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Matthews v. Bonner

United States District Court, District of Colorado

December 16, 2014

DONOVAN CRAIG MATTHEWS, Applicant,
v.
BOBBY BONNER, Warden, and JOHN SUTHERS, the Attorney General of the State of Colorado, Respondents.

ORDER DENYING 28 U.S.C. § 2254 APPLICATION

R. BROOKE JACKSON United States District Judge

Applicant, Donovan Craig Matthews, is a prisoner in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) who was incarcerated at the Kit Carson Correctional Center in Burlington, Colorado, when he initiated the instant action. He since has informed the Court that he is incarcerated at the Fremont Correctional Facility in Canon City, Colorado. Mr. Matthews, acting pro se, has filed a second amended Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 14) challenging the validity of his conviction in Adams County, Colorado, district court Case No. 07CR1097. He has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915.

I. Federal Court Proceedings

In an order entered on December 4, 2013, Magistrate Judge Boyd N. Boland directed Respondents to file a pre-answer response limited to addressing the affirmative defenses of timeliness under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d) and exhaustion of state court remedies under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A) if Respondents intended to raise either or both of those affirmative defenses in this action. On January 21, 2014, after being granted an extension of time, Respondents filed their pre-answer response (ECF No. 22). Mr. Matthews did not file a reply to the pre-answer response, although he was provided with the opportunity to do so.

On May 5, 2014, the Court entered an order of partial dismissal and for an answer (ECF No. 25) and an order for the state court record (ECF No. 26). The May 5 partial dismissal order dismissed claim 3 as procedurally defaulted and directed Respondents, within thirty days of the filing of the state court record, to file an answer that fully addressed the merits of exhausted claims 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. The partial dismissal order allowed Mr. Matthews thirty days from the filing of the answer to file a reply, if he desired.

On May 9, 2014, the state court record (ECF No. 28) was filed. On June 4, 2014, Respondents filed their answer (ECF No. 29). On June 30, 2014, Mr. Matthews submitted a traverse (ECF No. 30).

II. State Court Proceedings

Mr. Matthews was convicted by a jury in Adams County District Court Case No. 07CR1097 of first-degree assault (causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon), two counts of second-degree assault (causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon), third-degree assault, and illegal possession of a weapon by a prior offender. ECF No. 22, ex. D (People v. Matthews, No. 08CA0904 (Colo. Ct. App. Sept. 16, 2010) (unpublished)) at 3. The trial court merged the second- and third-degree assault convictions into the first-degree assault conviction, and imposed concurrent prison sentences of twenty-six years for the assault conviction and one year for the illegal weapon conviction. ECF No. 22, ex. D at 3-4.

Applicant appealed directly to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which provided the following statement of facts:

On April 7, 2007, defendant's uncle, Danny Moore, called police to report a domestic disturbance between defendant and the victim, CM. After hearing noises coming from the basement, Moore observed that when CM. walked upstairs from the basement she was covered in blood. He thought she had been beaten. When the police arrived at the house, Moore directed them to the basement where they found defendant and CM. C.M.'s face was covered in blood and her hair was disheveled. The room in which the two were found also contained fresh blood stains, including blood on the handrail, walls, and mattress, which came from C.M.'s injuries.
Police talked to defendant and CM. in an effort to determine why CM. was bleeding. Both had been drinking and provided inconsistent explanation for C.M.'s injuries. They denied that defendant had caused C.M.'s injuries and maintained that CM. sustained her injuries and other recent injuries from a series of falls.
The People charged defendant with (1) first degree assault (causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon), (2) two counts of second degree assault (causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon), (3) third degree assault, and (4) illegal possession of a weapon by a prior offender. These charges were based on specific allegations that defendant hit CM. with a baseball bat, punched her in the leg while wearing brass knuckles, cut her head, and bruised her back, between December 21, 2006, and April 7, 2007.
At trial, C.M.'s family members and a co-worker testified that during this time period, CM. told them that defendant was beating her. Moore testified that defendant told him he was beating CM. because she owed him for sending him to jail. These witnesses testified to C.M.'s numerous bruises and cuts on her face and that they had seen that CM. had a broken arm. These injuries occurred only after December 21, 2006, when defendant and CM. were living together following his release from jail.

ECF No. 22, ex. D at 2-3.

On September 16, 2010, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed. ECF No. 22, ex. D. On January 18, 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court denied certiorari review. ECF No. 22, ex. F. On June 2, 2011, Mr. Matthews filed a motion for sentence reconsideration, which the trial court denied the same day. ECF No. 22, ex. A (state court register of actions) at 8. Applicant did not appeal.

