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United States ex rel. Mejia v. Harrington

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 10, 2014

United States of America ex rel. MICHAEL MEJIA, K831363, Petitioner,
RICK HARRINGTON, Warden, Menard Correctional Center, Respondent.


CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court on the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by petitioner Michael Mejia ("Mejia") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254 ("Section 2254"). For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the petition and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.


Following a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Mejia was convicted of first degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm. The trial court originally sentenced Mejia to thirty years for the murder conviction and twenty-five years for attempted first degree murder, to be served concurrently. However, the trial court erred when it sentenced Mejia for attempted murder, a charge that had been dismissed, instead of his aggravated discharge of a firearm conviction. The trial court then resentenced Mejia to concurrent sentences of thirty years for first degree murder and ten years for aggravated discharge of a firearm. Mejia is currently incarcerated at the Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois, where he is in the custody of the warden of that facility, Defendant Richard Harrington ("Harrington").

Mejia directly appealed his convictions, and on March 30, 2004, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his convictions (except for requiring the trial court to resentence him on the correct aggravated discharge of a firearm conviction). Mejia filed a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") with the Illinois Supreme Court. On October 6, 2004, the Illinois Supreme Court denied Mejia's PLA.

On July 25, 2003, while his direct appeal was pending, Mejia filed a pro se post-conviction petition alleging various claims. Mejia then amended his petition, adding more claims. The trial court dismissed all but one-it ordered an evidentiary hearing on Mejia's claim that he was actually innocent based upon three alleged recantation affidavits.

At the evidentiary hearing on January 8, 2010, the evidence established that none of the alleged affiants had signed or authored the affidavits and that the notary seal affixed to the affidavits had been stolen around the time that the affidavits were dated. The trial court found that the affidavits were fraudulent and deemed Mejia's actual innocence claim meritless.

After the evidentiary hearing, the circuit court denied Mejia's post-conviction petition after finding that the proffered affidavits in support of his actual innocence claims were fraudulent. His motion to reconsider was denied. On December 6, 2010, Mejia filed a notice of appeal.

On January 12, 2012, Mejia's appointed appellate counsel moved to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987), because he concluded that an appeal would be without arguable merit. Mejia answered with a motion to proceed pro se and a response to the Finley motion. After careful examination of the record, the Illinois Appellate Court granted the Finley motion and affirmed the order of the circuit court, finding no issues of arguable merit to be asserted on appeal. On September 26, 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court denied Mejia's post-conviction PLA.

Mejia filed his first federal habeas petition in 2009 pursuant to Section 2254. It was dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies. After fully exhausting his state court remedies, Mejia filed this timely federal habeas petition on May 6, 2013.


Mejia raises the following arguments in his habeas petition: (A) the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") unconstitutionally added a three-year mandatory supervised release ("MSR") term to Mejia's sentence ("Claim A"); (B) the evidence was insufficient to convict ("Claim B"); (C) Mejia was denied due process when the trial court allowed Detective Butler ("Butler") to testify to Mejia's post-arrest statements regarding his gang membership and tattoos, including publication of photos of Mejia's tattoos to the jury ("Claim C"); (D) Mejia was denied due process when the trial court permitted the jury to see inflammatory photos of the victim ("Claim D"); (E) Mejia was denied due process and a fair trial when the prosecutor, during closing argument, misstated the law of accountability, misstated the evidence, improperly argued the relevance of Mejia's tattoos, shifted the burden to the defense, and improperly argued that witnesses were afraid ("Claim E"); (F) the admission of Vanessa Rios's ("Rios") written statement violated Mejia's rights under the Confrontation Clause ("Claim F"); (G) trial counsel was ineffective for having failed to: (1) object to the prosecutor's misstatement of the law and inflammatory statements during closing argument ("Allegation G1"); (2) object to the admission of inflammatory exhibits, the prejudicial effect of which outweighed their probative value ("Allegation G2"); (3) object to the admission of Rios's written statement as involuntary ("Allegation G3"); (4) object to the trial court's use of Illinois Pattern Instruction ("IPI") 3.06-3.07 regarding Mejia's statements to police without first determining that Mejia's admissions had been made voluntarily and in a manner that suggested he had made the statements ("Allegation G4"); (5) request that the trial court redact portions of Rios's written statement as speculation ("Allegation G5"); (6) request that the trial court redact portions of Rios's grand jury testimony as speculative ("Allegation G6"); (7) move to suppress Mejia's statements regarding his tattoo and gang involvement ("Allegation G7"); (8) call Mejia to testify on his own behalf ("Allegation G8"); (9) adequately inform Mejia of his right to testify ("Allegation G9"); (10) request an accomplice-witness instruction for Rios's written statement ("Allegation G10"); and (11) preserve the issues set forth in Mejia's post-conviction petition ("Allegation G11") (collectively "Claim G"); (H) appellate counsel was ineffective for having failed to: (1) argue that the prosecutor's statements in closing argument implicated Mejia's right to remain silent in violation of the Fifth Amendment ("Allegation H1"); and (2) raise unspecified "wholly meritorious" issues ("Allegation H2") (collectively "Claim H"); and (I) all Illinois state courts violated federal law as established by the United States Supreme Court ("Claim I").

I. Claims A, B, C, D, E, G7, and I

A. Procedural Default

Harrington argues that Mejia failed to exhaust Claims A, B, C, D, E, and G7. With respect to Claim I, even though Harrington does not mention it in his answer, this Court will determine whether Mejia fully exhausted it in direct or state collateral proceedings. A petitioner must present his claims to all levels of the Illinois courts to avoid procedural default. See Smith v. Gaetz, 565 F.3d 346, 352 (7th Cir. 2009) (to preserve a claim for federal habeas review, petitioner "was required to raise the claim at each level of state court review: in his initial post-conviction petition, in his appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, and in his Petition for Leave to Appeal (PLA) to the Illinois Supreme Court"). To fairly present a claim to the Illinois Supreme Court, a petitioner must set it forth in his PLA and cannot direct the court to review other documents in the record. See Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 32 (2004). At each level of state review, a petitioner must provide operative facts and legal principles that control each claim to the state courts. Wilson v. Briley, 243 F.3d 325, 327 (7th Cir. 2001). A "passing reference" to a constitutional right does not fairly present a claim. Chambers v. McCaughtry, 264 F.3d 732, 738 (7th Cir. 2001). It is not enough for the state claim and the federal claim to arise from the same facts-instead the federal court must ask "whether the petitioner has framed his claim in the state proceedings in a way that brings to mind a specific constitutional right, and whether he has ...

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