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Martin v. Symmes

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

October 15, 2013

LaMonte Rydell Martin, Petitioner,
v.
Jessica Symmes, Warden, Oak Park Heights Facility, Minnesota, Respondent.

Zachary A. Longsdorf, Longsdorf Law Firm, PLC, 10390 39th Street North, Suite 3, Lake Elmo, Minnesota 55042, for Petitioner.

Lee W. Barry and David C. Brown, Hennepin County Attorney's Office, 300 South Sixth Street, Suite C-2000, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55487, on behalf of Respondent.

Matthew Frank, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1800, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134, on behalf of Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the undersigned United States District Court Judge for consideration of Petitioner LaMonte Rydell Martin's Objections [Doc. No. 30] to United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung's January 7, 2013, Report and Recommendation ("R & R") [Doc. No. 29]. The Magistrate Judge recommended that Petitioner's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus [Doc. No. 1] be denied, the action be dismissed with prejudice, and a Certificate of Appealability be granted solely as to Petitioner's Eighth Amendment challenge to his sentence (as stated in Ground 2 of his Petition). (R & R at 51 [Doc. No. 29].) For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts nearly all of the Magistrate Judge's recommendations in the R & R, with the exception of his denial of a Certificate of Appealability as to Petitioner's Batson claim (as stated in Ground 2 of his Petition). Petitioner's objections are, therefore, overruled except as to that issue.

II. BACKGROUND

The factual and procedural background of Petitioner's case is well documented in the Magistrate Judge's R & R and is incorporated herein by reference.[1] According to Petitioner, the facts giving rise to this case are as follows:

Christopher Lynch was murdered in the back yard of a home located at 626 N. Thomas Avenue, in north Minneapolis on the evening of May 3, 2006. Mr. Lynch was walking with his cousin Jermaine Mack-Lynch toward the home of Mr. Mack-Lynch's brother, Charles Pettis, when, Mr. Mack-Lynch testified[, ] a white car drove slowly past. Two assailants exited the white car and chased Mr. Lynch and Mr. Mack-Lynch.... Mr. Mack-Lynch ran... to the front door of 701 N. Thomas Avenue where he informed his brother Charles Pettis that he and Mr. Lynch were being chased.... As Mr. Lynch reached the backyard of 626 N. Thomas Ave[.], the two assailants caught up with him and shot him between 11 and 15 times. After the shooting stopped, the white car reappeared and the two shooters got into the car and left the scene. Paramedics arrived at the scene within minutes of the shooting taking place and Mr. Lynch was removed [from] the scene by ambulance. He was pronounced dead upon his arrival at the hospital.

(Petitioner's Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petr's Habeas Mem.") at 1-2 [Doc. No. 6].) Petitioner was later indicted for the first-degree, premeditated murder of Lynch and on the charge of crime committed to benefit a gang. State v. Martin , 773 N.W.2d 89, 95 (Minn. 2009). Petitioner was seventeen years old at the time. Id. at 99. Cornelius Jackson and Jonard McDaniel were also indicted for Lynch's murder. Id. at 95.

Petitioner and Jackson were tried together. Id . The jury found Petitioner guilty of both first-degree, premeditated murder under Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2008) and crime committed for the benefit of a gang under Minn. Stat. § 609.229, subd. 2 (2008). Id . The trial court entered judgment of conviction on the murder conviction only and sentenced Petitioner to life in prison without the possibility of release. Id.

Petitioner filed a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence with the Minnesota Supreme Court.[2] Id. at 97. He argued that: (1) it is unconstitutional to indict a juvenile to automatically stand trial for first-degree murder as an adult without any consideration of individual characteristics and culpability, (App. at 12 (Appellant's Brief) [Doc. No. 10]);

(2) it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without parole without any consideration of the individual's circumstances, (id.); (3) it was prejudicial to Petitioner to conduct his trial jointly with his co-defendant, (id.); (4) the prosecutor's peremptory challenge of a prospective juror violated Batson v. Kentucky, (id. at 12-13); (5) the State did not sufficiently prove that Petitioner committed a crime for the benefit of a gang, (id. at 13); (6) the prosecutor engaged in prosecutorial misconduct that deprived Petitioner of a fair trial, (id.); (7) the trial court erred in allowing the State to introduce a witness's notes and related testimony when the notes had not been disclosed during discovery, (id. at 70 (Supplementary Brief)); (8) the trial court erred in allowing a witness to testify after violating a sequestration order, (id.); (9) Petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel during trial because his counsel failed to investigate a key witness and failed to object to errors during trial, (id. at 70-72); and (10) the trial court erred in refusing to allow Petitioner to introduce video evidence of the crime scene, (id. at 70). The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected Petitioner's arguments and affirmed his conviction and sentence. See Martin , 773 N.W.2d at 95.

