 and Dkt. No. 32) and granting Petitioner's pending motion for "leave to file nunc pro tune." (Dkt. No. 39.)