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United States ex rel. Higgins v. Lashbrook

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

January 16, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. DAVID HIGGINS, Petitioner,
v.
JACQUELINE LASHBROOK, Warden, Menard Correctional Center, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge

         Petitioner David Higgins, a state prisoner serving a term of life imprisonment for eight counts of predatory criminal sexual assault, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the “Petition”). (Dkt. No. 1.) Respondent Jacqueline Lashbrook, Warden of the Menard Correctional Center, [1] opposes the Petition on the grounds that all of Higgins's claims have been procedurally defaulted and that no exceptional circumstances warrant review of the merits of his claims. (Dkt. No. 32.) The Court agrees and therefore denies the Petition.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Trial and Direct Appeal

         Higgins's conviction stems from his repeated sexual abuse of his stepdaughter beginning when she was six or seven years old. (Ex. A of State Court Record at 1-2, Dkt. No. 33-1.) After three or four years of abuse, the then ten-year-old victim revealed the abuse to her fifth-grade teacher and Higgins was arrested. (Id. at 2.) At trial, the State presented testimony from the victim, as well as incriminating DNA evidence collected from semen on the victim's underwear. (Id.) Higgins did not testify at trial and presented no witnesses in his case in chief. (Id.) A jury convicted Higgins on eight counts of predatory criminal sexual assault, and the trial court sentenced him to serve a term of life imprisonment based on his criminal history. (Id.)

         On appeal, Higgins argued that his conviction should be reversed because the trial court erred in delaying a ruling on his motion in limine to bar use of his prior criminal sexual assault conviction for impeachment. (Id. at 1-2.) The appellate court affirmed Higgins's conviction, holding that Higgins's failure to testify rendered any potential harm from the trial court's delay wholly speculative. (Id. at 2-4.) The Illinois Supreme Court denied Higgins's ensuing petition for leave to appeal (“PLA”) on March 25, 2009. (Ex. B of State Court Record, Dkt. No. 33-2.) And the United States Supreme Court subsequently denied Higgins's petition for a writ of certiorari on January 11, 2010. (Ex. E of State Court Record at 2-3, Dkt. No. 33-5; Higgins v. Illinois, 558 U.S. 1120 (2010) (Mem.).)

         II. Illinois State Post-Conviction Proceedings

         On June 8, 2010, Higgins petitioned pro se to the state circuit court for relief under Illinois's Post-Conviction Hearing Act, 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (Ex. I of State Court Record at 30, Dkt. No. 15-9.) In this petition, Higgins raised the following claims:

(1) his trial counsel was ineffective for:
(a) failing to suppress evidence recovered from the victim's home;
(b) not challenging State-witness testimony;
(c) failing to discover exculpatory medical evidence;
(d) failing to investigate the case;
(e) failing to object to gallery members creating a spectacle during defense counsel's closing;
(f) failing to interview victim's little sister or Higgins's son;
(g) failing to investigate Higgins's history of mental illness;
(h) agreeing to incriminating stipulations, without consulting with Higgins;
(i) failing to advise trial court that jury began deliberation prior to close of the evidence;
(j) failing to object to admission of other instance of predatory criminal sexual assault; and
(k) failing to object to expert testimony that the victim was trustworthy and regarding terms that the victim used in describing her abuse;
(2) the State did not present sufficient evidence to convict Higgins;
(3) Higgins was prejudiced by the alleged interruption of his defense counsel's closing argument;
(4) the State failed to establish a chain of custody for the victim's underwear;
(5) Higgins's sentence was unconstitutional as it at least partially relied on his prior sexual assault conviction;
(6) Higgins was denied his speedy-trial right;
(7) Higgins's appellate counsel was ineffective for:
(a) failing to raise Higgins's Confrontation Clause claim;
(b) failing to raise use of Higgins's prior sexual assault conviction in sentencing;
(c) failing to raise the improper admission of Higgins's silence;
(d) failing to raise the trial court's failure to conduct a ...

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