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Chaney v. State

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 22, 2017

Demarcus Nasson Chaney, Petitioner,
State of Minnesota, Respondent.



         The above-captioned case comes before the undersigned on Demarcus Nasson Chaney's (“Chaney”) Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Amended Petition”) [Doc. No. 20]. This matter has been referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and District of Minnesota Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons stated below, the Court recommends denying Chaney's Amended Petition.


         Chaney is incarcerated at Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater (“MCF-Stillwater”) after being convicted of first-degree sexual assault and sentenced to 360 months in prison. See (Am. Pet. at 3); (State's Mem., “Mem. in Supp. of Answer”) [Doc. No. 23 at 1]; see also Offender Locator, Minn. Dep't of Corr., (search by “MNDOC Offender ID” and enter 204565) (stating that Chaney is currently incarcerated at MCF-Stillwater) (last visited Oct. 30, 2017); State v. Chaney, No. 27-CR-13-24472, available at (select “Criminal/Traffic/Petty Case Records” and enter “27-CR-13-24472” into the “Case Number” search field) (docket for Chaney's state criminal proceeding) (last visited Oct. 30, 2017).

         At trial, DNA matching Chaney's and evidence obtained from the victim (both from vaginal and fingernail swabs) after an alleged rape was admitted as evidence. Chaney, 2015 WL 5088943, at *2. In addition, the victim gave statements to police and testified at trial. See Id. at *1 (“Shortly after the attack, S.D. gave a statement to the police that was mostly consistent with her statement at the hospital.”). The prosecution also offered evidence of Chaney's past convictions for burglary; Chaney objected to that evidence. Id. at *2-3. In closing, the prosecution implied that Chaney was a predator and that the jury “should not consider [Chaney's] consent defense.” Id. at *2. Chaney did not object to these remarks during trial. Id. at *6-7.

         On appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Chaney raised five issues: (1) the introduction of Spreigl evidence of Chaney's convictions in 2000 “for first-degree burglary and aggravated robbery” was reversible error because “the probative value of the evidence, if any, was outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice”;[2] (2) the prosecutor's “misconduct during closing argument by inflaming the prejudices of the jury and disparaging the defense . . . depriv[ed] Chaney of a fair trial”; (3) the cumulative effect of issues one and two “operated in tandem to portray Chaney as a dangerous predator who attacked vulnerable young people in . . . the relatively affluent and safe Uptown area of Minneapolis” and denied “Chaney's right to a fair trial”; (4) “the district court erred by ruling that the state was not required to disclose the victim-witness advocate's notes of her communications with trial witnesses”; (5) “Chaney [was] improperly convicted of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct based on the same criminal act against the same complainant.” (App.) [Doc. No. 24 at 50-51].[3]

         In arguing his issues on appeal, Chaney relied exclusively on Minnesota Statutes, cases from the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Rules of Evidence, and the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure. See (App. at 50-51, 60-80). That is, in arguing his issues on appeal, Chaney did not assert federal constitutional provisions or federal statutes directly. See (id. at 60-80). In arguing his fourth issue on appeal, however, Chaney's arguments referenced a federal case. Specifically, Chaney argued that Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.01 subdivision 1 “requires a prosecutor to disclose all matters related to the case-not just Brady [v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)] material-and written summaries of oral statements-not just the substance of oral statements.” (Id. at 77) (emphasis omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). In sum, Chaney did not reference a specific federal constitutional right, a particular constitutional provision, or a federal constitutional case when he argued issues one, two, three, and five.

         The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. Chaney, 2015 WL 5088943, at *10. Specifically, the court of appeals found that the district court abused its discretion in the admission of Spreigl evidence and that prosecution committed misconduct in its closing arguments. Id. at *3-7. The court of appeals nonetheless found these errors harmless. Id. at *5-9. Specifically, with respect to the admission of Spreigl evidence, the court of appeals concluded there “is [no] reasonable possibility that the wrongfully admitted evidence significantly affected the verdict.” Id. at *6. Furthermore, the court of appeals concluded that the alleged prosecutorial misconduct “did not affect appellant's substantial rights.” Id. at *6-8. The court of appeals also held that cumulative effect of these harmless errors did not require a new trial in light of the overall strength of the evidence. Id. at *9; see also Id. at *8 (“This is not a ‘whodunit.' The DNA confirms that appellant had intercourse with S.D. The physical evidence (scratches and bruises) and S.D.'s testimony, emotional state, and consistent statements to multiple people all provided the jury with compelling evidence that she did not consent to sexual intercourse with appellant.”).

         In his petition for review to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Chaney raised four issues: (1) “the prosecutor commit[ed] prejudicial misconduct by arguing in closing that Chaney, an African-American male, was a ‘predator'”; (2) the admission of “irrelevant and prejudicial Spreigl evidence regarding” Chaney's convictions in 2000 “for first-degree burglary and aggravated robbery” warranted a new trial; (3) “the cumulative effect of the wrongfully-admitted Spreigl evidence and prosecutorial misconduct . . . deprive[d] Chaney of a fair trial”; (4) “remand [is] required because the state failed to disclose the victim-witness advocate's notes of her communications with trial witnesses, as required by Minn. R. Crim. P. 9.01, subd. 1(2)(b).” (App. at 173-74). The Minnesota Supreme Court denied review on November 17, 2015.[4] (App. at 209).

         Chaney did not file pro se briefs with either the Minnesota Court of Appeals or the Minnesota Supreme Court. See Chaney v. State, No. A14-1513, available at (search for cases by case number “A14-1513” and de-select “Exclude Closed/Archived”) (last visited Oct. 30, 2017). Furthermore, there is nothing in the record to suggest that Chaney filed a petition for postconviction relief as of the date of this Report and Recommendation.

         In his Amended Petition, [5] Chaney raises three broad claims for habeas relief: (1) prosecutorial misconduct deprived “Chaney of fundamental fairness and sufficient due process”; (2) the Spreigl standard is inadequate to protect his constitutional rights; and (3) the State's failure to disclose certain information violated Chaney's due process rights. (Am. Pet. at 2, 9, 15, 17). Specifically, Chaney asserts: that the prosecutor's use of racially charged language and other characterizations deprived him of impartial jury protections under the Sixth Amendment; the Spreigl standard applied by Minnesota state courts violated his federal constitutional rights to a fair trial; and the prosecution's failure “to disclose victim-witness advocate notes of communication with trial witnesses” violated his due process rights. (Id. at 9-17). At bottom, Chaney asserts the cumulative effect of the evidentiary errors and prosecutorial misconduct deprived him of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. See (id. at 9, 13-14).

         Respondent filed an Answer to Chaney's Amended Petition. See (Text Only Order Dated Jan. 1, 2017) [Doc. No. 19] (establishing briefing schedule for Chaney's Amended Petition); see also (State's Answer to Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, “Answer”) [Doc. No. 22]; (Mem. in Supp. of Answer). Generally, Respondent argues that Chaney's claims are procedurally defaulted.[6] (Mem. in Supp. of Answer at 6-10). For example, Respondent argues that Chaney “failed to present to the state courts the factual and legal premises” that he now raises in his federal petition, nor were these claims raised at the state level “couch[ed] . . . in terms of due process, any particular constitutional provision, any federal cases, or any state cases that discuss [these] state issue[s] as . . . question[s] of federal law.” (Id. at 8-9). Likewise, Respondent argues that Chaney's briefing in state court “does not refer to the constitutional right to due process, to any particular constitutional provision, to any federal cases, or to [any] state case[s] that discuss” the alleged violated state rules of evidence as federal constitutional issues. (Id. at 9-10).

         Respondent also argues that at least some of Chaney's claims are procedurally defaulted for the additional reason that Cheney never raised these issues at trial, which Respondent argues necessitates a finding of procedural default in the Eighth Circuit. See (id. at 7-8) (citing Clark v. Bertsch, 780 F.3d 873, 876 (8th Cir. 2015)). Alternatively, Respondent argues that Chaney's Amended Petition should be dismissed on the merits. See (id. at 11-23) (asserting the decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals was not “‘contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.'” (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)).

         Chaney was provided with an opportunity to reply, but did not reply to Respondent's Answer. See (Text Only Order Dated Jan. 4, 2017) [Doc. No. 19] (“Petitioner may file a reply on or before 5/4/2017. Thereafter, no further submissions from either party will be permitted, except as expressly authorized by Court order.”).


         Chaney is not entitled to habeas relief. First, the only claims in Chaney's Amended Petition that arguably sound in federal habeas are whether prosecutorial misconduct deprived him “of fundamental fairness and sufficient due process” and whether the admission of Spreigl evidence deprived him of federal constitutional rights.[7] See (Am. Pet. at 2, 9-12). In particular, Chaney's claim in his Amended Petition that the racially charged nature of the prosecution infected the trial and deprived Chaney of his due process rights and right to a fair trial under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments is a cognizable claim in federal court. Nevertheless, Chaney did not preserve his prosecutorial misconduct claim, and it is procedurally defaulted under Clark. See 780 F.3d at 875-76 (describing an unobjected-to alleged error as a procedurally defaulted claim). Second, Chaney's arguably exhausted Spreigl claim does not warrant habeas relief because the court of appeal's decision was not objectively unreasonable and therefore does not warrant habeas relief.

         Third, because Chaney's remaining claims that the State's failure to disclose the victim-witness advocate's notes and the cumulative effect of alleged misconduct at trial deprived him of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment remain unexhausted, those unexhausted claims are procedurally defaulted in light of State v. Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (Minn. 1976). See Murray v. Hvass, 269 F.3d 896, 899 (8th Cir. 2001) (“But the general rule in Minnesota, as we have said, is that ‘where [a] direct appeal has once been taken, all matters raised therein, and all claims known but not raised, will not be considered upon a subsequent petition for postconviction relief.'” (quoting Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d at 741) (alternation in original)). Therefore, those unexhausted and procedurally defaulted claims should be dismissed. Id. at 900.

         A. Legal Standard

         An application for writ of habeas corpus is only available to those in custody that exhaust their available state remedies. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)-(c). Exhaustion is a federal requirement that “is designed to give the state courts a full and fair opportunity to resolve federal constitutional claims before those claims are presented to the federal courts.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). As a result, “state prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any [federal] constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” Id. Stated differently:

[b]efore seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus, a state prisoner must exhaust available state remedies, thereby giving the State the opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights. To provide the State with the necessary opportunity, the prisoner must fairly present his claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review), thereby alerting that court to the federal nature of the claim.

Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Fair presentation of a claim occurs when “the state court rules on the merits of his claims, or if [the petitioner] presents his claims in a manner that entitles him to a ruling on the merits.” Gentry v. Lansdown, 175 F.3d 1082, 1083 (8th Cir. 1999) (citing Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 346, 351 (1989)). That is, “[i]n order to fairly present a federal claim to the state courts, the petitioner must have referred to a specific federal constitutional right, a particular constitutional provision, a federal constitutional case, or a state case raising a pertinent federal constitutional issue in a claim before the state courts.” McCall v. Benson, 114 F.3d 754, 757 (8th Cir. 1997) (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In situations where a claim is unexhausted, but no state court remedy exists (because, e.g., procedural rules would prevent further attempts at exhaustion), the claim is also considered procedurally defaulted. See, e.g., Murphy, 652 F.3d at 848-50 (holding that petitioner procedurally defaulted on his Eight Amendment claims because they were not properly raised in state court and were therefore barred under Knaffla). Whether a petitioner procedurally defaults his federal habeas claim is a question of state law. See Armstrong v. Iowa, 418 F.3d 924, 926 (8th. Cir. 2005) (stating that “if no state court remedy is available for the unexhausted claim” federal courts cannot conduct “review of the defaulted claim” (internal quotation marks omitted)). As a result, when a claim is procedurally defaulted, federal courts are prevented from adjudicating the claim on the merits unless a petitioner can demonstrate cause and prejudice, “or demonstrate[s] that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In situations where a federal habeas claim before a federal court is properly asserted, relief should not be granted unless the state court's adjudication of the claim “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).[8] That is, the question becomes “whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409 (2000). This is a deferential standard; the federal court “must deny a writ- even if we disagree with the state court's decision-so long as that decision is reasonable in view of all the circumstances.” May v. Iowa, 251 F.3d 713, 716 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 409-13).

         B. ...

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