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Sarfraz v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 21, 2018

Muhammad Sarfraz, Petitioner-Appellant,
Judy P. Smith, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued September 6, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 15-CV-880 -William E. Duffin, Magistrate Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Rovner and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         In December 2010 a Wisconsin jury found Muhammad Sarfraz guilty of sexually assaulting I.N., a Pakistani immigrant who, along with her father, briefly lived with Sarfraz after arriving in this country in late 2009.[1] At trial I.N. described a violent assault in which Sarfraz forced his way into her apartment, strangled her, threatened her with a knife, and raped her. Abundant physical evidence corroborated her account. Sarfraz claimed that I.N. consented to the sexual intercourse.

         To support this defense, Sarfraz sought to introduce evidence that he and I.N. had previously engaged in consensual sexual contact while she and her father were living with him. The trial judge excluded this evidence under Wisconsin's rape-shield law. On appeal Sarfraz argued that the trial judge misapplied the rape-shield law and deprived him of his right to confront the witnesses against him and his right to present a defense. The state court of appeals reversed the conviction, State v. Sarfraz ("Sarfraz I"), 832 N.W.2d 346, 347 (Wis. Ct. App. 2013), but the Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated it, reasoning that the State's interest in excluding the evidence outweighed Sarfraz's interest in admiting it, State v. Sarfraz ("Sarfraz II"), 851 N.W.2d 235, 247-48 (Wis. 2014).

         Sarfraz sought federal review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, again claiming that the judge's rape-shield ruling deprived him of his confrontation right and his right to present a defense. A magistrate judge denied relief but certified the issue for appeal.

         We affirm. The state supreme court specifically noted but did not separately analyze Sarfraz's federal constitutional claims. That brings into play the Richter presumption, which requires us to treat the decision as an adjudication on the merits and review it deferentially under § 2254(d). Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 99 (2011). Applying that standard, we agree with the magistrate judge that habeas relief is unwarranted. The state court's decision did not involve an unreasonable application of federal law.

         I. Background

         I.N. and her father moved from Pakistan to Milwaukee in December 2009. A family member arranged for them to live temporarily with Sarfraz, another Pakistani immigrant who worked as a taxi driver. I.N. and her father stayed at the apartment that Sarfraz shared with his wife and children for about two and a half months before moving to their own apartment.

         On May 15, 2010, Sarfraz unexpectedly showed up at I.N.'s new apartment. At trial they gave dramatically different accounts of what happened that day. I.N. testified that she heard a knock on the door that morning. She asked who it was, and the person outside the door answered "Jim, " which was her landlord's name. She opened the door and saw a masked man standing in the hallway. He forced his way into the apartment, pushed her into the bathroom, and began choking her, saying, "I'll kill you." He then pulled a knife from his pocket and held it to her neck. I.N. managed to pull the mask from the man's face and recognized Sarfraz. At some point during the struggle in the bathroom, Sarfraz set the knife on the floor. I.N. grabbed it, cutting her finger in the process, and slashed him on the cheek. Blood covered the bathroom floor.

         Sarfraz took the knife from I.N. and began to choke her again. As she continued to struggle, Sarfraz tried to hit her, pulled at her breasts, and eventually tied a handkerchief around her mouth in an effort to quiet her. He tried to take her into the bedroom, but she resisted and the two ended up in the living room. There Sarfraz produced a pornographic DVD he brought with him and tried to make her watch it. He then shoved her onto the floor, removed her pants, began to fondle her genitals, and eventually had forcible vaginal intercourse with her, all while she continued to resist. At some point during this ordeal, I.N. scrawled the first few letters of Sarfraz's last name in blood on a newspaper because she feared that she would not survive. Immediately after Sarfraz left, I.N. ran into the hallway and screamed for help.

         A neighbor testified that his wife heard a commotion in I.N.'s apartment, and when he went to investigate, he saw I.N. standing in the hallway bloodied and naked from the waist down, screaming that she had been raped. He called 911.

         The physical evidence introduced at trial supported I.N.'s account. In a search of her apartment, the police found a newspaper-and also a file cabinet-bearing the letters "S-A-R" written in blood, as well as a pornographic DVD. Officers recovered a bloody knife from Sarfraz's taxicab; forensic testing revealed the presence of DNA matching both I.N. and Sarfraz. Immediately after the attack, I.N. was examined by a sexual-assault nurse. The nurse noted that she had cuts on her finger and ankle, injuries to her vaginal area consistent with trauma, and tenderness at the front ...

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