United States District Court, D. Maine
JAMES M. MANLEY, Petitioner
RANDALL LIBERTY, Respondent
RECOMMENDED DECISION ON 28 U.S.C. § 2254
C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
action, Petitioner James Manley seeks relief, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254, from his state court conviction and
sentence on charges of elevated aggravated assault and
violation of conditions of release. (Petition, ECF No. 1.)
Through his section 2254 petition, Petitioner asserts a claim
of ineffective assistance of trial counsel based on
counsel's failure to obtain and present sufficient
evidence of the victim's prior history of self-inflicted
harm, in support of Petitioner's defense theory that the
victim caused his own injuries; Petitioner argues that the
Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court,
unreasonably applied Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668 (1984), when it held that counsel's performance
was not deficient. (Petition at 57-59.) Petitioner also
argues that the Court should conclude, on de novo
review, that he was prejudiced by counsel's substandard
performance. (Id. at 73.)
State requests that the Court deny the section 2254 petition.
(Response, ECF No. 3 at 9.) After consideration of the
parties' arguments, I recommend the Court deny relief and
dismiss the petition.
Factual Background and Procedural History
Court summarized the facts as follows:
The charges arose from an incident that occurred on September
19, 2010, at the rooming house where Manley and the victim
lived. Early in the evening, Manley and the victim had a
verbal confrontation. Later that night, Manley followed the
victim into his room and repeatedly stabbed the victim's
left arm, left shoulder, and back.
Manley v. State, 2015 ME 117, ¶ 3, 123 A.3d
state court record (ECF No. 4) reflects that Petitioner was
indicted in November 2010 on four counts: (1) elevated
aggravated assault (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 208-B(1)(A);
(2) violation of conditions of release (Class E), 15 M.R.S.
§ 1092(1)(A); (3) terrorizing (Class D), 17-A M.R.S.
§§ 210, 1252(4); and (4) obstructing report of
crime or injury (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. §
758(1)(B). (Statev.Manley, No.
BATSC-CR-2010-00281 (Me. Super. Ct., Sag. Cty.), Indictment
at 1-2, Docket Sheet at 2.) A two-day jury trial was held in
May 2011; the jury found Petitioner guilty of elevated
aggravated assault, but found him not guilty of the charges
of terrorizing and obstructing a report of crime or injury.
(Judgment and Commitment at 1, Docket Sheet at 4.) Petitioner
pled guilty to the charge of violation of his conditions of
release. (Judgment and Commitment at 1, Docket Sheet at 4.)
court sentenced Petitioner to a prison term of 22 years on
Count 1 (elevated aggravated assault), with all but 20 years
suspended, followed by a term of six years of probation.
(Judgment and Commitment at 1, Docket Sheet at 5.) The court
also sentenced Petitioner to a concurrent term of six months
on the violation of conditions of release conviction.
Manley, 2015 ME 117, ¶ 4, 123 A.3d 219.
(Judgment and Commitment at 1, Docket Sheet at
January 2012, the Sentence Review Panel denied
Petitioner's request to appeal from his sentence.
(State v. Manley, SRP-11-473, Order (Jan. 23,
2012).) In May 2012, the Law Court affirmed the conviction.
(State v. Manley, No. Sag-11-472, Mem-12-45 (May 15,
2012).) Petitioner did not file a petition for a writ of
2012, Petitioner filed a state court petition for
post-conviction review. (Manley v. State, No.
BATSC-CR-2012-00089, Post-conviction Petition, Docket Sheet
at 1.) Counsel was appointed, the petition was amended, and
an evidentiary hearing was held in January 2014. (Docket
Sheet at 1-3.) Petitioner raised three issues, one of which
is the claim asserted in Petitioner's section 2254
petition. In April 2014, the Superior Court denied
the petition. (Decision and Judgment at 1, 11, Docket Sheet
September 2014, the Law Court granted Petitioner a
certificate of probable cause to appeal. (Manley v.
State, No. Sag-14-168, Docket Sheet at 1.) On appeal,
Petitioner argued the ineffective assistance claim he asserts
in this matter (i.e., counsel's failure to obtain and
present certain evidence regarding the victim).
