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United States ex rel. Watson v. Pfister

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

March 11, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. NOLAN WATSON, R25806, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY PFISTER, Warden, Pontiac Correctional Center, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS M. DURKIN, District Judge.

Nolan Watson was convicted of two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and is serving two consecutive prison terms of 20 years each at the Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, Illinois, where he is in the custody of Warden Randy Pfister. See R. 27. Watson also pled guilty in four other sexual assault cases and was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 30, 30, 40, and 40 years, respectively. See R. 1. Watson seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in two separate petitions-one challenging his conviction by jury, R. 27, and another challenging one of his guilty pleas. R. 28. The Warden jointly answered both petitions arguing that both should be denied because Watson's claims are procedurally defaulted. R. 59. For the following reasons, Watson's petitions are denied, and the Court declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

Background

On August 17, 2006, Watson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping following a jury trial in Cook County. R. 27 at 1. After this conviction, Watson pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault in four other cases, and was sentenced to terms of imprisonment of 30, 30, 40, and 40 years, respectively, to run concurrently. See People v. Watson, 2012 WL 6935334, at *4-5 (Ill.App.Ct. 1st Dist. May 10, 2012). Testimony from the victim in one of the cases to which Watson pled guilty was admitted as evidence during Watson's jury trial. Id. On October 5, 2006, Watson was sentenced in the case in which he was convicted by a jury to two consecutive 20 year terms of imprisonment, which he is serving concurrently with the sentences on his guilty pleas. R. 27 at 1.

Watson filed a notice of appeal on December 21, 2006, which the Appellate Court denied eight days later as untimely. R. 60-1 at 60. Watson then filed a motion for leave to file a late notice of appeal, which the Appellate Court also denied on February 21, 2008. Id. at 48.

More than a year later, on June 3, 2009, Watson filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for a number of reasons including counsel's failure (1) to adequately investigate the testimony of the victim in one of the cases to which Watson eventually pled guilty-what Watson refers to as the "other crimes evidence"-in order to prevent its admission into evidence during trial, and (2) to timely file a notice of appeal. R. 60-1 at 78-86. The Circuit Court denied the petition. Id. at 53 (¶ 4). Watson filed a notice of appeal and the Office of the State Appellate Defender was appointed to represent him. Id. (¶ 5).

Upon review of the appeal record, Watson's counsel determined that Watson had "communicated his desire to appeal to his trial counsel in a timely manner and trial counsel had a duty to perfect the appeal." R. 60-1 at 54 (¶ 8). On this basis, Watson, represented by counsel, filed a motion with the Illinois Supreme Court for a supervisory order vacating the Appellate Court's denial of leave to file a late notice of appeal. Id. at 52-55. The Supreme Court granted the motion on October 7, 2010, and the Appellate Court vacated its order denying leave to file a late notice of appeal eleven days later. Id. at 104.

With the Illinois Supreme Court having reinstated Watson's right to proceed with a direct appeal, Watson did so through counsel, while simultaneously proceeding with his appeal on his post-conviction petition. To that end, in February 2011, Watson's counsel filed two separate briefs in the Appellate Court: one on February 14 in support of Watson's direct appeal, R. 60-1 at 106; and another on February 18 in support of Watson's appeal on his post-conviction petition, id. at 318. The brief on direct appeal argued that the trial court improperly admitted the "other crimes evidence." Id. at 107. In the brief on the post-conviction petition Watson argued that "trial counsel (1) failed to call a witness who would have corroborated Watson's consent defense; (2) failed to cross-examine the State's propensity witness with impeaching information readily available in a police report; and (3) failed to bring media coverage of Watson's arrest to the trial court's attention." Id. at 319. Watson also argued that his trial counsel led him to believe that his guilty pleas would result in him serving no more than 30 years in prison. Id. at 321.

