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Mahaffey v. Ramos

December 21, 2009

JERRY MAHAFFEY, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
ANTHONY RAMOS, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:95-cv-06623-James B. Zagel, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED DECEMBER 2, 2009

Before BAUER, KANNE and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Jerry Mahaffey burglarized a home in which he murdered one person, raped and murdered another, and attempted to murder a third. In seeking relief from his life sentence, he contests not that he is actually innocent of these crimes, but that he deserves a new trial because the prosecution improperly used peremptory challenges to exclude members of his race from the jury. But the state court found that the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges was motivated by legitimate, race-neutral concerns. As this finding was not clearly unreasonable, we affirm the district court's denial of Mahaffey's habeas petition.

I. BACKGROUND

In 1983, Mahaffey burglarized a home in which he murdered Dean Pueschel, raped and murdered Jo Ellen Pueschel, and attempted to murder, by beating and stabbing, their eleven-year-old son Richard. The evidence of Mahaffey's guilt of these crimes is overwhelming, including Richard's identification of Mahaffey, Mahaffey's confession, and that property taken from the Pueschel home was found in Mahaffey's home. Indeed, Mahaffey's attorney admitted at oral argument that the State of Illinois "can prove its case" even now, almost three decades later, were we to order a new trial. But Mahaffey seeks relief not because he is actually innocent of the crimes, but because he claims the prosecution violated the Fourteenth Amendment by excluding blacks from the jury on account of their race.

Mahaffey is black, the victims were white, and the jury that convicted Mahaffey was all white except for one Asian-American. While Mahaffey's direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was pending, the United States Supreme Court decided Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), which held that a defendant may rely solely on evidence at his own trial to establish that a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges on the basis of race denied him equal protection, and Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314 (1987), which held that Batson applied retroactively. So the Illinois Supreme Court directed the trial court to conduct a Batson hearing to determine whether the prosecution had violated the Fourteenth Amendment in employing its peremptory challenges. After conducting that hearing, the state trial judge concluded that Mahaffey had failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Batson. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, and in 1995 Mahaffey petitioned the federal district court for a writ of habeas corpus, which the district court declined to issue. We reversed, finding that Mahaffey indeed established his prima facie case, and ordered the district court to grant the writ unless the state trial court held a new hearing on Mahaffey's Batson claim, this time requiring the prosecution to come forward with race-neutral explanations for each of the challenged strikes. Mahaffey v. Page, 162 F.3d 481 (7th Cir. 1998), rev'g 151 F.3d 671 (7th Cir. 1998). The trial court held a new hearing in which it received the prosecution's testimony and heard oral argument, and concluded that in light of the proffered justifications, Mahaffey still failed to establish his burden of proving purposeful discrimination. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed and the Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on December 1, 2005.

On November 21, 2006, Mahaffey filed in the federal district court a "motion to reinstate" the 1995 habeas petition's Batson claim, which the district court promptly granted. On February 19, 2008, Mahaffey filed a "memorandum" in support of his Batson claim. The district court then dismissed Mahaffey's habeas petition as untimely, construing the memorandum, not the motion to reinstate, as his new substantive habeas petition. It then granted a certificate of appealability as to the timeliness of Mahaffey's habeas petition and the merits of his Batson claim.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Timeliness of Habeas Petition

We review the district court's denial of Mahaffey's habeas petition as barred by the statute of limitations de novo. Lo v. Endicott, 506 F.3d 572, 574 (7th Cir. 2007). Congress mandates that a one-year statute of limitations shall apply to "an application for a writ of habeas corpus." 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). Mahaffey's habeas petition filed in 1995 challenging the state trial court's first Batson hearing does not satisfy the statute of limitations, because we treat the state trial court's subsequent Batson hearing as a "new holding" requiring a "new petition." Coulter v. McCann, 484 F.3d 459, 466 (7th Cir. 2007). At issue then is what constitutes Mahaffey's new petition:

(1) his motion to reinstate, or (2) his memorandum in support of his Batson claim. If the motion to reinstate, then we may consider the merits of his petition because it was filed within the limitations period, running from February 23, 2006, ninety days after Mahaffey's new state-court judgment became final. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). If the memorandum, then we are barred from considering the merits because it was filed almost one year late.

The motion to reinstate, not the memorandum, constituted the habeas petition and so it was not time barred. Habeas petitions must state the relief requested, specify the ground for relief, and state the facts supporting the ground for relief. See Rule 2(c) of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases. Mahaffey's motion to reinstate stated the relief requested, where it said "Petitioner . . . requests that this Court . . . grant the petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254." Mot. to Reinstate at 1. It also specified the ground for relief, where it said "the State's use of peremp-tory challenges to exclude blacks from the jury violated petitioner's right to equal protection of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Id. The remaining issue is whether the motion "state[d] the facts supporting" his Fourteenth Amendment challenge as required by Habeas Rule 2(c), i.e., whether it provided sufficient factual support to challenge the second Batson hearing's holding that the prosecutor's race-neutral explanations for striking particular jurors are credible.

We did not address this issue of habeas petition pleading standards in Coulter, 484 F.3d at 466, the only case we are aware of in any circuit to review a second Batson hearing that had been remanded to state court, thus initiating a second habeas petition. Here, we find that Mahaffey's motion pleaded sufficient facts to draw enough of a connection between his right to equal protection and the trial court's alleged racially motivated use of peremptory challenges to render his claim cognizable on habeas review. Mahaffey's motion pleaded, incorporating from the 1995 petition, that out of twenty black members on the seventy-seven person venire panel for Mahaffey's trial, none served, and that, although thirteen were excused for cause, seven were peremptorily struck by the prosecution. These numbers describing the prosecution's use of peremptories, as "remarkable" as those in Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 240-41 (2005), constitute at least some evidence for disbelieving the state's race-neutral justifications. Id. And although Mahaffey's motion lacks mention of the state's race-neutral justifications, it does cite and exhibit a case discussing them, People v. Mahaffey, No. 1-03-2409 (Ill. App. Ct. Aug. 1, 2005). While these bare facts may have been insufficient to render Mahaffey's petition meritorious, they enabled it to be cognizable. See Holiday v. Johnston, 313 U.S. 342, 350 (1941) (finding that pleadings in habeas petitions "ought not be scrutinized with technical nicety"); Kafo v. United States, 467 F.3d 1063, 1068 (7th Cir. 2006) (holding that habeas petitions must, for a federal court to address them, "provide some evidence beyond conclusory and ...


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