Manley, 2015 ME 117, ¶ 4 n.3, 123 A.3d 219. In
August 2015, followed by a corrected decision in September
2015, the Law Court determined the Superior Court did not err
when it found Petitioner had received “reasonably
effective assistance, ” and thus affirmed the decision
of the Superior Court. Id. ¶¶ 1, 18. The
Law Court noted the Superior Court's findings of fact,
which the Law Court concluded were supported by competent
The court made the following findings of fact, which are
supported by competent evidence in the post-conviction
record. Manley's trial counsel has engaged in the
practice of law for more than twenty years with more than
half of his practice focused on criminal defense. He has
handled thousands of criminal cases, and he has participated
in at least thirty criminal jury trials.
For Manley's case, the attorney retained a private
investigator to explore various theories of defense,
including an alternate suspect theory. Because little support
emerged for the alternate suspect theory from the
investigator's work, and because the discovery furnished
by the State indicated that the victim had some history of
self-inflicted injury, the attorney focused his defense
strategy on the theory that the victim caused his own
injuries. Although the attorney was aware that the victim had
received treatment at various hospitals, he was concerned
that attempting to obtain the victim's treatment records
would alert the State to his strategy. Therefore, the
attorney elected to rely on what he had obtained through
discovery, and he did not subpoena the victim's medical
During cross-examination of the victim, the attorney brought
out that the victim had deliberately injured himself in the
past and, at the time of the incident, was depressed about
the death of his mother. In addition, the attorney elicited
testimony from the victim that, while he was being treated
for the injuries resulting from the incident, hospital staff
asked him whether he had stabbed himself. Manley's
counsel was also able to get the victim to testify that he
told the hospital staff that he had considered cutting his
own throat earlier that night.
The victim's medical records reveal six incidents of
actual or threatened self-injury, including at least two
incidents of stabbing occurring eight or nine years before
the events that gave rise to these charges. The records also
corroborate a pattern of self-injury at times of stress.
Although the post-conviction court found that the records
would have lent more weight to the defense theory of
self-injury, it concluded that Manley did not meet his burden
“to make at least an initial showing of ineffective
assistance of counsel” and denied Manley's
petition. In part, this was based on the court's finding
that the location and nature of the stab wounds strongly
suggested that the victim could not have inflicted all of
them himself, and on its determination that the details of
self-harm that counsel had elicited were relevant
Id. ¶¶ 5-9. The Law Court concluded:
In this case, where the court found that trial counsel's
cross-examination of the victim regarding his recent
statements and thoughts about self-harm were “more
relevant, compelling and immediate than any of the historical
incidents that could have been brought out through the
medical records, ” we agree with the post-conviction
court that Manley failed to show that the attorney did not
provide reasonably effective assistance.
Id. ¶ 17. The Law Court held that its decision
was based on the first prong of the Strickland test:
“Because we find that Manley's attorney provided
reasonably effective assistance, we do not reach the second
prong of the Strickland analysis regarding
prejudice.” Id. ¶ 18.
timely filed a section 2254 petition on May 16,
Strickland, the Supreme Court set forth the federal
constitutional standard by which claims of ineffective
assistance are evaluated; Strickland requires a
petitioner to demonstrate that “counsel's
representation fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness, ” and that “there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
different. A reasonable probability is a probability
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 694. A court need not
“address both components of the inquiry if the
defendant makes an insufficient showing on one . . . .”
Id. at 697. Regarding the prejudice inquiry, a court
considers “the totality of the evidence, ” and
“a verdict or conclusion only weakly supported by the
record is more likely to have been affected by errors than
one with overwhelming record support.” Id. at
695-96. “[T]he ultimate focus of inquiry must be on the
fundamental fairness of the proceeding.” Id.
federal court does not conduct an independent review under
Strickland when the state has adjudicated the claim;
habeas relief is not available on claims that have been
adjudicated on the merits in the state court, unless the
state court adjudication was contrary to or an unreasonable
application of federal law, or it involved an unreasonable
determination of the facts.See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d). “Since we are considering a habeas
challenge, we are not actually tasked with deciding whether
[the petitioner's] counsel's performance fell short
of Strickland's requirements; rather, the
‘pivotal question is whether the state court's
application of the Strickland ...