United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
DAVID R. HERNDON, Chief District Judge.
Petitioner Guadalupe Martinez, who is currently incarcerated in Shawnee Correctional Center ("Shawnee"), brings this habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1). He is serving twenty-five years for manufacturing and/or delivering a controlled substance. In the petition, he claims that the trial court erroneously allowed testimony suggesting that he was in custody prior to his criminal trial (Doc. 1, pp. 6-9). The testimony allegedly violated the trial court's ruling on a motion in limine and deprived petitioner of his due process rights. Petitioner seeks a new trial (Doc. 1, p. 11).
This matter is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the petition pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in United States District Courts. Rule 4 provides that upon preliminary consideration by the district court judge, "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner." After carefully reviewing the petition and exhibits, the Court concludes that petitioner is clearly not entitled to relief, and the petition must be dismissed.
In January 2010, petitioner was charged with three crimes related to cocaine distribution. See State of Illinois v. Martinez, 2012 WL 7018046, *1 (Ill.App. 4 Dist.). His first trial ended in a mistrial, after a witness for the State mentioned petitioner's status as a parolee. Id. Following a second jury trial, petitioner was found guilty of one count of unlawful delivery of less than fifteen grams of a substance containing cocaine. Id. The trial court sentenced him to twenty-five years of imprisonment on June 2, 2011 (Doc. 1, p. 1).
Petitioner appealed his conviction on June 23, 2011 (Doc. 1, p. 2). In the appeal, petitioner primarily argued that the State failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because its key witness lacked credibility (Doc. 1, p. 2). See also State of Illinois v. Martinez, 2012 WL 7018046, *1 (Ill.App. 4 Dist.). Petitioner also argued that the inconsistent verdicts on the three charges resulted, in part, from improper questioning of a State witness, which raised the inference that petitioner was in custody prior to trial. Id. at *6. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment on November 27, 2012. Id. at *7.
According to the petition, petitioner then filed a motion for rehearing with the appellate court (Doc. 1, p. 3). However, the "paperwork was sent home, " and the case was dismissed. Petitioner sought review of the appellate court's decision in the Illinois Supreme Court. The petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") was denied on September 25, 2013. People v. Martinez, 996 N.E.2d 20 (Ill. 2013) (Table) (Doc. 1, p. 3).
The Habeas Petition
In his habeas petition, petitioner claims that his due process rights were violated at trial when the State's attorney inquired into the number of "visits" one of the State's witnesses made to see petitioner (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7, 11). After the trial court granted a motion in limine prohibiting testimony about petitioner's custody status, the State's attorney allegedly asked a witness, "You visited him about 130 times over the last year, isn't that true?" Petitioner maintains that this question raised the inference that he was in prison and amounted to a violation of the trial court's order.
He asserts that the trial judge should have held a separate hearing to determine whether prejudice resulted from the question. Petitioner argues that he also should have been allowed to violate the motion in limine by introducing evidence of conversations he had while in custody (Doc. 1, p. 8). According to the petition, this question resulted in a violation of petitioner's due process rights and warrants a new trial (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8).
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), a federal court may grant habeas relief only when a petitioner first shows that "he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). When a state court has ruled on the merits of a habeas claim, the petitioner must also show that his detention was the result of a state court decision that was (1) "contrary to, or involv[ing] 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 proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). As noted by the United States Supreme Court, the AEDPA's complicated and highly deferential standard is "difficult to meet." Harrington v. Richter, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 770, 787 (2011).
Even at this early stage, the petition fails to meet the standard and shall be dismissed. The petition challenges the trial court's ruling on a motion in limine and the uniform application of that ruling to the parties at trial. The admissibility of evidence falls squarely within the purview of state law. Federal courts do no sit in review of a state court's application of its own state law. See, e.g., Swarthout v. Cooke, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861 (2011) ("We have stated many times that federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.") (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "That means that the erroneous admission under state rules of evidence is no concern... unless it is so egregiously prejudicial as to implicate constitutional principles." Richardson v. Lemke, ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 931112, *14 (7th Cir. 2014).
Petitioner's attempt to couch his claim in due process terms fails. As the Seventh Circuit recently reiterated, "[s]tate court evidentiary rulings only implicate the Due Process Clause when evidence is so extremely unfair that its admission violates fundamental conceptions of justice[.]'" Id. at *14 (citing Perry v. New Hampshire, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 716, 723 (2012) (quoting Dowling v. United States, 493 U.S. 342, 352 (1990)). "This fundamental limitation on the habeas corpus jurisdiction may not be got round by the facile equation of state ...