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Hayden v. Warden, Maine State Prison

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 24, 2019

JOEL A. HAYDEN, Petitioner,


          John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, Petitioner Joel Hayden seeks relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Petition, ECF No. 1.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), Petitioner contests the state court's denial of his post-conviction claims.

         After a review of the section 2254 petition, the State's response, and the record, I recommend the Court deny Petitioner's request for relief.

         I. Factual Background and Procedural History

         In January 2013, following a seven-day jury trial, Petitioner was convicted in state court of two counts of knowing and intentional murder, 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A). (State v. Bellavance, No. CR-2011-4876, Docket Record at 6-7, Judgment and Commitment at 1.)[2] In February 2013, the state court sentenced Petitioner to two concurrent terms of life in prison. (Judgment and Commitment at 1.)

         Petitioner appealed from the conviction and judgment, and the state court granted Petitioner leave to appeal from the sentence. State v. Hayden, 2014 ME 31; 86 A.3d 1221, 1225. On appeal, Petitioner argued “that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the jury verdict, that the court misapplied sentencing principles, and that the court abused its discretion when it determined that aggravating and mitigating factors did not require a departure from the basic sentence.” Id. ¶ 1.[3] The Law Court affirmed the conviction and the sentence. Id.

         In November 2014, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal, Petitioner filed a petition in state court for post-conviction review.[4] (Hayden v. State, No. CUMCD-CR-2014-08229, Docket Record at 1, State Court Petition.) The post-conviction court held an evidentiary hearing in August 2016; following the hearing, the parties filed written memoranda, and in January 2017, the court denied the petition. (Hayden, No. CUMCD-CR-2014-08229, Docket Record at 4-5; Post-conviction Tr. at 1; Postconviction Decision (Jan. 19, 2017) at 17.)

         In April 2018, the Law Court denied Petitioner's request for discretionary review, concluding: “After review of the record and [Petitioner's] memoranda, the Court has determined that no further hearing or other action is necessary to a fair disposition. It is therefore ORDERED that the request for a certificate of probable cause to proceed with the appeal is hereby DENIED.” (Hayden v. State, No. Cum-17-70, Order Denying Certificate of Probable Cause (Me. Apr. 9, 2018).)

         Petitioner requests relief from the Law Court's denial of a certificate of probable cause.[5]

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standards

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court may apply to a federal district court for writ of habeas corpus “only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.”

         Absent circumstances not relevant to Petitioner's case, a petitioner is required to exhaust available state court remedies before he seeks federal habeas review. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c).[6] “Before seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), thereby giving the State the ‘opportunity to pass upon and correct' alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (quoting Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (per curiam)) (quotation marks omitted). In Baldwin, the Court noted that “[t]o provide the State with the necessary ‘opportunity,' the prisoner must ‘fairly present' his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim.” Id. (quoting Duncan, 513 U.S. at 365-66).

         To exhaust a claim fully in state court in Maine, a petitioner must request discretionary review by the Law Court. See 15 M.R.S. § 2131. The Supreme Court has held that a procedural default bars federal review absent a demonstration of cause for the default and prejudice to the petitioner:

In all cases in which a state prisoner has defaulted his federal claims in state court pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, federal habeas review of the claims is barred unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.

Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991).[7]

         In Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), the Supreme Court recognized a “narrow exception” to its holding in Coleman, based on equity, not constitutional law: “Inadequate assistance of counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings may establish cause for a prisoner's procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance at trial.” 566 U.S. at 9, 16. However, when the procedural default relates to post-conviction counsel's actions at the discretionary-review stage rather than at the initial-review stage of the collateral proceedings, habeas relief is not available:

The holding in this case does not concern attorney errors in other kinds of proceedings, including appeals from initial-review collateral proceedings, second or successive collateral proceedings, and petitions for discretionary review in a State's appellate courts. It does not extend to attorney errors in any proceeding beyond the first occasion the State allows a prisoner to raise a claim of ineffective assistance at trial . . . .

Martinez, 566 U.S. at 16 (citations omitted).

         As to federal habeas claims that were adjudicated on the merits in state court, the federal court may not grant relief unless (1) the state court decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); or (2) the decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts, pursuant to section 2254(d)(2).[8]

         As to review of a state court decision under section 2254(d)(1), “[i]t is settled that a federal habeas court may overturn a state court's application of federal law only if it is so erroneous that ‘there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this Court's precedents.'” Nevada v. Jackson, 569 U.S. 505, 508-09 (2013) (per curiam) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011)). “A state court must be granted a deference and latitude that are not in operation when the case involves review under the [Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)] standard itself.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101. Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are thus subject to a “‘doubly deferential'” standard of review, in deference to both the state court and defense counsel. Woods v. Etherton, __ U.S. __, __, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1151 (2016) (per curiam) (quoting Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 190 (2011)). State court determinations of fact “shall be presumed to be correct, ” and “[t]he applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).[9]

         In Strickland, the Supreme Court set forth the relevant Sixth Amendment standard by which claims of ineffective assistance based on counsel's errors are evaluated on the merits; 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. A court presumes “that counsel has ‘rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.'” Companonio v. O'Brien, 672 F.3d 101, 110 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690).

         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.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 695-96. “[T]he ultimate focus of inquiry must be on the fundamental fairness of the proceeding whose result is being challenged.” Id. at 696.

         B. Grounds Asserted and Analysis [10]

         a. Batson Challenge

         Petitioner asserts the state court violated his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury of his peers when his defense counsel struck the only prospective juror of color. “[A] defendant in a criminal case can raise the third-party equal protection claims of jurors excluded by the prosecution because of their race.” Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 415 (1991); see also Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Petitioner's Batson challenge fails because the juror was challenged by defense counsel, not the prosecution, based on a language barrier and because Petitioner did not like the “vibe.”[11] general feeling about the juror. Batson and its progeny are based on prosecution peremptory challenges, not defense challenges, and courts generally uphold strikes based on language barriers unless the prosecution's reasons appear to be pretextual. See e.g., Sergros Caracas de Liberty Mut., S.A. v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., 502 F.Supp.2d 183, 191 - 92 (D. Mass. 2007). The record lacks any evidence to suggest that the State's reasons for any involvement it might have had in the challenge were pretextual. The state court's denial of Petitioner's claim, therefore, was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of Batson and its progeny.[12]

         b. Right to be Present

         Petitioner claims the state court improperly conducted certain conferences outside his presence and questioned potential jurors outside his ability to hear the proceedings. “[D]ue process clearly requires that a defendant be allowed to be present ‘to the extent that a fair and just hearing would be thwarted by his absence, '” but absence is permissible “‘when [the defendant's] presence would be useless, or the benefit but a shadow.'” Kentucky v. Stincer, 482 U.S. 730, 745 (1987) (quoting Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 105 - 06 (1934)). Defendants have the right to be present during jury empanelment, Gomez v. United States, 490 U.S. 858, 873 ...

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