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United States, ex rel Boston v. Battaglia

December 4, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, EX REL. J.B. BOSTON, PETITIONER,
v.
DEIDRE BATTAGLIA, WARDEN, STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner J.B. Boston has brought a pro se petition for habeas corpus relief pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254 seeking to overturn his state conviction for rape, armed robbery and home invasion. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.

BACKGROUND

On November 8, 1985, following a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, petitioner was convicted of rape, armed robbery and home invasion and sentenced to a natural life term of imprisonment on each offense. He filed a direct appeal raising a number of issues, including a challenge to the jury selection process pursuant to the then-recent Supreme Court opinion in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). On March 17, 1988, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence but remanded for a hearing pursuant to Batson. On June 2, 1988, petitioner filed a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") to the Illinois Supreme Court raising the same issues raised in the direct appeal brief. On October 6, 1988, the Illinois Supreme Court denied the PLA.

On remand, the trial court held a Batson hearing and determined that petitioner failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, confirming the conviction and sentence. Petitioner appealed that decision to the Illinois Appellate Court arguing that the trial court's findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the court erred in considering race-neutral explanations offered by the prosecutor prior to determining whether a prima facie case of discrimination had been established. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. People v. Boston, 224 Ill. App.3d 218 (1st Dist. 1991).

After denial of rehearing, petitioner filed a PLA to the Illinois Supreme Court, which was denied. Petitioner then filed his first pro se post-conviction petition arguing that the Batson hearing was improper and his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to argue that petitioner was ineligible to be sentenced as a habitual criminal. The Circuit Court dismissed the petition as frivolous and patently without merit. Petitioner appealed, arguing, among other issues not relevant to the instant petition, that the trial court erred by holding that the Batson issue was barred by res judicata based on the holding in petitioner's direct appeal because the law had changed dramatically. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction and petitioner's PLA was denied.

Petitioner filed a second pro se post-conviction petition, which was denied as frivolous. Petitioner appealed and was appointed a public defender who subsequently moved for and was granted leave to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987). The appellate court affirmed that judgment. Petitioner filed a PLA raising the Batson issue, which was denied.

Having exhausted all state court avenues for relief, petitioner filed the instant petition, arguing that the trial court improperly considered the prosecutor's explanations for the peremptory strikes in determining that petitioner had not demonstrated a prima facie case of discrimination.

DISCUSSION

To obtain habeas relief under the AEDPA petitioner must establish that the state court proceedings resulted in a decision that was: (1) "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or (2) "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings." McFowler v. Jaimet, 349 F.3d 436, 446 (7th Cir. 2003). The relevant decision is the decision of the last state court to rule on the merits of petitioner's claim which, in the instant case, is the decision of the Illinois Appellate Court denying petitioner's direct appeal.

The state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite of that reached by the United States Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite to the Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). In the instant case, there is no claim that the state court decision is contrary to" clearly established law.

Whether the state court decision involved an unreasonable application of federal law is analyzed under an objective standard: whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409. It is a difficult standard to meet, because unreasonable means "something like lying well outside the boundaries of permissible differences of opinion." McFowler, 349 F.3d at 447. A federal habeas court "may not issue the writ simply because the court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Jackson v. Frank, 348 F.3d 658, 662 (7th Cir. 2003).

Within the context of the instant case, the question is whether the state court's application of Batson to the facts of the jury selection process in petitioner's trial was objectively unreasonable. Batson outlines a three-step process for determining whether a peremptory strike violates the Equal Protection Clause: (1) the defendant must establish a prima facie case that the strike was racially motivated; (2) the burden then shifts to the prosecutor to come forward with a race-neutral reason for the strike; and (3) the trial judge must then assess the credibility of the explanation and determine whether purposeful discrimination has been established. Lamon v. Boatwright, ___ F.3d ___, 2006 WL 3209916 at *2 (7th Cir. Nov. 8, 2006).

In the instant case, on remand the trial court indicated that the hearing would follow this process, first requiring defendant to establish facts giving rise to a prima facie case of discrimination and, if defendant was successful, the prosecutor would be required to come ...


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