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Tyler v. Gossett

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

January 5, 2015

ERIC TYLER, Petitioner,
GREGORY GOSSETT, Warden, Respondent.


MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

Eric Tyler is serving an 18-year sentence in state custody for armed robbery. At his trial, the state used bloodhound tracking evidence to establish (in part) Tyler's guilt, and Tyler's lawyer did not object to its admissibility. This evidence was not admissible under Illinois law, and Tyler now petitions for a writ of habeas corpus. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. As discussed below, the state appellate court reasonably applied federal law in reviewing the constitutional effectiveness of Tyler's trial counsel and resolved the evidentiary error on an independent and adequate state law ground. The petition is denied, and I decline to issue a certificate of appealability.

I. Background

Three people, dressed in dark, hooded sweatshirts, masks, and gloves, robbed a Clark gas station in Joliet, Illinois, on September 9, 2008, around 4:15 a.m. People v. Tyler, 2012 IL App (3d) 100970, 363 Ill.Dec. 166, 167-69 (3d Dist. 2012); [11-1] at 3-4.[1] Ira Tyler and Willie Campbell were each convicted of the robbery; the state's theory was that their cousin, petitioner Eric Tyler, was the third man.

Two people were working at the gas station that early morning when the robbers approached. One robber put a gun to the head of one victim and took his keys, while the other two robbers locked the second victim in a storage shed. The robbers took the first victim to the front of the station, held him at gunpoint, and stole about $295 in small denominations from the cash register.

The victim in the shed was able to call the police on his cell phone while the robbery was in progress, and officers responded to the scene in time to see three men fleeing from the gas station on foot. Ira Tyler was caught after he tripped and fell while running away; he had a gun in his waistband. The other two men kept running. Using a bloodhound, an officer tracked a scent from the gas station to the backyard of a residence at 1103 West Marion Street, Joliet, Illinois.[2] Ira Tyler had given that address as his residence to the officer who arrested him. According to one officer, the police ended up at 1103 West Marion (shortly after 6 a.m.) because a dog tracked a scent there and because it was the address of the individual in custody.

Officers searched the residence (with the consent of Ira Tyler's mother) and found petitioner Eric Tyler in a bed in the basement. There was a black hooded sweatshirt on the bed. A cell phone found next to petitioner was ringing, and the name "Bridgette" was on the display.[3] Petitioner did not live there-the basement bedroom belonged to Ira Tyler's brother. Elsewhere in the basement, in the cushions of a couch, the police found a large wad of cash ($477 in small bills). A pair of black and white gloves behind the couch had the DNA of three people on it, and petitioner could not be excluded as a possible source of the DNA. Outside, in an alley behind the house, officers found Willie Campbell. Campbell was wearing dark clothing, including a hooded sweatshirt, and was muddy.

At petitioner's trial, Ira Tyler testified that he did not remember the robbery and did not plan it with petitioner. Campbell testified that he committed the robbery with Ira Tyler only. After his arrest, Campbell told the police that petitioner was involved, but at trial, Campbell recanted those statements. When asked at trial if petitioner participated in the robbery, Campbell said, "Not that I know of."

A jury found petitioner guilty.

A. Federal Habeas Standards

Petitioner unsuccessfully appealed his conviction through the state courts, and his state post-conviction petition was also denied. [11-1], [11-6], [11-8]. Federal review of these state-court decisions is limited.[4] With respect to a state court's determination of an issue on the merits, habeas relief can be granted only if the decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, " or "was 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)(1)-(2); see also Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 783-84 (2011).

"When a state court resolves a federal claim by relying on a state law ground that is both independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment, federal habeas review of the claim is foreclosed." Kaczmarek v. Rednour, 627 F.3d 586, 591 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Woods v. Schwartz, 589 F.3d 368, 373 (7th Cir. 2009); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991)); see also Richardson v. Lemke, 745 F.3d 258, 268 (7th Cir. 2014). Claims resolved on an independent and adequate state law ground are considered procedurally defaulted, and procedural default can be excused only if the petitioner can show both cause for and prejudice from the default or can demonstrate that the failure to consider the claim would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Richardson, 745 F.3d at 268, 272.

B. State Court Proceedings

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court, and raised two issues: (1) that he was denied due process and a fair trial by the admission of the bloodhound evidence; and (2) his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the bloodhound evidence. [11-2]. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction (over a dissent), and held that: (1) Tyler forfeited his evidentiary objection and the erroneous admission of the bloodhound evidence was not a plain error because the evidence against him was not closely balanced; and (2) trial ...

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