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Nuckles v. Spiller

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

April 13, 2016

JOHN NUCKLES, Petitioner,
v.
TOM SPILLER, Warden of Pinckneyville Correctional Center, [1] Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.

         Petitioner John Nuckles filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting that: (1) the evidence was not sufficient to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (Ground 1); (2) he was denied the right to present a complete defense when the trial court judge prohibited him from presenting evidence in surrebuttal (Ground Two); (3) his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to have certain scientific testing completed prior to trial (Ground Three); (4) his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the ineffectiveness of trial counsel on direct appeal (Ground Four); and (5) the state court erred in finding that his successive postconviction petition was barred by res judicata (Ground 5). For the reasons discussed below, the court denies the habeas petition and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 25, 2003, petitioner struck Phillip Bates on the left side of his head with a rubber mallet following a verbal altercation. Bates died a month later. The state's medical expert opined that Bates died as the result of a seizure caused by the head injuries he sustained a month earlier when hit by petitioner. Following a bench trial, petitioner was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 28 years' imprisonment.

         On direct appeal, petitioner argued that: (1) the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his striking Bates on the side of the head with a rubber mallet was the cause or a contributing cause of Bates' death; (2) the trial court erred in denying him the right to present surrebuttal evidence or, in the alternative, by denying his request to reopen his case to allow a neurologist to testify on behalf of the defense; and (3) his conviction should have be reduced to involuntary manslaughter because his acts were reckless instead of intentional. The appellate court affirmed his conviction on March 29, 2007. Petitioner subsequently filed a pro se petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") in the Illinois Supreme Court, contending that the trial court's refusal to allow him to present evidence in surrebuttal denied him the opportunity to present a complete defense. Petitioner's PLA was denied by the Illinois Supreme Court on September 26, 2007.

         Thereafter, petitioner filed a pro se postconviction petition in the Circuit Court of Kane County, Illinois. Petitioner argued that: (1) the state failed to disclose certain evidence prior to trial, violating his constitutional rights; (2) the trial court failed to admonish him properly concerning the terms of his mandatory supervised release; and (3) trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to: (a) object to or ask for the trial to be continued to perform a pretrial investigation of the state's expert report; (b) request a hearing concerning the reliability of the state's expert's opinion linking the victim's death to petitioner hitting him on the head; (c) call a neurologist as an expert witness in the defense's case-in-chief; (d) conduct a meaningful pretrial investigation; (e) request that a blood test be conducted on the victim prior to trial; (f) retain or call as a part of the defense's case-in-chief a qualified medical expert; (g) present evidence of prior acts of violence committed by the victim against petitioner and others; and (h) call a witness in support of his self-defense claim. Petitioner also contended that appellate counsel was ineffective for not raising his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim on direct appeal.

         The circuit court denied petitioner's postconviction petition, which he appealed with the help of counsel. In his postconviction appeal, petitioner argued that he had been denied effective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of his postconviction petition, finding that petitioner had failed to provide evidentiary support for his ineffective assistance claim in violation of the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act. Petitioner subsequently filed, with the help of counsel, a PLA in the Illinois Supreme Court, contending that the appellate court had erred in affirming the dismissal of his postconviction petition for failure to produce evidentiary support. Petitioner's PLA was denied on September 29, 2010.

         In May 2011, petitioner filed a pro se successive postconviction petition in the Circuit Court of Kane County, Illinois, arguing again that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective, and attaching purported evidentiary support for these claims. Citing petitioner's original postconviction petition based on ineffective assistance of counsel, the circuit court denied petitioner's successive postconviction petition as barred by res judicata. The appellate court affirmed that the doctrine of res judicata controlled petitioner's successive postconviction petition. Petitioner subsequently filed a PLA with the Illinois Supreme Court, which was denied. The instant petition for habeas relief followed.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Legal Standard

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254, provides the standard of review applied to federal habeas corpus petitions filed by persons in state custody. Under the AEDPA, a petitioner is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus for a non-defaulted claim if the challenged state court decision was: (1) "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States"; or (2) "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). A state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established Supreme Court law "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

         "[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.'" Jackson v. Frank, 348 F.3d 658, 662 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003)). As the Supreme Court has recently reiterated, the state court's decision must be "so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." White v. Wheeler, 136 S.Ct. 456, 460 (2015) (internal quotations omitted). Needless to say, the AEDPA "erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court." Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013).

         2. Analysis

         A. Grounds One, ...


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