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United States v. Fairman


May 9, 1983


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 82-3107 -- J. Waldo Ackerman, Judge.

Author: Aspen

Before CUDAHY, ESCHBACH, Circuit Judges, and ASPEN, District Judge.*fn*

ASPEN, District Judge. Petitioner Michael Nance was convicted of armed robbery in the Circuit Court of Macon County, Illinois. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed, People v. Nance, 100 Ill.App.3d 1117, 427 N.E.2d 630, 56 Ill. Dec. 435 (4th Dist. 1981), and the Illinois Supreme Court denied petitioner leave to appeal. Petitioner then filed for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, claiming that the conviction violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him. The district court denied the writ both on the merits and for petitioner's failure to exhaust his constitutional claim by failing to raise it in the state courts. For reasons set forth below, we affirm the decision of the district court.


The victim of the armed robbery, John Fiorino, testified at trial that as he rode his motorcycle down a Decatur street on August 5, 1980, a man on a bicycle stopped to converse with him. Two men seated on a retaining wall across the street called to Fiorino to come over to them. As Fiorino neared them, one of the men put a handgun to the back of Fiorino's head and demanded money and cocaine. Fiorino stated that he had neither, and the men took his wristwatch, wallet and keys to his motorcycle. Although shortly after the robbery he was unable to identify petitioner from a photo display, at trial Fiorino identified petitioner as the gunman and Julius Petis ("Julius") as the man upon the bicycle.

Petitioner's habeas claim focuses on the alleged restriction of his cross-examination of Julius, who testified for the State.*fn1 On Direct examination, Julius testified that he had complimented Fiorino on his motorcycle, and that Fiorino then asked him if he knew anyone who wanted to buy cocaine. Julius left the immediate area to speak to his brother, Dave Pettis ("Dave"), and petitioner, who told him to send Fiorino over to meet with them. Julius relayed the message, and Fiorino then joined Dave and petitioner across the street. Julius testified that he saw petitioner place a handgun near Fiorino's ear. After Fiorino had been ordered to leave the scene, Julius stated that he saw petitioner search the saddlebags of the motorcycle.

On cross-examination, Julius admitted that two days after the robbery, he told investigating officers that he had observed petitioner and Fiorino together earlier in the evening of June 5, 1980, that he was some distance down the street from where the robbery occurred, and that his brother Dave was the gunman. Also during cross-examination, petitioner's attorney, Gary Geisler, showed Julius a transcript of a statement Julius made while he was in custody in November 5, 1980. This transcript was handwritten by Geisler and signed by Julius. Julius also admitted signing a typewritten version of the document. The trial court, however, refused to permit Julius to be cross-examined on these documents. Thus, the trial court did not permit Julius to be cross-examined on his statement that he did not see either of the robbers with a gun, which was inconsistent with Julius' direct testimony that Michael Nance was the gunman at the armed robbery.

Prior to Geisler's attempted offer of proof, a colloguy took place between Geisler, the prosecutor and the Court,*fn2 which culminated as follows:

THE COURT: Let's go to the Court's ruling. Number one, the question is improper as an attempted impeachment without any foundation whatsoever. To impeach a witness you have to lay foundation as to time and place, who was present, say the least. Number two I sustained it because if he should answer no, then it would be necessary for you to testify to complete the impeachment, and that, of course, I was trying to avoid because when you become a witness you no longer are competent as counsel. You can't have a dual role. You'd have to withdraw.

Let's go back to number one, that means that I sustained the objection, no foundation as far as the place, the time and who was present.

The court then allowed Geisler to question Julius as part of an offer of proof,*fn3 but denied the offer:

THE COURT: The Court is going to rule as follows. The Court is ruling, number one, the method and manner of the attempted impeachment is not correct, and the objections to this approach are sustained.

Commenting, I feel that this is not the accepted method at all in the way in which it should be done. With that are we ready -- the offer of proof is denied.

The Court denied the offer of proof on the grounds that a proper foundation as to the time and place of the interview had not been laid, Julius' counsel had not been present at Geisler's interview, and the Court wished to avoid placing Geisler in the position of becoming a witness at the trial in the event that Julius denied making the statement.

Petitioner argued before the Illinois Appellate Court that the state trial court erred in excluding evidence of Julius' prior inconsistent statement in that a sufficient foundation had been laid for the statement. The Appellate Court agreed that it was improper for the trial court to refuse to allow impeachment of Julius:

The trial court's position was well taken before the offer of proof. . . . During the offer of proof, however, Pettis admitted that exhibit No. 1 was his statement. At that point, it became clear that Geisler's testimony would not be necessary.

