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U.S. EX REL. MITCHELL v. CHRANS

March 31, 2003

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. TEDD MITCHELL, PETITIONER,
v.
JAMES CHRANS, WARDEN OF JOLIET CORRECTIONAL CENTER RESPONDENT



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case comes before the Court on Petitioner Tedd Mitchell's Petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Mitchell presents eight issues in his habeas petition: (1) a Fourth Amendment violation when he was arrested without probable cause; (2) a Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment violation arising from the trial judge's failure to conduct voir dire on the issue of police brutality; (3) a Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause violation when an out-of-court private conversation was entered into evidence against him; (4) failure to give an instruction that testimony of narcotics addicts is subject to suspicion; (5) Disclosure to jury of Mitchell's prior conviction for burglary violated his due process rights; (6) a Due Process violation based on a conviction on insufficient evidence; (7) a Due Process violation based on prosecutorial misconduct in the closing argument; and (8) an Eighth Amendment violation that his 80 year sentence is excessive. The Court will address each ground in turn.

LEGAL STANDARD

When a prisoner in state court custody files a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the federal courts review judgments of state courts to assess whether they resulted in a decision that was "resulted in a decision that was [either] contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law [or] 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)(1)-(2). Where the state court decision did involve such a contrary or unreasonable application of federal law, the federal court should grant the habeas petition.

PRELIMINARY REMARK

In its briefing, the state repeatedly mentions petitioner's alleged failure to cite case law. Tedd Mitchell, like most habeas petitioners, is proceeding without the benefit of counsel. His habeas petition is typewritten onto the form petition that is available in Joliet Correctional Center to prisoners in state custody for this purpose. The attorneys in the State Attorney General's office are undoubtedly familiar with this standard form document. The standard form directs pro se habeas petitioners to provide supporting facts for each issue that they believe merits relief "without citing cases or law." (Pet. at 5.) Where the standard form petition provided to state prisoners directs them not to cite cases, the state should not ambush the petitioner with repeated assertions that his claims should fail because they lack supporting citations.*fn1 The state already has the inherent advantages of liberty and legal education, it need not resort to ambush in efforts to obtain the upper hand. The Court admonishes the State to be cognizant of the pleadings that the opposing party is submitting. Where a pro se petitioner's pleading form says, "don't cite case law" it will do no good to tell the Court, "he didn't cite any case law." The Court would never accept this argument, as it would be manifestly unfair to pro se habeas petitioners.

ISSUE 1: Alleged Fourth Amendment Violation

Petitioner submits that the police violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment when they held him at the police station for several hours without probable cause or a warrant. The Supreme Court has created a rule of convenience foreclosing federal court review of Fourth Amendment claims in habeas petitions. See Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976). Federal habeas courts can only review Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule claims when the petitioner has been denied an opportunity for a full and fair litigation of the claim in state court.

In this case, Mitchell sought to exclude the statements he had given to the police at the police station because they were obtained after his unlawful arrest. Mitchell had a suppression hearing on the issue in the trial court, at the conclusion of which the court denied the motion. Mitchell appealed the denial of his suppression motion through the state court system. His opportunity to litigate the claim in state court was full and fair, so habeas relief based on the alleged Fourth Amendment violation must be denied.

ISSUE 2: Failure to Conduct Voir Dire on the Issue of Police Brutality

Petitioner seeks a grant of habeas corpus due to the trial court's failure to inquire of the venue about the issue of police brutality. The trial judge has tremendous discretion over the conduct of voir dire. See Mu'Min v. Virginia, 500 U.S. 415, 423 (1991). Provided that the trial court's voir dire was sufficient to inquire after the likelihood of bias within the venire, voir dire should be sufficient. In this case, the Court refused to ask Mitchell's proposed questions because it presented a high risk of distracting the venire from the actual issues in the case. While Mitchell did try to establish that his statements were coerced, the jury was entitled to make their own determination about the competing credibility claims. The trial court's refusal to inquire about police brutality did not present an unacceptable risk that bias on the venire would remain uncovered.

To demonstrate the general reasonableness of the voir dire in this case, the Court points out the trial court's response to Mitchell's other requested questions. In particular, Mitchell requested that the court inquire about the jurors ability to be fair and impartial in a murder case with a fourteen year old victim. The trial court agreed to this line of questioning, although it feared "I'm opening the door there to lose a lot of jurors." (Transcript, vol. II, at C-12.)

Having reviewed the voir dire in its entirety, this Court finds that the denial of petitioner's two questions on police brutality did not create an acceptable risk that biased jurors would remain on the jury. ...


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