United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
LEONARD T. STRAND CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before me on a Report and Recommendation (R&R)
filed by the Honorable C.J. Williams, Chief United States
Magistrate Judge, on February 24, 2017. Doc. No. 24. Judge
Williams recommends that I deny the application for a writ of
habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. No. 1) filed
by John West Sickels (petitioner) on September 18, 2015.
Petitioner filed timely objections (Doc. No. 25) to the
R&R on March 10, 2017. In addition, petitioner filed a
motion for a certificate of appealability (Doc. No. 26) on
March 13, 2017.
RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY
R&R includes a detailed recitation of the relevant facts
and procedural history. Doc. No. 24 at 1-10. To summarize, a
jury found petitioner guilty of sexual abuse in the second
degree, with the victim being L.S. On direct appeal,
petitioner argued that insufficient evidence supported the
jury's determination, the prosecutor's rebuttal
argument deprived him of a fair trial, the Iowa District
Court improperly excluded evidence, the prosecutor improperly
cross-examined his character witnesses and the Iowa District
Court improperly awarded restitution. The Iowa Court of
Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction. See State
v. Sickels, No. 09-0897, 2010 Iowa App. LEXIS 1427, 2010
WL 4792316 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 24, 2010).
then sought post-conviction relief (PCR) in the Iowa District
Court. He argued that his trial counsel provided ineffective
assistance because he: (1) failed to move for a separate
trial from his co-defendant, (2) failed to investigate and
argue the role of L.S.'s boyfriend, including his
influence on L.S., (3) failed to object to the use of a prior
bad act to impeach his character witnesses and (4) failed to
argue properly that he should be allowed to present evidence
of L.S.'s past sexual behavior. The Iowa District Court
rejected all of these arguments. The Iowa Court of Appeals
affirmed. See Sickels v. State, No. 13-1848, 2015
Iowa App. LEXIS 279, 2015 WL 1331312 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 25,
then sought federal habeas corpus relief. He asserts the same
four ineffective assistance of counsel claims that he
asserted in the state PCR proceedings. Doc. No. 17.
Respondent contends that the Iowa courts properly applied
federal law when rejecting the petitioner's claims. Doc.
No. 18. After the parties completed their briefing, Judge
Williams filed the R&R. The petitioner now objects to all
of Judge Williams' legal conclusions.
STANDARD FOR REVIEWING A REPORT AND
standard of review with regard to a magistrate judge R&R
is established by statute:
Within fourteen days after being served with a copy, any
party may serve and file written objections to such proposed
findings and recommendations as provided by rules of court. A
judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of
those portions of the report or specified proposed findings
or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the
court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The
judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the
matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)©; see also Fed. R.
Civ. P. 72(b)(2)-(3) (providing procedure to file written
objections and making clear that, where a proper objection is
made, the district judge must determine de novo a magistrate
judge's recommendation on a dispositive motion). Thus,
when a party objects to any portion of an R&R, the
district judge must undertake a de novo review of the issue.
portions of a R&R to which no objections have been made
must be reviewed under at least a “clearly
erroneous” standard. See, e.g., Grinder v.
Gammon, 73 F.3d 793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996) (noting that,
when no objections are filed, “[the district judge]
would only have to review the findings of the magistrate
judge for clear error”). “A finding is
‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence
to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is
left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has
been committed.” Anderson v. City of Bessemer
City, 470 U.S. 564, 573-74 (1985) (quoting United
States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).
However, a district judge may elect to review a R&R under
a more-exacting standard even if no objections are filed:
Any party that desires plenary consideration by the Article
III judge of any issue need only ask. Moreover, while the
statute does not require the judge to review an issue de novo
if no objections are filed, it does not preclude further
review by the district judge, sua sponte or at the request of
a party, under a de novo or any other standard.
Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).
APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(AEDPA) strictly limits a federal court's power to review
habeas corpus petitions brought by state-court prisoners.
See White v. Kelley, 824 F.3d 753, 756 (8th Cir.
2016) (“‘In the interests of finality and
federalism, federal habeas courts are constrained . . . to
exercise only a limited and deferential review of underlying
state court decisions.'” (quoting Sera v.
Norris, 400 F.3d 538, 542 (8th Cir. 2005)));
Abernathy v. Hobbs, 748 F.3d 813, 816 (8th Cir.
2014) (“AEDPA modified a federal habeas court's
role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to
prevent federal habeas retrials and to ensure state-court
convictions are given effect to the extent possible under
law.”); Taylor v. Roper, 561 F.3d 859, 862
(8th Cir. 2009) (explaining that only a limited and
deferential review of underlying state court decisions is
permitted when habeas corpus relief is sought); Lomholt
v. Iowa, 327 F.3d 748, 751 (8th Cir. 2003) (noting
review is limited and deferential). The AEDPA prohibits the
grant of habeas corpus relief unless the state adjudication:
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
considering § 2254(d) matters, the court is guided by
well-established principles: (1) “an
unreasonable application of federal law is different
from an incorrect application of federal law, ”
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011)
(quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410
(2000)) (emphasis in original), see also Williams,
529 U.S. at 411 (emphasizing that a court “may not
grant relief simply because it concludes in its independent
judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied
clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly,
” rather the application “must also be
unreasonable”), Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S.
465, 473 (2007) (“The question under AEDPA is not
whether a federal court believes the state court's
determination was incorrect but whether that determination
was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold.”),
Cole v. Roper, 623 F.3d 1183, 1187 (8th Cir. 2010)
(making clear that relief is available only if the state
court decision is both incorrect and unreasonable); (2)
“even a strong case for relief does not mean the state
court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable, ”
Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102; (3) the purpose of
§ 2254(d) is to “‘guard against extreme
malfunction in the state criminal justice systems,
'” id. at 102-03 (quoting Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332, n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J.,
concurring in judgment)); and (4) the burden is on the
petitioner to “show that the state court's ruling
on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking
in justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing ...