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Udoh v. Dooley

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 5, 2017

Emem Ufot Udoh, Petitioner,
Becky Dooley, Warden, Respondent.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the following reasons, the Petition is denied.


         On August 19, 2014, a Hennepin County jury convicted Petitioner Emem Ufot Udoh of two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The charges arose out of contact Udoh had with his two stepdaughters, 13-year-old K.K.W. and 11-year-old K.C.W. The trial court sentenced Udoh to 144 months' imprisonment on the first-degree conviction, and a concurrent 70 months on the second-degree convictions. Udoh appealed, filing both an attorney-authored brief and a pro se brief. The Minnesota Court of Appeals determined that the second-degree count as to K.K.W. was a lesser included offense of the first-degree count as to the same child, and vacated that conviction, but otherwise rejected Udoh's challenges. State v. Udoh, No. A14-2181, 2016 WL 6867328 (Minn.Ct.App. 2016). On remand, the trial court sentenced Udoh to the same sentence it had previously imposed.

         After the Minnesota Supreme Court denied review and the United States Supreme Court declined to issue a writ of certiorari, Udoh brought the instant Petition, claiming that his conviction runs afoul of the United States Constitution. Although his precise claims are difficult to decipher, the Petition can fairly be read to raise six grounds for relief. Ground One argues that an expert witness interfered with the jury's role by testifying that Udoh's conduct qualified as penetration. Ground Two claims that his convictions for both first- and second-degree criminal sexual contact as to K.K.W. violated his Double Jeopardy rights and caused the trial court to impose an unconstitutionally cumulative punishment, including lifetime supervised release. Ground Three contends that the trial court violated Udoh's Confrontation Clause rights by not allowing him to present extrinsic evidence that allegedly would have undermined the credibility of one of the victims. Ground Four claims that the trial court's determination regarding extrinsic evidence of the victim's veracity violated Udoh's due-process rights and his right to a fair trial. Ground Five argues that prosecutorial misconduct deprived Udoh of his due-process and equal-protection rights. And Ground Six contends that the trial court erred in denying Udoh's motion for a judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence to convict him.[1] Udoh asks for an evidentiary hearing on his claims.


         A. Standard of Review

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., a federal court “undertake[s] only a limited and deferential review of underlying state court decisions.” Collier v. Norris, 485 F.3d 415, 421 (8th Cir. 2007). Indeed, AEDPA “modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas ‘retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002) (citation omitted). 28 U.S.C. § 2254 provides:

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). Further, § 2254 states that “a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct.” Id. § 2254(e)(1). The burden is on the petitioner to “rebut[] the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” Id.

         Udoh asks that this Court review the state-court rulings de novo, arguing that the state courts failed to adjudicate the merits of Udoh's federal constitutional claims. But Udoh misapprehends the governing legal standards. Although a claim not adjudicated on the merits in state court is not entitled to deferential review, Brown v. Luebbers, 371 F.3d 458, 460-61 (8th Cir. 2004), the “pertinent question is not whether the [state court] explicitly discussed the [federal constitutional issues] but whether its decision contradicted applicable Supreme Court precedent in its reasoning or result.” Cox v. Burger, 398 F.3d 1025, 1030 (8th Cir. 2005). A state court's “reasonable application of established federal law ‘does not require citation of [Supreme Court] cases-indeed, it does not even require awareness of [these] cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them.'” Id. (quoting Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (per curiam) (emphasis in original)). Even a cursory review of the trial court's and appellate court's decisions on the issues Udoh raises reveal that those courts either considered federal constitutional principles in evaluating Udoh's claims or that their determinations are not contrary to Supreme Court precedent, to the extent the claims implicate any federal constitutional rights. Thus, the claims he raises here were “adjudicated on the merits in State court” and the decisions of those courts is entitled to § 2254's highly deferential review.

         Under that deferential review, “[a] federal court may not issue the writ simply because it ‘concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.'” Lyons v. Luebbers, 403 F.3d 585, 592 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000)). A “state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ...

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