On June 17, 2011, Mr. Matthews filed a motion for postconviction relief. ECF No. 22, ex. A at 8. On September 22, 2011, the trial court denied the motion. ECF No. 22, ex. A at 8. On August 23, 2012, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed. ECF No. 22, ex. H (People v. Matthews, No. 11CA2269 (Colo. Ct. App. Aug. 23, 2012) (unpublished)). On June 24, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court denied certiorari review. ECF No. 22, ex. J.

III. Standard of Review

The Court must construe liberally the second amended application and other papers filed by Mr. Matthews because he is not represented by an attorney. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (per curiam); Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). However, the Court should not be an advocate for a pro se litigant. See Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110.

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that a writ of habeas corpus may not be issued with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Mr. Matthews bears the burden of proof under § 2254(d). See Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002) (per curiam).

A claim may be adjudicated on the merits in state court even in the absence of a statement of reasons by the state court for rejecting the claim. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85 (2011). In particular, "determining whether a state court's decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court's reasoning." Id. at 784. Thus, "[w]hen a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Id. at 784-85. Even "[w]here a state court's decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner's burden still must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Id. at 784. In other words, the Court "owe[s] deference to the state court's result, even if its reasoning is not expressly stated." Aycox v. Lytle, 196 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 1999). Therefore, the Court "must uphold the state court's summary decision unless [the Court's] independent review of the record and pertinent federal law persuades [the Court] that its result contravenes or unreasonably applies clearly established federal law, or is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented." Id. at 1178. "[T]his 'independent review' should be distinguished from a full de novo review of the petitioner's claims." Id.

The Court reviews claims of legal error and mixed questions of law and fact pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). See Cook v. McKune, 323 F.3d 825, 830 (10th Cir. 2003). The threshold question the Court must answer under § 2254(d)(1) is whether Mr. Matthews seeks to apply a rule of law that was clearly established by the Supreme Court at the time his conviction became final. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 390 (2000).

Clearly established federal law "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Id. at 412. Furthermore, clearly established law consists of Supreme Court holdings in cases where the facts are at least closely-related or similar to the case subjudice. Although the legal rule at issue need not have had its genesis in the closely-related or similar factual context, the Supreme Court must have expressly extended the legal rule to that context.

House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1016 (10th Cir. 2008). If there is no clearly established federal law, that is the end of the Court's inquiry pursuant to § 2254(d)(1). See Id. at 1018.

If a clearly established rule of federal law is implicated, the Court must determine whether the state court's decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of that clearly established rule of federal law. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 404-05.

A state-court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if: (a) "the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases"; or (b) "the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [that] precedent." Maynard [v. Boone], 468 F.3d [665, ] 669 [(10th Cir. 2006)] (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). "The word 'contrary' is commonly understood to mean 'diametrically different, ' 'opposite in character or nature, ' or 'mutually opposed.'" Williams, 529 U.S. at 405 (citation omitted).
A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law when it identifies the correct governing legal rule from Supreme Court cases, but unreasonably applies it to the facts. Id. at 407-08.

House, 527F.3dat1018.

The Court's inquiry pursuant to the "unreasonable application" clause is an objective inquiry. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-10. "[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 411. "[A] decision is 'objectively unreasonable' when most reasonable jurists exercising their independent judgment would conclude the state court misapplied Supreme Court law." Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671. Furthermore,

[Evaluating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations. [I]t is not an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by [the Supreme] Court.

Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (internal quotation marks omitted). In conducting this analysis, the Court "must determine what arguments or theories supported or. . . could have supported[] the state court's decision" and then "ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of [the Supreme] Court." Id. In addition, "review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011).

Under this standard, "only the most serious misapplications of Supreme Court precedent will be a basis for relief under § 2254." Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671; see also Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (stating that "even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable").

As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Richter, 131 S.Ct. 786-87.

The Court reviews claims asserting factual errors pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). See Romano v. Gibson, 278 F.3d 1145, 1154 n.4 (10th Cir. 2002). Section 2254(d)(2) allows the Court to grant a writ of habeas corpus only if the relevant state court decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented to the state court. Pursuant to § 2254(e)(1), the Court must presume that the state court's factual determinations are correct and Mr. Matthews bears the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. "The standard is demanding but not insatiable . . . [because] '[d]eference does not by definition preclude relief.'" Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 240 (2005) (quoting Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003)).

