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United States ex rel Porter v. Trancoso


August 31, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge


Latashia Porter ("Porter") has filed a 28 U.S.C. §2254*fn1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Petition"), to which respondent Warden Carolyn Trancoso of Dwight Correctional Center (where Porter is currently incarcerated) has filed an Answer, followed by Porter's filing of a Response. For the reasons explained in this opinion, this Court denies the Petition and dismisses this action.

Applicable Standards

Where as here the claimed constitutional infirmity that assertedly invalidates a criminal conviction is predicated on the concept of constitutionally ineffective representation of a defendant-now-petitioner by her trial counsel, the seminal pronouncement in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) provides the definitive rule of decision. Strickland, id. at 687, followed in countless cases during the ensuing quarter century, requires a dual showing by such a habeas petitioner:

A convicted defendant's claim that counsel's assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a conviction or death sentence has two components. First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction or death sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.

More recently Knowles v. Mirzayance, 129 S.Ct. 1411 (2009) coupled the application of those Strickland requirements with the narrowed prescription established by Section 2254(d)(1) for the review of constitutional challenges by a prisoner serving a state sentence (id. at 1418):

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. §2254(d)(1), a federal court may not grant a state prisoner's habeas application unless the relevant state-court decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."

Little wonder, then, that Knowles, id. at 1420 described as "doubly deferential" the level of judicial review called for in a case such as this one. And Section 2254(d)(2)'s alternative potential predicate for rejecting a state court adjudication on the merits requires that the adjudication has "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State Court proceeding."

Application of the Standards

It is against that background that this Court must test the decision by the Illinois Appellate Court (the last state court to address the merits of the case) in its April 25, 2008 order ("Order") in Case No. 1-05-3812. To eliminate any potential question or possible ambiguity as to the baseline for this Court's rulings, a copy of that comprehensive Order is attached.

Because of Strickland's requirement of a dual showing by a habeas petitioner, a federal court can begin with either of those elements. In this instance the Illinois Appellate Court confirmed that Porter's trial counsel Anthony Schumann ("Schumann") did fall short of the constitutional standard in one respect, and so this opinion will turn to that subject first.

On that score Porter has challenged Schumann's failure

(1) to follow up possible exculpatory leads with three witnesses (brothers Vernon and Marquis Ward and Ophiel Watkins) and (2) to cross-examine Shanna Jackson ("Jackson") by bringing out the contents of a statement that she had given to police officer F. Jordan that was at odds with her testimony at trial (or perhaps to seek the admissibility of that statement as substantive evidence [see 725 ILCS 115-10.1*fn2 ]). In those respects the trial court and Appellate Court reached differing conclusions. This opinion will focus on the views of the Appellate Court, which had no stake in defending its own conclusions (as the trial court did on a post-conviction petition affecting its bench trial decision).

As to the three nonwitnesses, the Appellate Court reviewed the circumstances carefully and found that Schumann's representation in that regard met the objective standard of reasonableness (Order at 12-13). That determination cannot be said to have violated either branch of Section 2254(d).*fn3

As for Schumann's claimed mishandling as to witness Jackson, however, the Appellate Court agreed "that trial counsel was unreasonable in failing to impeach Shanna Jackson with her prior inconsistent statement to police."*fn4 Here too this Court cannot find that determination was unreasonable, so it is necessary to go on to Strickland's second branch--just as the Appellate Court did in its Order at 13:

To establish prejudice, a defendant must "show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.

In analyzing the effect--or, more accurately, the lack of effect--of Schumann's error, the Appellate Court pointed to the "unwavering testimony" of two eyewitnesses and the consistent testimony of four other witnesses--all of which were totally at odds with the statement that Jackson had given to the police officer--as leading the Appellate Court to conclude that there was "no reasonable probability that but for the purported errors by defense counsel, the result of the proceeding would have been different" (Order at 16). And the Appellate Court reached the same conclusion if the nonwitnesses were added to the mix. This Court cannot find those determinations to be objectively unreasonable under the statutory standards it must apply.

In sum, this Court has reviewed the parties' respective positions through the lens prescribed by Section 2254(d)(1) and (2), and it holds that the adjudication of Porter's claim in the state court proceedings did not run afoul of either of those standards. As stated at the outset, Porter's Petition is denied and this action is dismissed.

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