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Wright v. Johnson

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

October 26, 2017

ROBERT JOHNSON[1], Warden of the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, Respondent.



         This matter is before me on a Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 42) in which the Honorable C.J. Williams, Chief United States Magistrate Judge, recommends that petitioner Jerel Lamar Wright's petition (Doc. No. 1) for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 be dismissed with prejudice. Neither party has filed objections. The time for filing such objections has expired.


         A district judge must review a magistrate judge's R&R under the following standards:

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). Thus, when a party objects to any portion of an R&R, the district judge must undertake a de novo review of that portion.

         Any portions of an 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 court judge] would only have to review the findings of the magistrate judge for clear error”). As the Supreme Court has explained, “[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 an 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).

         II. THE R&R

         A. Procedural History and Facts

         Judge Williams set out the following relevant facts as previously summarized by the Iowa Court of Appeals:

On or about September 7, 2009, Wright was involved in a street fight. Two of the participants were stabbed. Der[r]ick Tye was hospitalized as a result of his injuries. Jermaris Lorez West died as a result of the injuries he sustained. Wright was immediately arrested and taken into custody. Wright initially exercised his right to remain silent in response to law enforcement efforts to interrogate him. He was permitted to call his mother, and she told him to tell the officers what he had done. He responded accordingly and admitted stabbing Tye and indicated he had tried to kill him but did not admit to stabbing West. Wright was charged with the attempted murder of Tye and the second-degree murder of West. His statements were admitted into evidence at trial.
While Wright was incarcerated in the Dubuque County Jail he was visited by Sister Rosanna Gleason, acting as a chaplain or chaplain's assistant to the residents of the jail. Wright wrote a letter in which he admitted stabbing Tye and put it in an envelope which he gave to a jailer for delivery to Sister Gleason. The letter did not admit that he stabbed West. The letter was opened by the jail staff and admitted into evidence at trial.
Neither Wright's admissions to the interrogators nor his letter to his assistant chaplain were challenged by a motion to suppress, and both were admitted at trial without objection. Wright and his counsel had determined that he would testify. The evidence was overwhelming that he had stabbed Tye and substantial that he had stabbed West. The blade of the knife recovered at the scene had blood with DNA matching both Tye and West. Wright was found guilty of attempted murder as charged and voluntary manslaughter instead of murder in the second degree. Wright appealed and raised the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel, but the issue was not addressed on appeal and was left open to be considered in a postconviction relief action.

See Doc. No. 49 at 2-4 (quoting Wright v. State, No. 12-2101, 2014 WL 636150, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2014)).

         As for the procedural history, Wright asserted ineffective assistance of counsel claims on direct appeal based on (1) his counsel's failure to file a motion to suppress his statements to the police and (2) his counsel's failure to file a motion to suppress the statements in his letter to Sister Gleason. The Iowa Court of Appeals found there was not a sufficient record on which to address those claims and preserved them for post-conviction relief (PCR).

         Wright raised the same two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in his state PCR petition. The district court held a hearing and Wright's trial counsel testified. The district court denied his claims and the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed. Wright filed an application for further review, which was denied. He then filed a pro se petition in this court alleging ineffective assistance of counsel based on the same two grounds, along with two additional grounds (failure to advise Wright not to testify and failure to raise a justification defense). See Doc. No. 1. He was ...

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