Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Thornton v. Liberty

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 18, 2019



          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, Petitioner Clifford Thornton, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, seeks relief from a state court conviction and sentence. (Petition, ECF No. 1.) Petitioner asserts that his trial counsel was ineffective because he declined to strike specific jurors, inadequately impeached the prosecution's main witness, and did not sufficiently investigate the matter to ensure he had the necessary pretrial discovery. (Id.) The State argues that Petitioner failed to exhaust his state remedy before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and that the state postconviction court properly denied his claims. (Response, ECF No. 4.) The State thus asks the Court to dismiss the petition.

         After a review of the section 2254 petition, the State's request for dismissal, and the record, I recommend the Court grant the State's request and dismiss the petition.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         In November 2013, Petitioner was tried before a jury on one count of gross sexual assault, two counts of Class C unlawful sexual contact, and six counts of Class B unlawful sexual contact; the allegations involved incidents with three young females occurring between 1996 and 2008. (State v. Thornton, Me. Super. Ct., Was. Cty., No. MACSC-CR-2011-00181, Trial Docket Record at 1, 7; Indictment at 1 - 3.) The jury returned not guilty verdicts on three charges, all corresponding to two of the females; the jury returned guilty verdicts on the remaining six charges corresponding to the third female. (Id.) In February 2014, the state court sentenced Petitioner to a 10-year term of imprisonment with all but six years suspended, to be followed by a 12-year period of probation on one of the counts, with concurrent 3-year terms of imprisonment on the remaining five counts. (Trial Docket Record at 7 - 9; Judgment and Commitment at 1.)

         Petitioner sought leave to appeal from his sentence and filed a direct appeal of the convictions. (Trial Docket Record at 10.) In June 2014, the Sentence Review Panel denied Petitioner's application for leave to appeal his sentence. (State v. Thornton, Me. Sent. Rev. Pan., No. SRP-14-66, Order Denying Leave to Appeal.) In February 2015, the Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, affirmed the judgment of conviction. State v. Thornton, 2015 ME 15, 111 A.3d 31.

         In April 2015, Petitioner filed a state petition for postconviction relief. (Thornton v. State, Me. Super. Ct., Was. Cty., No. MACSC-CR-2015-0064, Postconviction Docket Record at 1.) After an evidentiary hearing in June 2017, the Superior Court denied the petition. (Id. at 2 - 3; Decision at 1, 12.) In December 2017, Petitioner sought a certificate of probable cause to appeal from the postconviction decision, but the Supreme Judicial Court denied a certificate of probable cause in January 2018. (Postconviction Docket Record at 3.)

         On January 28, 2019, Petitioner filed his §2254 petition with this Court. (Petition, ECF No. 1)


         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).[1] “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).[2]

         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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.