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People v. Coulter

August 01, 2003

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DWAYNE COULTER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Colleen McSweeney-Moore, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher

UNPUBLISHED

On March 3, 2003, the United States Supreme Court vacated this court's judgment in People v. Coulter, 321 Ill. App. 3d 644, 748 N.E.2d 240 (2001) (Coulter II), and remanded the case to this court for further consideration in light of its decision in Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 154 L. Ed. 2d 931, 123 S. Ct. 1029 (2003). For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.

Although our previous opinion included a comprehensive summary of the state and federal court proceedings that have preceded this action, a brief review of the case's 16-year procedural history is warranted here. In 1987, Dwayne Coulter, an African-American, was convicted of the first degree murder of a white police officer. On appeal, Coulter contended that the State's use of peremptory challenges to strike African-American venire members violated Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712 (1986). This court rejected Coulter's arguments and affirmed his conviction. People v. Coulter, 230 Ill. App. 3d 209, 594 N.E.2d 1163 (1992) (Coulter I). The Illinois Supreme Court denied his petition for leave to appeal. People v. Coulter, 146 Ill. 2d 636, 602 N.E.2d 461 (1992). Coulter proceeded to federal court, where the Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the state trial court for a new Batson hearing. Coulter v. Gilmore, 155 F.3d 912, 922 (7th Cir. 1998) (Gilmore).

On remand, the trial judge, who was not the same jurist who presided at Coulter's trial, reviewed Coulter's Batson claim, along with the record of jury selection in Coulter's trial. The trial court found that the State's articulated reasons for excusing the African-American jurors were race-neutral and not pretextual. Coulter again appealed to this court, contending that the State failed to meet its burden of showing that legitimate, race-neutral explanations existed for each of the nine peremptory challenges used to excuse African-American venire members. Coulter asserted that the trial court did not conduct a sufficient Batson hearing on remand. Coulter II, 321 Ill. App. 3d at 654, 748 N.E.2d at 248. Coulter sought a new trial or, in the alternative, asked this court to remand the case to the trial court for another Batson hearing. Coulter II, 321 Ill. App. 3d at 654, 748 N.E.2d at 248. This court affirmed, finding that the trial court conducted a comprehensive review of his Batson claims. Coulter II, 321 Ill. App. 3d at 656, 748 N.E.2d at 250. The Illinois Supreme Court again denied Coulter's petition for leave to appeal. People v. Coulter, 196 Ill. 2d 551, 763 N.E.2d 321 (2001). He appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which has vacated Coulter II and remanded the case to this court for further consideration in light of Miller-El. Coulter v. Illinois, 537 U.S. 322, 154 L. Ed. 2d 931, 123 S. Ct. 1384 (2003).

Miller-El v. Cockrell

A Texas jury convicted petitioner Thomas Miller-El of capital murder and sentenced him to death. Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 944, 123 S. Ct. at 1034-35. After raising an unsuccessful Batson claim in the state and federal courts, Miller-El filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Miller-El, 573 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 945, 123 S. Ct. at 1036. Both the federal district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Miller-El's request for habeas relief. Miller-El v. Johnson, 261 F.3d 445, 452 (5th Cir. 2001).

In its opinion in Miller-El, the Supreme Court addressed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) (28 U.S.C. §2241 et seq. (Supp. 2003)), which restricts the power of federal courts to grant habeas relief to state prisoners. Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 950, 123 S. Ct. at 1039-40. Under the AEDPA, Miller-El's right to the review of the denial of his habeas petition is not automatic. Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 949, 123 S. Ct. at 1039. For a federal appeals court to consider the merits of Miller-El's appeal, Miller-El must seek a certificate of appealability (COA) to review the district court's ruling. The COA requirement is designed as a threshold for review of appeals and is intended to reduce delay caused by frivolous habeas proceedings. To issue a COA, the court must find that the petitioner demonstrated "a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right." 28 U.S.C. §2253(c)(2) (Supp. 2003). In denying Miller-El's request for a COA, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that a "substantial showing" occurs when a petitioner has raised issues that are "debatable among jurists of reason, that another court could resolve the issues differently, or that the issues are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further." Miller-El v. Johnson, 261 F.3d at 449, citing Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 146 L. Ed. 2d 542, 120 S. Ct. 1595 (2000).