100 Ill.App.3d at 1122-23, 427 N.E.2d at 634. The Appellate Court went on to hold that the exclusion of Julius' statement constituted harmless error. The court reasoned that a witness' prior inconsistent statement can be admitted only to attack his credibility and not to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Julius' statement, the Court noted, could be used solely to demonstrate his untruthfulness. The Appellate Court concluded that since there was ample evidence of Julius' lack of credibility already before the jury, including Julius' declaration that he was lying when he told the police that his brother used the handgun, evidence concerning Julius' inconsistent statement would have been cumulative. Thus, its exclusion was harmless.

In denying the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the district court held that since petitioner failed to present his Sixth Amendment arguments to the state courts, the exhaustion requirement was not satisfied. The Court also denied the petition on the merits, holding that any error in omitting Julius' inconsistent statement was harmless, and that "the identical content of the statement made to Geisler was presented to the jury upon cross-examination of Pettis when he admitted making the statement that his brother was the gunman to an investigating police officer." United States ex rel. Nance v. Fairman, No. 82-3107 at 5 (C.D. Ill. June 22, 1982).


We will first consider whether petitioner has exhausted his available state remedies. The principle that a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies before a federal district court may grant his petition for habeas corpus relief has been well settled since Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. 241, 6 S.Ct 734, 29 L. Ed. 868 (1886). Congress codified this principle in 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254.*fn4 See Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 102 S. Ct. 1198, 71 L. Ed. 2d 379 (1982); Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 92 S. Ct. 509, 30 L. Ed. 2d 438 (1971). The exhaustion doctrine reflects a policy of federal-state comity:

The exhaustion doctrine is principally designed to protect the state court's role in the enforcement of federal law and prevent disruption of state judicial proceedings. Under our federal system, the federal and state "courts [are] equally bound to guard and protect rights secured by the Constitution." Because "it would be unseemly in our dual system of government for a federal district court to upset a state court conviction without an opportunity to the state courts to correct a constitutional violation," federal courts apply the doctrine of comity, which "teaches that one court should defer action on causes properly within its jurisdiction until the courts of another sovereignity with concurrent powers, and already cognizant of the litigation, have had an opportunity to pass upon the matter."

Rose v. Lundy, 450 U.S. at 910, 455 U.S. at 518, 102 S. Ct. at 1203, 71 L. Ed. 2d at 387 (citations omitted). See also, Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 92 S. Ct. 407, 30 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1971). The exhaustion requirement is based both upon a desire to avoid undue federal judicial burdens and upon principles of federal-state comity. Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 102 S. Ct. 1558, 1571, 71 L. Ed. 2d 783 (1982). Accordingly, exceptions to the exhaustion requirement are made only if there is no opportunity to obtain redress in state court or if an attempt to invoke state remedies would be futile. Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 3, 102 S. Ct. 18, 19, 70 L. Ed. 2d 1, 4 (1981). Nevertheless, considerations of comity are satisfied if state courts are given a fair opportunity to address the federal constitutional issue. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. at 275, 92 S. Ct. at 512, 30 L. Ed. 2d at 443 (1971). As this Court has recently explained:

A federal habeas corpus petitioner has "fairly presented" a claim to a state court if he has clearly informed the state court of the factual basis of that claim and has argued to the state court that those facts constituted a violation of the petitioner's federal constitutional rights. It is sufficient that the "substantial equivalent" or "substance" of the federal habeas corpus claim has been presented.

Toney v. Franzen, 687 F.2d 1016, 1021-22 (7th Cir. 1982).

Consistent with the foregoing, it is also true that a difference in legal theory between that urged in the state court and what is presented in a habeas corpus petition does not satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Wilks v. Israel, 627 F.2d 32, 38 (7th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1086, 101 S. Ct. 874, 66 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1981). But a habeas corpus petition which presents a mere variation in legal theory, rather than a different legal claim from that presented in state court, will not run afoul of the exhaustion doctrine. Macon v. Lash, 458 F.2d 942, 948 (7th Cir. 1972).

Applying these principles to this case, it is clear that the exhaustion requirement has not been satisfied. Petitioner's brief to the Illinois Appellate Court argued that the exclusion of Julius' prior inconsistent statement violated Illinois evidence law. It raised no constitutional question. Thus, petitioner never argued to a state court that the exclusion of Julius' prior inconsistent statements violated his Sixth Amendment rights, nor did he present the substance of his habeas corpus claim to the state courts, as required by Toney v. Franzen, 687 F.2d 1016, 1021-22 (7th Cir. 1982).

