United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
January 21, 2004.
United States of America ex rel. RONALD E. BURT (#N-60788,) Petitioner,
EUGENE McADORY, Warden, Menard Correctional Center, Respondent
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PHILIP REINHARD, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is habeas petitioner Ronald E, Burt's application
for a certificate of appealability pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). For the following reasons, the court denies Burt's
application in its entirety.
On the fourth day of a jury trial in the circuit court, Fifteenth
Judicial Circuit, Stephenson County, Illinois, Burt pled guilty to two
counts each of first degree murder and armed robbery, in connection with
the shooting deaths of H. Steven Roy and Kevin Muto. He was sentenced to
death. In October 2002, Burt filed his petition for a writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising twelve grounds for
relief. On January 11, 2003, former Illinois Governor George Ryan
commuted Burt's death sentence to natural life in prison without the
possibility of parole. In this court's memorandum opinion and order
denying Burt's request for habeas relief, some of Burt's habeas claims
were deemed moot due to the commutation of his death sentence, while the
remainder were either procedurally defaulted or without merit.
See Memorandum Opinion and Order, December 16, 2003.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253, a habeas petitioner does not have an
"absolute entitlement" to appeal a district court's denial of his
petition; rather, he must first request a certificate of appealability
("CA"). See Miller-El v. Cockrell, 123 S.Ct. 1029, 1039(2003).
With respect to claims of constitutional violations denied on their
merits, a habeas petitioner is entitled to a CA only if he can make a
substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. See
id. Under this standard, Burt must demonstrate that reasonable
jurists would find this court's assessment of his habeas claims debatable
or wrong. See id. at 1039 ("We look to the District Court's
application of AEDPA to petitioner's constitutional claims and ask
whether that resolution was debatable amongst jurists of reason.");
Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000) (adopting
"substantial showing" standard from Barefoot v. Estelle,
463 U.S. 880 (1983)). As to his procedurally defaulted claims, Burt must (1)
demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find it debatable whether this
court was correct in its procedural ruling; and (2) make a substantial
showing of the denial of a constitutional right. See Slack, 529
U.S. at 484.
Burt requests that this court issue a CA with respect to five of his
habeas claims. These claims include three claims related to the absence
of a hearing to determine Burt's competency to stand trial and two claims
pertaining to alleged constitutional violations by the Illinois Supreme
Court on post-conviction review. The court adheres to its reasoning set
forth in the order denying Burt's habeas petition, but will nevertheless
briefly address each issue.
A. Due Process Claim Based on Circuit Court's Failure to Hold
Burt contends that this court erred in concluding that his due process
claim was without merit. This court concluded that his claim was not
cognizable, as any alleged errors by the state court involved only state
law and did not rise to the level of federal constitutional violations.
To meet the requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 2253 for this claim, Burt
must make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right,
by demonstrating that reasonable jurists would find this court's
assessment of this habeas claim debatable or wrong. See
Miller-El, 123 S.Ct at 1039. Burt has not made such a showing.
B. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and Due Process Claim
Based on Counsel's Failure to Request Competency Hearing
Burt argues that this court's denial of his due process and ineffective
assistance of counsel claim is incorrect because the court improperly
concluded that Burt had not demonstrated that the Illinois Supreme
Court's opinion with respect to this issue was objectively unreasonable.
Burt also claims that the court did not review this argument on the
merits. The court did conduct a merits review of this claim with
deference to the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court, as required by
the AEDPA. See McFowler v. Jaimet, 349 F.3d 436, 455 (7th Cir.
2003) ("the AEDPA demands that we give appropriate deference to the
decisionmaking authority of the state courts."). Burt has not shown that
the Illinois Supreme Court violated Strickland v. Washington,
466 U.S. 668 (1984) or Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375 (1966);
thus, he cannot demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find this
court's assessment of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim
debatable or wrong. The court is also not persuaded by Burt's argument
that the issue is debatable among jurists because two Illinois Supreme
dissented in his direct appeal. The issue is not whether state
court judges disagreed on the merits, but whether reasonable jurists
would debate whether the state court's adjudication was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, federal law or was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence.
C. Due Process Claim Based on Lack of Fitness Hearing when
Circuit Court Knew of Bona Fide Doubt of Burt's Fitness for Trial
Burt asserts that this court should have conducted a hearing regarding
Hurt's fitness to stand trial, based on evidence known to it which
created a bona fide doubt of his competency for trial. This claim is very
similar to Burt's argument in Part III.A of this order. As this court
determined in its order dismissing Burt's habeas petition, the Illinois
Supreme Court's decision on this issue was not an unreasonable
application of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. See
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 123 S.Ct 1166, 1174
(2003) (unreasonable application means more than incorrect or erroneous).
Burt has failed to demonstrate that this determination is debatable among
D. Consolidated Arguments Based on Illinois Supreme Court's
Alleged Violation of Due Process, Equal Protection and Ex Post
Finally, Burt seeks a CA for his claims based on due process, equal
protection and ex post facto violations, stemming from the
Illinois Supreme Court's decision on post-conviction review, in which the
state court allegedly applied incorrect state law to Burt's case. Burt
contends that this court erred by not only finding these claims
procedurally defaulted but also by determining that the claims alleged
only non-cognizable state law errors.
Burt asserts that procedural default does not apply, as these claims
arose only as a result of the Illinois Supreme Court's decision on
post-conviction review. Burt was aware of the
relevant changes in the law prior to the filing of his reply brief
in the post-conviction review and could have raised his arguments at that
time. Furthermore, errors that may have been committed by the state court
in his case, if any, do not constitute federal constitutional violations.
See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Dettinger
v. Bowen, 301 F.3d 758, 764 (2002). Burt has not demonstrated a
substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, and has not
demonstrated that reasonable jurists would find it debatable whether this
court was correct in the procedural portion of its ruling. See
Slack, 529 U.S. at 484.
For the foregoing reasons, Burl's application for a certificate of
appealability pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253 is denied in its entirety.
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