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ALVAREZ v. O'SULLIVAN

July 16, 1999

DANIEL ALVAREZ, PETITIONER,
v.
WILLIAM D. O'SULLIVAN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Castillo, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Daniel Alvarez petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Following a jury trial, Alvarez was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. Alvarez asserts four grounds for relief in his petition: 1) the preclusion of cross-examination on the victim's tendency to faint denied his right to confront witnesses; 2) the exclusion of pre-trial non-identification statements violated his right to present a defense; 3) the cumulative effects of these alleged Sixth Amendment violations deprived him of a fair trial; and 4) the trial evidence was insufficient to support his conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. After careful review of these issues, we conclude that Alvarez has not established a violation of his constitutional rights. Therefore, we deny his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

RELEVANT FACTS*fn1

Daniel Alvarez and Alicia Godina dated periodically for five years until spring 1993, when Godina ended the relationship. Godina encountered Alvarez several times that summer; he repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to rekindle their relationship. While walking to the train station on the morning of December 14, 1993, Godina heard footsteps approaching behind her. She testified that she turned her head to see Alvarez holding a knife. He began stabbing her in the chest. He then swung Godina around to face him, threw her against a fence, and continued stabbing her. Alvarez momentarily stopped his attack to chase a third person while Godina stood on the sidewalk feeling faint. Alvarez returned, pinned the victim to the ground, and proceeded to cut her throat. Godina then closed her eyes, feigning death, and Alvarez ran off. She testified that a gentleman helped her until an ambulance took her to the emergency room. At the hospital Godina told Thelma Kuska, a nurse, that she was stabbed by her ex-boyfriend. Kuska's testimony at trial corroborated this statement.

Peter Thompson, the gentleman who helped Godina, testified that he saw the attacker as he rounded a corner by his home. Godina's attacker fled as Thompson neared the scene with a baseball bat. Several months after the crime, Thompson viewed a photo of Alvarez and later met him in person; on both occasions, Thompson stated that Alvarez was not the man he saw stabbing Godina. (Pet. Ex. F, Trial Tr., at 17-19; Pet. Ex. B, Pet'r. Aff. at 26-33; Pet. Ex. C, Vasquez Aff., at 11-14.) Although Thompson was not permitted to disclose these out-of-court statements during the trial, he did testify that Alvarez was not the attacker. (Pet. Ex. F, Trial Tr., at 26-27; Pet. Ex. H, Trial Tr., at 14-18, 20, 51-53.)

According to Alvarez, he was pursuing a job at Royal Crown Cola (RC Cola) at the time of the attack. He arrived at the RC Cola plant at about 6:30 a.m. or 6:35 a.m.; an employee, Michael Arragoni, told Alvarez to come back later for an interview. Alvarez then saw a friend, Sal Lira, who suggested that he wait at a local restaurant. Alvarez testified that he ate and returned to RC Cola at 7:40 a.m. At trial, both Arragoni and Lira corroborated Alvarez's account of the morning. A security guard, Michael Kuciver, testified that Alvarez arrived at the plant at 6:10 a.m., left around 6:25 a.m., and returned between 7:39 a.m. and 8 a.m. After being hired at RC Cola, Alvarez went home. Later that day, he consented to a police search of his house and car and denied any knowledge of the stabbing. The police officers did not recover any physical evidence linking Alvarez to the crime. (Pet. Ex. G, Trial Tr., at 123; Pet. Ex. I, Trial Tr., at 51.)

During the trial, the two sides presented conflicting testimony about the length of time that Alvarez would have needed to drive from the RC Cola plant to the crime scene during morning rush hour. Alvarez's investigator, John Eirman, stated that it took him at least 43 minutes to drive the 17-mile distance. Alternatively, Detective Raymond McCann testified that he completed the drive in as little as 28 minutes, depending on the time of day.

To impeach Godina's identification of Alvarez as her attacker, defense counsel attempted to question her on her tendency to faint, suggesting that she may have lost consciousness during the attack. (Pet. Ex. G, Trial Tr., at 97-99.) In response, Godina testified that she did not faint the day of the stabbing. The trial court then forbade any further cross-examination on her fainting history.

Based on this evidence, the jury found Alvarez guilty of attempted first-degree murder. The Illinois appellate court affirmed his conviction and subsequently denied his petition for rehearing. (Pet'r.'s Mem. Supp. at 2.) Alvarez filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court, which was rejected. (Pet'r.'s Mem. Supp. at 2.) Having exhausted state remedies, he now seeks habeas corpus relief in this Court. (Pet'r.'s Mem. Supp. at 11-12.) Before assessing the merits of his claims, we set forth the applicable standards that guide our analysis.

STANDARD OF REVIEW*fn2

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA), a federal court must deny habeas relief unless the state court's adjudication "resulted in a decision contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).*fn3 The standard for mixed questions of law and fact is whether the state court's application of clearly established Supreme Court law was reasonable. Spreitzer v. Peters, 114 F.3d 1435, 1441 (7th Cir. 1997). A state court has reasonably applied Supreme Court caselaw if its application is "at least minimally consistent with the facts and circumstances of the case." Id. at 1442. Under this limited analysis, the state court's decision must stand "if it is one of several equally plausible outcomes." Ashford v. Gilmore, 167 F.3d 1130, 1134 (7th Cir. 1999), quoting Hall v. Washington, 106 F.3d 742, 748-49 (7th Cir. 1997). Having set forth the applicable standards for federal habeas corpus review, we will now address the merits of Alvarez's claims.

I. Prevention of Cross-Examination as Violation of Confrontation
  Clause

Alvarez claims that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the trial court prohibited cross-examination of Godina's fainting history. He correctly notes that courts have the power to limit cross-examination where the interrogation is "repetitive or only marginally relevant." Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 679, 106 S.Ct. 1431, 89 L.Ed.2d 674 (1986). Alvarez contends that the trial court erred in finding the fainting evidence irrelevant and inadmissible because it concerned the witness' ability to observe and recall events. He points out that Godina testified to feeling faint during the attack, that she was unconscious prior to her surgery, and that Thompson's account of the attack differs from Godina's testimony. Therefore, the record evidence raises the inference that she may have fainted that day, impairing her ability to identify Alvarez and damaging her credibility. He argues that the state appellate court's review of this claim was "superficial" because that court ignored this evidence and prior state appellate court decisions. See, e.g., People v. Stalions, 139 Ill. App.3d 1033, 94 Ill.Dec. 471, 488 N.E.2d 297, 301-02 (1986) (allowing cross-examination on a witness' gluesniffing habit to assess mental processes and credibility); People v. Spreyne, 256 Ill. App.3d 505, 194 Ill.Dec. 754, 628 N.E.2d 251, 256 (1993) (permitting cross-examination on the defendant's alcohol consumption on the day of the crime to test his ability to observe and remember events).

The Confrontation Clause guarantees a defendant "an opportunity for effective cross-examination, not cross-examination that is effective in whatever way, and to whatever extent, the defense might wish." Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 20, 106 S.Ct. 292, 88 L.Ed.2d 15 (1985). Additionally, the subject of admissibility of evidence is generally a matter of state concern. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 65-69, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991); U.S. ex rel. Bryant v. Washington, 869 F. Supp. 601, 603 (N.D.Ill. 1994). Our task is not to "second-guess" the correctness of the trial court's rulings based on state evidentiary rules; rather, we are only to decide if a constitutional right has been violated by those determinations. Koo v. McBride, 124 F.3d 869, 874-75 (7th Cir. 1997). To make this decision, we ...


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