On his direct appeal, Watson also filed two pro se petitions to supplement his counsel's brief. Id. at 138, 191. In his petitions to supplement, Watson argued that trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to interview all the victims in the cases to which Watson plead guilty. Id. at 143. Watson also argued that the "other crimes evidence" that was admitted in his trial was based on "perjured testimony." Id. at 193. The Appellate Court denied Watson's petitions to supplement his brief. Id. at 205.

The Appellate Court denied both Watson's direct appeal and post-conviction petition. On September 29, 2011, the Appellate Court affirmed Watson's conviction on direct appeal, holding that where a defendant, like Watson, "claims the subject of a purported sexual assault in fact consented to a sexual encounter, evidence of prior sex offense committed by the defendant is relevant to prove the defendant's criminal intent." Id. at 255. On May 10, 2012, the Appellate Court also denied Watson's post-conviction petition. The court held that (1) trial counsel's decision not to call a certain witness to corroborate Watson's defense was reasonable, see People v. Watson, 2012 WL 6935334, at *8 (Ill.App.Ct. 1st Dist., May 10, 2012); (2) trial counsel did illicit the impeaching testimony Watson identified, id. at *11; (3) there was not a "reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different had counsel notified the court of [the media coverage], " id. at *14; and (4) Watson failed to demonstrate that he suffered any prejudice from any misinformation he may have received regarding his plea agreements, id. at *15-18. The Appellate Court denied Watson's petition for a rehearing on July 5, 2012. R. 60-1 at 455. Watson did not file a petition for leave to appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court regarding either his direct appeal or his post-conviction petition.

After the Appellate Court affirmed Watson's conviction on direct appeal, but before the Appellate Court denied his post-conviction petition, Watson filed a pro se successive post-conviction petition on October 13, 2011, that he also titled a motion for "leave to file successive post conviction [sic] petition." See R. 60-1 at 457-85. Watson argued that (1) the indictments against him were "fatally defective, " id. at 465; (2) the State suppressed testimony relevant to the "other crimes evidence" admitted against him at trial, and trial counsel was ineffective for not raising this issue, id. at 466; and (3) appellate counsel was ineffective for not appealing Watson's guilty pleas, id. at 466. The Illinois Circuit Court denied Watson's petition, finding that despite the heading of the document Watson filed, Watson had in fact failed to request leave to file a successive petition. Id. at 704. The court also found, in the alternative, that Watson had failed to comply with Illinois law governing successive post-conviction petitions, 721 ILCS 5/122-1(f), because he had already raised his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims in his prior petition, and he had failed to show cause for his failure to raise his new claims (i.e., his claims that the State suppressed certain evidence, that his indictments were defective, and that appellate counsel was ineffective). R. 60-1 at 704. The court also found that Watson had failed to demonstrate prejudice because had these new claims "been presented in the initial petition, there is scant probability that petitioner would have prevailed." Id.

Watson appealed the Circuit Court's denial of his successive post-conviction petition through counsel. Watson also sought leave to file two pro se supplemental briefs, and the Appellate Court denied both requests. See R. 62 at 113-15. Copies of Watson's pro se briefs do not appear to be included in the record filed by the Warden or the documents filed by Watson.

On February 13, 2014, the appellate court affirmed denial of Watson's successive petition. The court noted that Watson's appeal "solely contend[ed] that the circuit court committed procedural error by denying him leave to file a successive petition.... [and that Watson] has raised no substantive issues regarding the allegations in his petition, including whether he satisfied the cause and prejudice test, and, thus, has waived those issues for review." R. 60-1 at 629. The Appellate Court held that any error the Circuit Court committed in denying Watson's petition for failure to seek leave to file was harmless because the Circuit Court also addressed the factors of 721 ILCS 5/122-1(f) and found that Watson had failed to demonstrate cause or prejudice as required. R. 60-1 at 629-30.

Watson filed a petition for leave to appeal from the Appellate Court's denial of his successive post-conviction petition on March 4, 2014. R. 60-1 at 633. The Illinois Supreme Court ...


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