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Manley v. Liberty

United States District Court, D. Maine

February 10, 2017

JAMES M. MANLEY, Petitioner



         In this 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.[1] (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.)

         The 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.

         I. Factual Background and Procedural History

         The Law 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 219.

         The 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).[2] (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.)

         The 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 6.)[3]

         In 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 certiorari.

         In June 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.[4] In April 2014, the Superior Court denied the petition. (Decision and Judgment at 1, 11, Docket Sheet at 4.)

         In 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 evidence:

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 records.
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 and useful.

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.

         Petitioner timely filed a section 2254 petition on May 16, 2016.[5]

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standards

         In 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. at 696.

         A 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.[6]See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).[7] “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 ...

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