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U.S. EX REL. WILLHITE v. WALLS

January 10, 2003

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. PIERRE WILLHITE, PETITIONER
V.
JONATHAN R. WALLS, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James H. Alesia, United States District Judge

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court is respondent's motion to dismiss petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. For the following reasons, the court grants in part and denies in part respondent's motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 9, 1998, a jury in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois convicted petitioner Pierre Willhite ("Willhite") of first-degree murder. As a result, Willhite was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment of sixty years for his murder conviction and an additional six years for a home invasion conviction. Willhite has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated at trial and during review of his Illinois post-conviction petition.

Willhite appealed his conviction and sentence to the Appellate Court of Illinois, which affirmed the trial court's decision in an order dated June 14, 1999. Willhite then filed a pro se petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which was denied on October 6, 1999.

On June 28, 1999, Willhite filed a petition for post-conviction relief. The Circuit Court of Cook County denied the petition on September 23, 1999. On appeal, Willhite's attorney sought leave to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987), because he believed that there were no meritorious issues on appeal. On June 19, 2000, the Appellate Court of Illinois granted the request to withdraw and affirmed the circuit court's judgment. On July 5, 2000, Willhite filed a petition for rehearing by the appellate court, which was denied on July 12, 2000. Ultimately, Willhite was granted leave to file a late petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois. The supreme court denied the petition on June 29, 2001.

Willhite filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, on June 17, 2002. In his petition, he raises four claims: (1) the prosecution bolstered its case with hearsay testimony, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him; (2) the Circuit Court of Cook County violated his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights by erroneously dismissing his state court petition for post-conviction relief; (3) he was denied effective assistance of counsel — in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments — when his attorney withdrew during his appeal of his state court petition for post-conviction relief; and (4) his constitutional rights were violated when the circuit court judge dismissed his petition for post-conviction relief without an evidentiary hearing. Respondent now moves to dismiss Willhite's petition. Particularly, respondent argues: (1) Willhite's petition is time-barred and (2) Willhite's claims are not cognizable under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. First, the court will determine whether Willhite's petition was timely. Second, the court will review whether Willhite's claims are cognizable.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Reviewing a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

A petitioner seeking a writ of habeas corpus must establish that the state court proceeding:

(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). See also Ellsworth v. Levenhagen, 248 F.3d 634, 638 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000)). A state court decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court precedent if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the law as set forth by the Supreme Court or if the state court addresses facts that are materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court decision and reaches a result different from the Supreme Court. Whitehead v. Cowan, 263 F.3d 708, 716 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). A state court decision is an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court precedent when the state court identifies the proper governing precedent of the Supreme Court but unreasonably applies it to the facts or when the state court unreasonably extends Supreme Court precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that precedent to a context where it should apply. Id. (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407). With this standard in mind, the court will review respondent's motion to dismiss.

B. The Timeliness of Willhite's Petition

Respondent argues that the court should dismiss Willhite's petition because it was not filed within one year of the date that his conviction became final. Willhite argues in response that his petition was timely because he was prevented from filing his state-court petition for post-conviction relief by state-imposed impediments and, therefore, the statute of limitations did not begin to run until those impediments were removed.

A one-year statute of limitations governs petitions for habeas corpus for prisoners in state custody. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). Relevant to this motion, that one-year period begins to run from the later of either: (1) the date on which the judgment became final or (2) the date of removal of a state-imposed impediment that prevented the petitioner from filing his petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), (B). Respondent argues that section 2244(d)(1)(A) governs this case, but Willhite contends that section 2244(d)(1)(B) is controlling. The parties do not dispute that the statute of limitations ran from the time that the Supreme Court of Illinois denied Willhite's petition for leave to appeal his state court post-conviction petition on June 29, 2001 until the time that he filed the instant petition for habeas corpus on June 17, 2002 — a span of 352 days. Therefore, Willhite's ...


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