Ruling on Miller-El's case, the United States Supreme Court stated that "[a]t issue here are the standards AEDPA imposes before a court of appeal may issue a COA to review a denial of habeas relief in the district court." Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 943-44, 123 S. Ct. at 1034. The Court noted that a COA ruling does not weigh the merits of a petitioner's claim but instead involves "an overview of the claims in the habeas petition and a general assessment" of the merits of the petition. Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 950, 123 S. Ct. at 1039. For a COA to issue, the petitioner need not show he is entitled to ultimate relief; instead, he must show that "reasonable jurists would find the district court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong." Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 951, 123 S. Ct. at 1040. Applying that standard to the facts of Miller-El's case, the Court reviewed his Batson claim and held that Miller-El was entitled to a COA because it was debatable that purposeful discrimination occurred in jury selection. Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 952-57, 123 S. Ct. at 1042-45. The Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the federal district court for further proceedings. Miller-El, 537 U.S. at ___, 154 L. Ed. 2d at 957, 123 S. Ct. at 1045.

Analysis

At the request of this court, the office of the State Appellate Defender and the office of the Cook County State's Attorney have submitted briefs addressing Miller-El's applicability to Coulter's case. The Appellate Defender contends that although Miller-El discussed the issue of a COA, the Supreme Court also "articulated the relevant factors to be considered in analyzing a third-stage Batson violation." In response, the State asserts that Miller-El involves a federal habeas corpus proceeding governed by the AEDPA and that Miller-El recognizes the same three-step Batson analysis that the trial court used on remand in Coulter's case.

Although the Appellate Defender does not raise this argument, we first address the procedural postures of both cases and find that the AEDPA-related discussion in Miller-El does not relate to Coulter's proceedings. As the Seventh Circuit previously recognized in Gilmore, Coulter's habeas petition was considered using pre-AEDPA standards because the petition was filed in 1993, prior to the effective date of the AEDPA. Gilmore, 155 F.3d at 917; Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 138 L. Ed. 2d 481, 117 S. Ct. 2059 (1997). Under that pre-AEDPA standard, when reviewing a Batson claim via a habeas petition, a factual determination made after a hearing on the merits is entitled to a presumption of correctness if fairly supported by the record as a whole; however, that presumption could be rebutted by convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. §2254(d) (1994). In Gilmore, the Seventh Circuit gave the state court's findings of fact a presumption of correctness but held that Coulter's Batson rights were denied and remanded the case for another hearing. Gilmore, 155 F.3d at 921-22. The Seventh Circuit stated that it expressed "no opinion on how [Coulter's Batson claims] would be resolved under the far more deferential rules established by the AEDPA." Gilmore, 155 F.3d at 922.

Secondly, we have reviewed Coulter's petition for writ of certiorari, which led to the Supreme Court's vacatur of Coulter II and the remand of this case for our further consideration. In the petition, the Appellate Defender asked the Supreme Court to "clarify the proper analysis for third-stage Batson review and give guidance to the lower courts on correct `totality of the circumstances' evaluation." At the close of the petition, the Appellate Defender asks the Supreme Court to grant certiorari to "give guidance to the lower courts on what constitutes purposeful discrimination under Batson."

As previously noted, the Supreme Court has ordered this court to further consider our opinion in Coulter II in light of its decision in Miller-El. We therefore consider whether Miller-El demands a substantive change in the Batson analysis that the trial court used on remand. Having given the Supreme Court's order due weight and consideration, and having carefully reviewed Miller-El and its relevance to Coulter's case, this court respectfully concludes that ...


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