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United States ex rel. Alcozer v. Pfister

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 1, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. ISAAC ALCOZER, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY PFISTER, Warden, Pontiac Correctional Center, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.

Petitioner Isaac Alcozer has filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus relief pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons discussed below, the habeas petition is denied, and the court declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

BACKGROUND

Following a 2003 bench trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder. The trial court rejected petitioner's self-defense claim and sentenced petitioner to 25 years in prison for the murder, plus an additional 25 years for personally discharging a firearm that caused the victim's death, pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(d)(iii) (West 2002).[1]

A direct appeal was taken to the Illinois Appellate Court, wherein petitioner contended that: (1) his first-degree murder conviction should be reversed because he was justified by using self-defense; (2) the trial court misinterpreted and misapplied the law regarding self-defense; (3) his first-degree murder conviction should be reduced to second-degree murder; (4) the sentencing enhancement statute should be interpreted to apply only in cases where the basis for the enhancement is not the murder victim's own death; (5) the sentence enhancement violated the prohibition against double enhancements because it provides an additional punishment for an element that is inherent in the offense itself-namely, causing death to another person; and (6) the sentence enhancement statute violates due process because it does not bear a reasonable relationship to the public interest of punishing the risk that firearms pose to others when used during the commission of murder. In December 2005, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence. People v. Alcozer, No. 1-04-0806 (Ill.App.Ct. Dec. 13, 2005) (unpublished order pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23). Petitioner filed a pro se petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") to the Illinois Supreme Court, which was denied on September 27, 2006. People v. Alcozer , 857 N.E.2d 674 (Ill. 2006). Petitioner's PLA addressed the same claims that had been raised to the Illinois Appellate Court. Petitioner did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.

On April 19, 2007, petitioner filed a pro se postconviction petition pursuant to 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. in the Circuit Court of Cook County. In his pro se postconviction petition, petitioner argued that, (1) he was illegally arrested and his pretrial motion to quash should have been granted, and (2) he received ineffective assistance of counsel[2] because counsel had failed to continue challenging the legality of his arrest. On June 21, 2007, the trial court summarily dismissed petitioner's pro se postconviction petition, finding that because petitioner had failed to raise the claims on direct appeal, the doctrines of waiver and res judicata barred consideration of those claims. The trial court concluded that the issues raised and presented by petitioner were frivolous and patently without merit. In addition to dismissing the petition, the trial court ordered that petitioner pay a total of $359 in costs and fees pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/22-105 (West 2006).

On appeal, petitioner challenged only the trial court's imposition of costs and fees for the filing of a frivolous postconviction petition. On February 9, 2009, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's assessment of costs and fees, but adjusted the total amount owed by petitioner. People v. Alcozer, No. 1-07-2092 (Ill.App.Ct. Feb. 9, 2009) (unpublished opinion under Rule 23). Petitioner's subsequent postconviction PLA to the Illinois Supreme Court, which was granted, also presented only the fees issue. The propriety of the fees was the sole issue briefed in the Illinois Supreme Court. On March 24, 2011, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court's judgment. People v. Alcozer , 948 N.E.2d 70, 81 (Ill. 2011).

On October 25, 2011, petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising four claims:

1. Petitioner's conviction of first-degree murder should be reduced to second-degree murder because the evidence at trial established that at the time of the killing, he had a sincere but unreasonable belief that his actions were justifiable self-defense;
2. The twenty-five year sentencing enhancement for discharging a firearm is unconstitutional because it:
a. amounts to additional punishment for an element which is inherent in the offense itself-namely, causing death to another person-thus violating the prohibition against double enhancements; and
b. violates the due process clause since it does not bear a reasonable relationship to the public interest of punishing the risk that firearms pose to others when used during the commission of murder; and
3. Petitioner's appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue on direct appeal that the trial court erred in denying petitioner's motion ...

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