On November 30, 2010, Petitioner filed his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody Pursuant to § 2254 ("Habeas Petition") in this Court. The Habeas Petition includes ten claims: (1) the Minnesota Statutes allowing for Petitioner's automatic certification as an adult violated his due process and equal protection rights, (Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody Pursuant to § 2254 ("Pet.") at 5 [Doc. No. 1]); (2) imposing a sentence of life without parole on a juvenile constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, (id. at 7); (3) the trial court denied Petitioner's due process right to a fair trial by allowing joinder of his trial with a codefendant, (id. at 8); (4) the State improperly exercised a peremptory challenge to strike a juror based on race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Batson, (id. at 10); (5) Petitioner's due process rights were violated when he was convicted of committing a crime for the benefit of a gang despite insufficient evidence, (id. at 11); (6) Petitioner was denied due process and a fair trial because of prosecutorial misconduct, (id. at 13); (7) Petitioner's due process and Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the trial court allowed a witness to testify regarding statements in her notes, which were not disclosed during discovery, (id. at 15); (8) Petitioner was denied a fair trial when a witness was allowed to testify after violating a sequestration order, (id. at 17); (9) Petitioner's due process rights and his right to present a full defense were violated when the trial court refused to allow Petitioner to introduce video evidence of the crime scene, (id. at 18-19); and (10) Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel during his trial because his counsel failed to introduce video evidence of the crime scene, (id. at 20). Petitioner also filed a supporting memorandum on December 14, 2010 [Doc. No. 6]. Respondent filed an Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [Doc. No. 8], a memorandum [Doc. No. 9], and an appendix [Doc. No. 10] on January 28, 2011. On February 25, 2011, Petitioner filed a reply brief [Doc. No. 12].

On January 7, 2013, the Magistrate Judge issued his R & R, recommending that Petitioner's Habeas Petition be denied, the action be dismissed with prejudice, and a Certificate of Appealability be granted solely as to Petitioner's Eighth Amendment challenge to his sentence (as stated in Ground 2 of his Petition). (R & R at 51 [Doc. No. 29].) Petitioner filed his Written Objections to Report and Recommendation on January 21. Respondent neither objected to the R & R nor responded to Petitioner's objections.

III. DISCUSSION

The district court reviews de novo those portions of the R & R to which a specific objection is made and "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b). As for Petitioner's underlying claims, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), describes the standard for granting writs of habeas corpus made by persons in state custody:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was 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)(1)-(2).

In order to obtain habeas relief, "a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter , 131 S.Ct. 770, 786-87 (2011) (emphasis added). Under the "contrary to" clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal court may grant a habeas writ "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the U.S. Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than th[e] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). Under the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal court may grant a habeas writ "if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the U.S. Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id . Thus, "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." Id. at 411. Rather, the application must also be "objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409 (emphasis added).

In this case, the Magistrate Judge found that each of Petitioner's claims lacks merit.[3] (See R & R at 7-49 [Doc. No. 29]). However, he granted a Certificate of Appealability for Petitioner's Eighth Amendment claim based on the mandatory sentence of life without parole. (See id. at 50.) Petitioner objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion as to each claim and requests an additional Certificate of Appealability regarding his Batson claim.

A. Automatic Certification as an Adult

Petitioner first objects to the Magistrate Judge's determination that Petitioner's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection were not violated when he was automatically certified to be tried as an adult pursuant to Minnesota law. (Petr's Objs. at 1-2 [Doc. No. 30].) Per statute in Minnesota, juvenile courts have jurisdiction over "delinquent" juveniles. Minn. Stat. § 260B.101, subd. 1. However, "[t]he term delinquent... does not include a child alleged to have committed murder in the first degree after becoming 16 years of age." Id . § 260B.007, subd. 6(b). According to the statute, Minnesota district courts have original jurisdiction over these individuals, and they are not entitled to a hearing prior to being tried as an adult. See id. § 260B.101, subd. 2; id. § 260B.125, subd. 10.

Petitioner argues that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kent v. United States , 383 U.S. 541 (1966), renders his automatic certification pursuant to this statutory scheme unconstitutional because the gravity of the potential punishment necessitates that a juvenile be afforded a hearing prior to being tried as an adult.[4] (See Petr's Objs. at 2.) In Kent, the Court analyzed the following statutory language:

"If a child sixteen years of age or older is charged with an offense which would amount to a felony in the case of an adult, or any child charged with an offense which if committed by an adult is punishable by death or life imprisonment, the judge may, after full investigation, waive jurisdiction and order such child held for trial under the regular procedure of the court which would have jurisdiction of such offense if committed by an adult."

Kent , 383 U.S. at 547-48 (quoting D.C. Code § 11-914 (1961)) (emphasis added). The Court determined that the juvenile court had "original and exclusive jurisdiction of the child, " and that "the waiver of jurisdiction [was] a critically important action determining vitally important statutory rights of the juvenile." Id. at 556 (emphasis added) (internal quotations omitted). Therefore, according to the Court, a juvenile fitting the criteria of the statute was entitled to a hearing before the juvenile court could waive jurisdiction. See id. at 557.

The Magistrate Judge correctly determined that Kent is inapplicable to Petitioner's situation and does not render his automatic certification as an adult under Minnesota law unconstitutional.[5] (See R & R at 9 [Doc. No. 29].) Contrary to the statutory scheme at issue in Kent, the Minnesota statutes confer upon the district courts, rather than the juvenile courts, original jurisdiction over sixteen-year-olds who are alleged to have committed first-degree murder. No waiver or certification decision is required; rather, individuals fitting those criteria are automatically certified to adult court. Thus, neither the juvenile court nor the district court must engage in a "critically important action" that would render a hearing necessary, and Petitioner was not deprived of due process by virtue of not receiving a hearing. While Petitioner claims that "[a] state legislature should not be able to short circuit a defendant's right to due process by a mere change in the language in a statute when the end result and the enormity of the ...


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