Finally, the Court's analysis is not complete "[e]ven if the state court decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law." Bland v. Sirmons, 459 F.3d 999, 1009 (10th Cir. 2006). "Unless the error is a structural defect in the trial that defies harmless-error analysis, [the Court] must apply the harmless error standard of Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619 (1993). . . ." Id.; see also Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 121-22 (2007) (providing that a federal court must conduct harmless error analysis under Brecht anytime it finds constitutional error in a state court proceeding regardless of whether the state court found error or conducted harmless error review). Under Brecht, a constitutional error does not warrant habeas relief unless the Court concludes it "had substantial and injurious effect" on the jury's verdict. Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637. "A 'substantial and injurious effect' exists when the court finds itself in 'grave doubt' about the effect of the error on the jury's verdict." Bland, 459 F.3d at 1009 (citing O'Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 435 (1995)). "Grave doubt" exists when "the matter is so evenly balanced that [the Court is] in virtual equipoise as to the harmlessness of the error." O'Neal, 513 U.S. at 435. The Court make this harmless error determination based upon a review of the entire state court record. See Herrera v. Lemaster, 225 F.3d 1176, 1179 (10th Cir. 2000).

If a claim was not adjudicated on the merits in state court, and if the claim also is not procedurally barred, the Court must review the claim de novo and the deferential standards of § 2254(d) do not apply. See Gipson v. Jordan, 376 F.3d 1193, 1196 (10th Cir. 2004).

IV. Merits of Applicant's Remaining Claims

The Court now will address the merits of Mr. Matthews' remaining exhausted claims. Retaining the numbering in the second amended application, the remaining claims are:

(1) The admission of other-acts evidence violated Applicant's right to a fair trial. ECF No. 14 at 12.
(2) The admission of photographs of his prior acts violated his right to a fair trial. Id.
(4) The admission of his involuntary statements violated his right to a fair trial. Id. at 13.
(5) The admission of testimony not based on personal knowledge violated his right to a fair trial. Id. at 14.
(6) The trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss the public defender violated his right to the effective assistance of counsel. Id.

A. Claim 1

In claim 1, Mr. Matthews contends the admission of other-acts evidence violated his right to a fair trial. ECF No. 14 at 12.

The admission of evidence violates due process only when it denies a defendant fundamental fairness. Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 825 (1991) (evidence violates due process only when it is so unduly prejudicial that it renders a trial fundamentally unfair). The Supreme Court has "defined the category of infractions that violate 'fundamental fairness' very narrowly." Dowling v. United States, 493 U.S. 342, 352 (1990) (citation omitted). Furthermore, "because a fundamental-fairness analysis is not subject to clearly definable legal elements, when engaged in such an endeavor a federal court must tread gingerly and exercise considerable self-restraint." Duckett v. Mullin, 306 F.3d 982, 999 (10th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court's "[i]nquiry into fundamental fairness requires examination of the entire proceedings." Le v. Mullin, 311 F.3d 1002, 1013 (10th Cir. 2002) (per curiam).

Generally, federal habeas corpus relief does not lie to review state-law questions about the admissibility of evidence. Estelle v. McGuIre, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Moore v. Marr, 254 F.3d 1235, 1246 (10th Cir. 2001). In Estelle, the Supreme Court specifically declined to hold that the admission of prior-acts evidence violated due process, thus warranting habeas relief. See Id. at 75; see also United States v. Enjady, 134 F.3d 1427, 1431 (10th Cir. 1998). The Supreme Court stated in a footnote that, because it need not reach the issue, it expressed no opinion as to whether a state law would violate due process if it permitted the use of "'prior crimes'" evidence to show propensity to commit a charged crime. Estelle, 502 U.S. at 75 n.5; see also Lott v. Trammell, 705 F.3d 1167, 1190 (10th Cir. 2013) (evidence violates due process only when it is so unduly prejudicial that it renders a trial fundamentally unfair, regardless of whether the evidence at issue was properly admitted pursuant to state law); Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554, 563-64 (1967) (rejecting the argument that the Due Process Clause requires the exclusion of prejudicial evidence, even though limiting instructions were given and a valid state purpose is served, and recognizing that the Supreme Court is not "a rule-making organ for the promulgation of state rules of criminal procedure" and that "none of the specific provisions of the Constitution ordains this Court with such authority.")

Because there is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent holding that a state violates due process by permitting propensity evidence in the form of other bad-acts evidence, see Bugh v. Mitchell, 329 F.3d 496, 512 (6th Cir. 2003), the admission of prior bad-acts evidence cannot be contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent. Rath v. Attorney Gen. of Colo., No. ...


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