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Stallings v. Williams

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 4, 2015

JASMON STALLINGS, #B83576, Petitioner,
v.
TERRY WILLIAMS, Warden, Illinois Department of Corrections, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge.

Petitioner Jasmon Stallings is currently incarcerated in the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois (Doc. 1). Proceeding pro se, Stallings has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his 2003 conviction in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County for first-degree felony murder under 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3). See People v. Stallings, 876 N.E.2d 332 (Ill.App.Ct. 2004). Stallings contends that his state conviction violates federal constitutional safeguards because he was found guilty of a charge that was actually dismissed before trial, because the trial judge instructed the jury on a charge that was dismissed before trial, because the trial judge improperly allowed the prosecutor to impeach a witness with prior inconsistent statements, because trial counsel did not object to the purportedly incorrect jury instructions and the prosecutor's questioning of a witness, because trial counsel did not challenge testimony related to his use of a weapon, and because trial counsel and post-conviction counsel did not investigate three other witnesses that police previously interviewed. (Doc. 1 at 6-7).

This matter is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the petition. Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts provides that, upon preliminary review by the district 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."

Procedural History

In 2003, Petitioner Stallings was found guilty of first-degree felony murder in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County for killing John Redmond, a taxicab driver, while attempting to rob him. (Doc. 1 at 20.) Stallings was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. ( Id. ) Stallings then appealed, claiming that his sentence was an abuse of discretion. ( Id. at 2.) On August 16, 2004, the Illinois Court of Appeals rejected Stallings' argument and affirmed his judgment and sentence. People v. Stallings, 876 N.E.2d 332 (Ill.App.Ct. 2004). Stallings then sought leave to appeal from the Supreme Court of Illinois, which was summarily denied on November 24, 2004. People v. Stallings, 824 N.E.2d 290 (Ill. 2004). According to Stallings' petition, he did not seek a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court. (Doc 1 at 2).

On March 11, 2005, Stallings filed his first post-conviction petition with the Illinois circuit court pursuant to 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq., claiming that his conviction was improper because the jury had contact with the prosecution during Stallings' trial and because his appellate counsel was ineffective for not raising all of the claims that defense counsel had included in a post-trial motion ( Id. at 3, 20-21). Defense counsel's post-trial motion, in turn, claimed that Stallings was deprived of a fair trial when a juror spoke with a witness for the State and when the State used prior statements by a juvenile witness to impeach him. ( Id. at 20-21.) The circuit court dismissed the petition as frivolous pursuant to 725 ILCS 5/122-2.1(a)(2), and Stallings appealed ( Id. at 20.) On September 5, 2008, the Illinois Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the trial court. People v. Stallings, 968 N.E.2d 226 (Ill.App.Ct. 2008). Stallings did not seek leave to appeal that decision with the Supreme Court of Illinois (Doc. 1 at 3).

On April 17, 2012, Stallings filed a motion for leave to file a second petition for post-conviction relief with the Illinois circuit court, putting forth three general sources of error concerning his trial that he would raise in a successive petition, if permitted to do so by the court ( Id. at 21-22). First, Stallings claimed that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by failing to turn over to the defense, in advance of trial, statements made to the police by several witnesses ( Id. ). Second, Stallings claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to interview those witnesses, for failing to move for the mid-trial dismissal of a juror who purportedly had improper contact with one of the State's potential witnesses, for failing to challenge the admission of a prior statement by a juvenile witness, and for failing to attack the testimony of a co-defendant who testified pursuant to a plea agreement ( Id. ). Finally, Stallings claimed that the trial court erred when it instructed the jury on an attempted armed robbery charge when the only charge submitted to the jury was first-degree felony murder ( Id. ). To demonstrate cause to proceed with a second petition and prejudice if he was not permitted to do so, Stallings claimed that he was unable to raise these claims in his initial post-conviction petition because he did not have the information necessary to substantiate his claims, because he did not know he could file ineffective assistance claims against trial counsel, and because of an accident in 1994 that caused minor brain damage ( Id. at 22). On August 2, 2012, the circuit court denied Stallings' motion for leave to file a new petition ( Id. ).

Stallings appealed the circuit court's ruling. On August 4, 2014, the appellate court affirmed the decision to deny Stallings leave to file a second post-conviction petition. People v. Stallings, No. 5-12-0374, 2014 IL App (5th) 120374-U, at *5 (Ill.App.Ct. Aug. 4, 2014). The court held that most of Stallings' new claims were not new at all - he either already raised them in his first petition, or they concerned "facts or incidents that were revealed or that occurred during the course of [Stallings'] trial, " meaning that they "could have been raised in the first postconviction petition." Id. at *4. As such, the appellate court found that they were "either forfeited or res judicata. " Id. For the claim related to the witnesses that did not testify, all of whom Stallings says he located via a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request, the court ruled there was no prejudice linked to the failure to investigate those witnesses at trial, as nothing in the witness statements exculpated Stallings. Id. Stallings again sought leave to appeal with the Supreme Court of Illinois, which was denied on November 26, 2014 (Doc. 1 at 27).

On February 18, 2015, Stallings filed the instant § 2254 petition in this Court ( Id. at 1).

Discussion

Read liberally, Stallings' federal petition puts forth four general sources of error. First, Stallings claims that he was improperly found guilty of a charge of felony murder when the trial dealt only with a discussion of armed robbery. ( Id. at 6.) On this point, Stallings insists that any conviction linked to armed robbery was improper, as the discrete armed robbery charge was dismissed before trial. For similar reasons, he also argues that the circuit court acted improperly when it instructed the jury on the elements of armed robbery. ( Id. ) Second, Stallings faults the circuit court for allowing the State to impeach a juvenile witness with prior statements. ( Id. at 7.) Third, Stallings faults his trial counsel for not objecting to the robbery jury instructions, for not objecting to the State's efforts to impeach the juvenile witness, and for not disputing the admission of testimony related to the weapon Stallings used, as any testimony on it was improper because Stallings was not charged with robbery. ( Id. ) Finally, Stallings argues that his trial counsel and his post-conviction counsel were ineffective for not investigating three witnesses - witnesses who he located via a Freedom of Information Act Request seemingly after trial. ( Id. )

The main problem with almost all of Stallings' habeas claims is the statute of limitations, which was designed to "streamline and simplify" the habeas system in order to reduce the "interminable delays" in petitions. See Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 427 (2005) Under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1), the one-year limitations period for filing a habeas application runs from the latest of the four dates set out in subsections (A) through (D). These are:

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant ...

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