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Davis v. Litscher

May 21, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 01-C-245-C--Barbara B. Crabb, Chief Judge.

Before Bauer, Ripple and Manion, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

Argued February 20, 2002

Petitioner Leonard Davis was convicted in 1998 in a Wisconsin state court of first degreesexual assault, second degree sexual assault, battery and threats to injure, and he was sentenced to 42 years in prison. Davis unsuccessfully challenged his conviction in a direct appeal, arguing that his due process rights were violated when the trial court denied his motion for an in camera inspection of the victim's mental health records. Subsequently, a federal district court denied Davis' petition for a writ of habeas corpus. For the reasons set forth below, we find that Davis' conviction was not the result of any constitutional violation and we affirm the decision of the district court to deny the writ.


On November 12, 1997, the State of Wisconsin charged Leonard Davis with sexually assaulting and beating his girlfriend, Melodee Vance. The state alleged that on October 17, 1997, Davis and Vance consumed alcohol and smoked crack with several other guests at Davis' apartment. When the other guests left and Davis' roommate went to his bedroom, Davis beat Vance, threatened her with a knife, undressed her and had non-consensual sexual intercourse with her in his living room.

Prior to trial, Davis filed a motion for an in camera inspection of all Vance's mental health records that were in the possession of various state agencies, including treatment records for drugs and alcohol abuse, as well as records of therapist meetings that were a requirement of Vance's parole. Davis argued to the trial court that he had reason to believe that the records contained evidence indicating that certain factors may have impaired Vance's ability to perceive and relate events as they truly happened. In particular, Davis asserted that Vance was an admitted drug addict who had repeatedly received treatment for her addiction. Davis also stated that Vance had a thyroid condition that she neglected to treat properly and was using a prescription anti-depressant at the time of the assault. In addition, Davis noted that Vance once told a detective that "she had seen men around her apartment that are not here," and she admitted to using cocaine and alcohol on the night of the assault. After holding a hearing on the issue, the trial court found that Davis failed to make an adequate showing of materiality of the sought-after records and denied the motion.

At Davis' trial, Vance testified for the prosecution and on cross-examination, she admitted that she did not remember some of the events from the night of the alleged attack, that she had a bad memory and that she had been using drugs and alcohol throughout the night that further impaired her ability to recall the events. Vance had previously testified (at a preliminary hearing) that she did not regularly take her thyroid medication or her anti-depressants, although this was not addressed during her testimony at trial. At the conclusion of the trial, Davis was convicted and sentenced to 42 years in prison.

On direct appeal, Davis argued that the trial court erred in denying his pretrial request for an in camera inspection of Vance's mental health records. The Wisconsin appellate court affirmed Davis' conviction, finding that Davis' request lacked specificity and failed to show that the records are "relevant and may be necessary to a fair determination of guilt or innocence." State of Wisconsin v. Davis, 232 Wis.2d 557, 608 N.W.2d 437 (1999). In particular, the court reasoned that Davis did not adequately explain the usefulness of the records since he never alleged that the records showed evidence of a delusional illness or confused reality on Vance's part. In addition, the court noted that Davis was permitted at trial to cross-examine Vance about any use of stimulants or her misuse of other medication. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied Davis' request for review.

Subsequently, Davis petitioned the federal district court for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that the state appellate court violated his right to due process when it refused to order the in camera inspection of Vance's mental health records. A magistrate judge recommended that the district court deny the petition because the Wisconsin court had not unreasonably applied federal law. The magistrate noted that Davis "did not allege that [the victim] suffered from any sort of pre-existing mental impairment that caused delusions or affected her ability to perceive or describe reality." The magistrate also determined that "the court of appeals concluded that the petitioner alreadypossessed the facts material to impeaching the victim" so that "it was not unreasonable for the court to conclude that [Davis] had failed to show that an in camera review would be material." The district court adopted the magistrate's recommendation and denied Davis' petition. This appeal followed. II. DISCUSSION

Federal courts may grant habeas corpus when a person is held in custody under a state court judgment in violation of the United States Constitution. 28 U.S.C. sec. 2254; Lowery v. Anderson, 225 F.3d 833, 838 (7th Cir. 2000). Federal habeas relief is granted when a petitioner has established that the state court proceeding resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. sec. 2254(d)(1); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). In reviewing a decision of the district court to deny habeas relief, we review findings of fact for clear error and findings of law de novo. Moffatt v. Gilmore, 113 F.3d 698, 701 (7th Cir. 1997). Findings of fact made by the state courts are presumedcorrect and are rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence. Foster v. Schomig, 223 F.3d 626, 631 (7th Cir. 2000).

The sole issue raised in this appeal is whether the Wisconsin appellate court unreasonably applied federal law in Davis' direct appeal for an in camera review of Vance's mental health records. Davis argues that the Wisconsin appellate court erred by requiring him to make a greater showing than that required by the United States Supreme Court's holding in Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987), for obtaining an in camera review of the records. We agree with the district court that although it may have been more prudent to grant Davis' motion for a review of Vance's mental health records, the denial of the motion was not an unreasonable application of Ritchie.

An unreasonable application of federal law encompasses situations where, among other things, "the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme Court's] cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407. An incorrect application of clearly established federal law is not necessarily an unreasonable one. Hough v. Anderson, 272 F.3d 878, 890 (7th Cir. 2001). As such, a federal court cannot substitute its independent judgment as to the correct outcome; rather, it must determine that a state court decision was both incorrect and unreasonable before it can issue a writ of habeas corpus. Washington v. Smith, 219 F.3d 620, 628 (7th Cir. 2000).

Davis claims that the Wisconsin courts unreasonably applied the standard announced in Ritchie governing a request for in camera review of mental health records. In that case, defendant George Ritchie was charged with committing various sex offenses against his 13-year-old daughter. During pre-trial discovery, Ritchie sought review of counseling files maintained by a child protective agency concerning his daughter. Ritchie, 480 U.S. at 43. He argued that disclosure of the files was necessary because it might aid in his defense, perhaps revealing statements his daughter made to the agency counselor that were inconsistent with her trial statements, or show that she acted with an improper motive. Id. at 51. On appeal, the United States Supreme Court held that Ritchie was entitled to an in camera review. In so doing, the Court outlined the appropriate standard for addressing Ritchie's request, stating that "the ability to question adverse witnesses . . . does not include the power to require the pretrial disclosure of any and all information that might be useful in contradicting unfavorable testimony." Id. at 53. Nevertheless, "the government has the obligation to turn over evidence in its possession that is both favorable to the accused and material to guilt or punishment." Id. at 57. The Court held that "evidence is ...

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