The instant habeas petition does not involve a "mere variation" in legal theory from that presented in state courts, Macon v. Lash, 458 F.2d 942, 948 (7th Cir. 1972), but rather, raises a different legal theory from that urged in the Illinois Appellate Court. Wilks v. Israel, 627 F.2d 32, 38 (7th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1086, 101 S. Ct. 874, 66 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1981). There is no doubt that the claim presented to the state courts arises out of the same factual circumstances as petitioner's constitutional claim. But merely presenting the facts of a case to a state appellate court is insufficient for purposes of exhaustion. Spurlark v. Wolff, 699 F.2d 354, slip op. at 4 (7th Cir. 1983). Moreover, the issue presented to the state courts is a different legal issue from that presented in the federal court. The analysis employed in considering the exclusion of Julius' statement relied upon Illinois evidence law. However, the inquiry under the Sixth Amendment confrontation clause focuses upon whether a defendant received an adequate opportunity for effective cross-examination, Douglas v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 415, 418, 85 S. Ct. 1074, 1076, 13 L. Ed. 2d 934, 937 (1965), and whether a defendant's inability to make a particular inquiry on cross-examination was prejudicial to him by depriving him of an ability to test the truth of a witness' direct testimony. Blackwell v. Franzen, 688 F.2d 496, 500 (7th Cir. 1982); Mattes v. Gagnon, 700. F.2d 1096, slip op. at 7 (7th Cir. 1983). We find these issues substantially different; considerations of federal-state comity require that the state courts first hear the substance of the constitutional claim.

Petitioner now contends that since the Appellate Court determined that the evidentiary claim raised there was harmless error and that since the harmless error question must be similarly analyzed by this Court in deciding the confrontation claim, the essence of his argument here was before the state court and therefore was properly exhausted. We find this argument disingenuous. Exhaustion is determined by the threshold question of whether the claim raised here was in fact raised in the state court -- not by whether the distinct claims, if established, both might ultimately be disposed of on the basis of a similar analysis of harmless error.*fn5

For these reasons the state court did not have a fair opportunity to consider the substance of petitioner's constitutional claim, and he has not met the exhaustion requirement.


Although petitioner lacks standing before this Court because he failed to exhaust his state remedies, his claim also fails on the merits since we conclude that petitioner has not been denied his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses.*fn6

While we do not necessarily agree with the district court judge's conclusion that "the identical content of the statement made to Geisler was presented to the jury upon cross-examination of Julius when he admitted making the statement that his brother Dave was the gunman to an investigating police officer," United States ex rel. Nance v. Fairman, No. 82-3107 at 5 (CD. Ill. June 22, 1982), it is clear that the jury had ample evidence before it which undermined Julius' direct testimony. The jury learned of Julius' statement to an investigating officer that Dave, not petitioner, was the gunman. On cross-examination, Julius claimed that this statement to the officer was untrue. As this Court recently observed, a confrontation clause analysis

does not require a reviewing court to isolate the particular limitation on cross-examination. Rather, "the question in each case must finally be whether defendant's inability to make the inquiry created a substantial danger of prejudice by depriving him of the ability to test the truth of the witness' direct testimony. To answer that question the court must look to the record as a whole, and the alternative means open to defendant to impeach the witness. Blackwell v. Franzen, 688 F.2d 496 (7th Cir. 1982). Excluding Julius' prior inconsistent statement did not prejudice petitioner by depriving him of the ability to test the truth of Julius' direct testimony, since petitioner was able to impeach Julius by alternative means.*fn7 Thus, any error was harmless.


Petitioner failed to present the instant claim to the state court, and thus, has not met his exhaustion prerequisite. Even if this claim had properly been preserved, any error by the trial court was harmless. For these reasons, we affirm.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge, concurring in Parts I and II and in the result.

I agree that Nance's Confrontation Clause claim was not exhausted.

I think there may be some question whether the exclusion of the evidence impeaching Julius' testimony, even though it violated Illinois evidence law, rose to the level of a federal constitutional violation. It does not necessarily follow that, because evidence has been excluded in breach of state law, a constitutional violation has been shown. See Carbajol v. Fairman, 700 F.2d 397, Slip Op. at 7-8 (7th Cir. 1983).*fn1

But if there has been a constitutional violation, I cannot agree that it was harmless. The excluded evidence involved not general evidence of Julius' propensity to lie but specific lies about the matter in issue. The excluded evidence may be "cumulative" of other lies, but the evidence is so central it requires a leap of faith of which I am incapable to dismiss it as "harmless."

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