United States District Court, D. Maine
RECOMMENDED DECISION ON 28 U.S.C. § 2254
C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.
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.
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.
Background and Procedural History
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.)
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.
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.)
January 28, 2019, Petitioner filed his §2254 petition
with this Court. (Petition, ECF No. 1)
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.”
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). “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).
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
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
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
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).
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 ...