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Devin v. Detella

December 4, 1996

JAMES DEVIN,

PETITIONER-APPELLANT,

v.

GEORGE E. DETELLA, WARDEN, *fn1

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 93 C 6649

Before POSNER, Chief Judge, and FLAUM and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

Charles R. Norgle, Sr., Judge.

ARGUED OCTOBER 31, 1996

DECIDED DECEMBER 4, 1996

Petitioner James Devin was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate while incarcerated in the DuPage County Jail. During his trial, the jury was permitted to view the area of the prison where the crime occurred. Devin alleges that the trial court's failure to inform him that he had a constitutional right to be present while the jury viewed the crime scene violated his rights to due process of law and confrontation. Petitioner also argues that the manner in which the jury view was conducted denied him due process. Specifically, he claims that the trial court erred in not requiring a court reporter to be present and in allowing the view to be conducted by a deputy sheriff of the DuPage County Jail who later testified for the state at petitioner's trial.

On direct appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court held that Devin did not have a constitutional right to be present during the jury view and that no error resulted from the manner in which the jury view was conducted. People v. Devin, 444 N.E.2d 102, 105-06 (1982). Devin filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court in 1987, which that court denied for failure to exhaust state court remedies. After exhausting his Illinois post-conviction remedies, Devin filed a second petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court. It is the district court's denial of his second habeas petition, United States ex rel. Devin v. Godinez, No. 93 C 6649, 1996 WL 148038 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 29, 1996), which Devin now appeals to this court. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

We first address Devin's argument that the trial court erred in not informing him that he had a constitutional right to be present while the jury viewed the crime scene. On direct appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court, relying on the Supreme Court's decision in Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 107 (1934), held that Devin had no constitutional right to be present at the jury view. Devin, 444 N.E.2d at 106. Because this case comes before this court on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, we ask only whether the Illinois Supreme Court's decision is "contrary to . . . clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 sec. 104, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (to be codified at 28 U.S.C. sec. 2254). In applying the recently amended habeas statute, this court has recognized that the new section 2254 "is a retrenchment from former practice, which allowed the United States courts of appeals to rely on their own jurisprudence in addition to that of the Supreme Court." See Lindh v. Murphy, 96 F.3d 856, 869 (7th Cir. 1996). Under the new habeas provisions, "when the state court addresses a legal question, it is the law 'as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States' that prevails." Id.

With this in mind, we begin and end our analysis of petitioner's claim with the Supreme Court's decision in Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97 (1934), in which the Court spoke directly to the issue of whether the Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to be present during a jury view of a crime scene. In that case, the Court held that the Constitution guarantees no such right. The Court reasoned that "the presence of the defendant is a condition of due process to the extent that a fair and just hearing would be thwarted by his absence, and to that extent only." Id. at 107-08. The Court made clear that the presence of the defendant at a jury view is not among those constitutional privileges "conferred so explicitly as to leave no room for an inquiry whether prejudice to a defendant has been wrought through their denial." Id. at 116. The lesson of Snyder is that, if in any given case the exclusion of the defendant from a jury view is found to be a deprivation of due process, it is not because the Constitution guarantees the defendant an absolute right to be present; it is only because his absence, under the particular circumstances of his case, can be said to have denied him a fair proceeding.

Because it is the law as determined by the Supreme Court which prevails on habeas review, Snyder is controlling in this case absent Supreme Court precedent to the contrary. The only Supreme Court decisions relied upon by the petitioner are cases holding that an accused has a right to be present at all stages of trial. See Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819 n.15 (1975); Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 342-43 (1970). Petitioner argues that, because "most authorities agree that the jury view is an important part of the trial which provides independent evidence," the Constitution guarantees a right to be present at a jury view.

The Court explicitly rejected this argument in Snyder. While recognizing the rule that a "defendant in a criminal case must be present at trial when evidence is offered," the Court warned that the scope of the right to due process cannot "be found in dictionary definitions of evidence or trials." Snyder, 291 U.S. at 114-15. Justice Cardozo explained,

A fertile source of perversion in constitutional theory is the tyranny of labels. Out of vague precepts of the Fourteenth Amendment a court frames a rule which is general in form, though it has been wrought under the pressure of particular situations. Forthwith another situation is placed under the rule because it is fitted to the words, ...


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