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United States ex rel. Zaragoza v. Williams

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

January 9, 2015

TERRY WILLIAMS, Warden, Stateville Correctional Center, Respondent.


Joan H. Lefkow, U.S. District Judge

Petitioner Jesus Zaragoza is presently in the custody of Terry Williams, Warden of the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois.[1] Following a 2004 jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Zaragoza was convicted of first degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. See Rule 23 Order, People v. Zaragoza, No.1-04-3551, at 1 (Ill.App. 2007) (Resp. Exhibit A)[2] (Dkt. 15-1). The trial court sentenced him to fifty years of imprisonment for first degree murder, twenty years of imprisonment for each count of aggravated battery to run consecutively with the sentence imposed on his murder conviction, and fifteen years of imprisonment for aggravated discharge of a firearm, to run concurrently with his sentences for aggravated battery. Id.

Respondent concedes that the petition is timely and that no claim is barred by non-retroactivity or failure to exhaust available state court remedies. As such, the court will not set out the procedural history of the case but proceeds to the merits of Zaragoza’s claims.

The petition raises the following claims:

Claim 1: the trial court erred in suppressing Zaragoza’s videotaped confession because it was coerced and involuntary;
Claim 2: the trial court erred in failing to grant a mistrial when the State failed to disclose an oral statement made by Zaragoza to Emmanuel Martinez but then introduced it at trial;
Claim 3: trial court abused its discretion in sentencing Zaragoza; and
Claim 4: trial counsel was ineffective for failing to secure a Spanish translator during his trial.


Quoting from O’Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 442, 115 S.Ct. 992, 997 (1995), Zaragoza correctly recites the high principle of “The Great Writ” of habeas corpus: “a remedy whose most basic traditions and purposes are to avoid a grievous wrong—holding a person in custody in violation of the Constitution. . . of the United States--and thereby both [to] protect [ ] individuals from unconstitutional convictions and to help [ ] guarantee the integrity of the criminal process by assuring that trials are fundamentally fair.” Memorandum in Support of Petition at 11 (Dkt. 4) (citations, internal quotation marks and ellipses omitted).

This court’s review of a state court conviction, however, is limited. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), requires this court to deny any petition for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in the state court unless the state court’s decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” See Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 639, 123 S.Ct. 1848, 155 L.Ed.2d 877 (2003). A state court’s decision is contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law, ” “if the state court confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite to [it], ” or “if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-407, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). In order for a state court decision to be considered “unreasonable” under this standard it must be more than incorrect, it must lie “well outside the boundaries of permissible differences of opinion.” Hardaway v. Young, 302 F.3d 757, 762 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Schultz v. Page, 313 F.3d 1010, 1015 (7th Cir. 2002) (“The state court decision is reasonable if it is minimally consistent with the facts and circumstances of the case.”) (internal citations omitted).

Moreover, “[a] federal court will not review a question of federal law decided by a state court if the decision of the state court rests on a state procedural ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment.” Moore v. Bryant, 295 F.3d 771, 774 (7th Cir. 2002). A federal court may not grant habeas relief on a defaulted claim unless the petitioner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991); Anderson v. Cowen, 227 F.3d 893, 899 (7th Cir. 2000).

I. Whether the Illinois courts violated petitioner’s constitutional rights in denying a motion to suppress Zaragoza’s videotaped confession because it was coerced and involuntary.

Zaragoza contends that his due process, equal protection, and fifth and sixth amendment rights were violated when the trial court denied his motion to suppress his confession as involuntarily given. According to Zaragoza, his confession was the result of police coercion. To determine whether a defendant's will was overborne in a particular case, the Court is to “assess[] the totality of all the surrounding circumstances—both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation.” Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 226 (1973). “Absent police conduct causally related to the confession, there is simply no basis for concluding that any state actor has deprived a criminal defendant of due process of law.” Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986). “The Seventh Circuit has identified a number of factors relevant to this inquiry, including the nature and duration of the questioning, whether the defendant was prevented from eating or sleeping, and whether the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Courts also ...

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