United States District Court, D. Minnesota
T. JOHNSON, LUNDGREN & JOHNSON, PSC, AND STEVEN J.
MESHBESHER, MESHBESHER & ASSOCIATES, PA, FOR PETITIONER.
D. WARTNER, WASHINGTON COUNTY ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT &
R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE
David Smith is serving two life sentences in a Minnesota
state prison for a 2012 double murder in Little Falls,
Minnesota. Smith brings this petition for a writ of habeas
corpus in federal court, arguing that the Minnesota trial
court violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial
when the trial court closed the courtroom to all spectators
and the press for a short period before opening statements
were delivered. Smith further argues - pursuant to the
requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) - that the Minnesota
Supreme Court's decision upholding his conviction was
contrary to, and an unreasonable application of, clearly
established federal law. United States Magistrate Judge Tony
N. Leung issued a Report & Recommendation
(“R&R”), recommending that the Court deny
Smith's petition. Smith objects to the R&R. Because
the Court will conclude that the Minnesota Supreme
Court's decision was neither contrary to, nor an
unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law,
the Court will overrule Smith's objections, adopt the
R&R, and deny Smith's petition.
Thanksgiving Day 2012, Byron Smith shot and killed two
teenagers who had broken into his home: Nicholas Brady and
Haile Kifer. State v. Smith, 876 N.W.2d 310, 317
(Minn. 2016). Smith was convicted of two counts of
first-degree murder in Minnesota state court. Id. at
321. At trial, Smith maintained that the shootings were a
justified act of self-defense. Id. To support his
argument, Smith sought to introduce evidence that Brady had
been involved in several prior burglaries of Smith's
home. Id. at 327. Specifically, Smith sought to call
three witnesses to testify about Brady's alleged
involvement: Brady's mother and two of Brady's
friends who were also allegedly involved in the prior
burglaries, J.K. and C.K. Id.
trial court permitted Smith to introduce evidence of prior
burglaries of his home via the testimony of law-enforcement
agents. Id. at 328. But the court prohibited Smith
from introducing evidence that Brady was associated with the
prior burglaries because Smith had not known of Brady's
involvement at the time of the shootings. Id. The
trial court's ruling came in 2014 after two public
hearings, held on March 25 and April 17, on the subject.
Id. The first public hearing resulted in a public
order dated April 4. Id. at 330. In that April 4
order, the court reasoned that the prior burglaries
“strike directly at the reasonableness of [Smith's]
decisions in defending his person and his dwelling. . .
.” However, the fact that it may have been Nicholas
Brady who was involved in the previous burglaries contributes
nothing to [Smith's] argument, for the reasonableness of
[Smith's] action and judgment must be determined by his
state of mind at the time of the shooting, not by what was
learned after the event.
(Pet. Ex. 1 at 7, Mar. 3, 2017, Docket No. 5.) The April 4
order did not discuss whether Smith could call J.K. and C.K.
as witnesses. (See Id. at 6-7) At the April 17
public hearing, Smith's counsel “discussed
Brady's alleged co-participants [J.K. and C.K.] by
name.” Smith, 876 N.W.2d at 327.
trial was a “high-profile case, which captured the
attention of Minnesotans because of its unusual facts and the
deaths of two teenagers.” Id. at 337 (Stras,
J., concurring). On the morning of April 21 - the day that
opening statements were to be delivered and after the jury
had been selected - Smith's case was called, and the
trial court then cleared all spectators and the press from
the courtroom. (See Resp't Ex. C at 4, Mar. 31,
2017, Docket No. 12; Smith, 876 N.W.2d at 327-28
(majority opinion).) Smith's counsel objected to this
Your Honor, this is a - - I thought about the court's
suggestion, and I would ask the court to reconsider. This is
a public facility. Mr. Smith is on trial in a public
courtroom, and I ask to allow any of the public to be allowed
to be present, including media, if they choose. To not allow
that would infringe upon the freedom of the public to be
present as well as free press. He has that right to a public
(Resp't Ex. C at 4:11-19.) The court overruled
Smith's objection and kept the courtroom closed so that
the court could explain to the parties and counsel the scope
of the court's evidentiary ruling, including that there
was to be no mention of J.K. or C.K. by name.
And the pretrial ruling of the court was that the defense had
given notice that it . . . wants to offer testimony from
[J.K.] and [C.K.] about their involvement in prior burglaries
which, of course, would have involved Nick Brady as well a
co-perpetrator. And the court has ruled the . . . defendant
will not disclose the names of [J.K., C.K.] or Brady involved
in prior burglaries . . . .
(Id. at 4:20-5:6.) The court then explained its
reasons for closing the courtroom:
And for that reason -- that was the reason that the court is
not allowing the press in for this ruling, because otherwise
it could be printed, and indeed, while the jurors hopefully
will follow the admonition not to read or hear anything in
the press and TV and such in the meantime while this case is
pending, certainly the media would publish and print the
substance of the court's pretrial ruling, and then of
course it runs the risk of getting to the jury if for some
reason they don't adhere to their oath.
(Id. at 6:4-14.)
after the closure, the court filed a second public order,
“reiterat[ing] that evidence of prior bad acts by
Nicholas Brady or Haile Kifer, of which [Smith] was unaware
at the time of the shooting, shall be inadmissible at trial,
” and that while evidence of the prior burglaries
“may be received through the testimony of . . . law
enforcement agents, there will be no need to seek its
admission through more prejudicial means (i.e.,
through the testimony of Brady's mother or of a
perpetrator of the prior break-ins).” (Pet. Ex. 2 at 1,
3, Mar. 3, 2017, Docket No. 6; see also Smith, 876
N.W.2d at 328.) Three minutes after the court filed this
second order, the court reopened the courtroom, swore in the
jury, gave preliminary instructions, and the parties then
gave their opening statements. (Resp't Ex. C at 8-9;
Smith, 876 N.W.2d at 328.)
jury found Smith guilty of murder, and the trial court
sentenced him to two life sentences. Smith, 876
N.W.2d at 321. Smith appealed his conviction, arguing that
the trial court's closure violated his Sixth Amendment
right to a public trial. Id. at 327. The Minnesota
Supreme Court upheld his conviction, finding that the closure
did not implicate Smith's Sixth Amendment right because
the closure was “administrative” in nature.
Id. at 327-30.
habeas petition in federal court followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the filing of a report and recommendation by a magistrate
judge, a party may “serve and file specific written
objections to the proposed findings and
recommendations.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2);
accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(1). “The district
judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate
judge's disposition that has been properly objected
to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
governs the Court's review of Smith's habeas
petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Habeas review is narrow and
is “limited to deciding whether a conviction violated
the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68
(1991); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)
(“[A] district court shall entertain an application for
a writ of habeas corpus . . . only on the ground that [the
petitioner] is in custody in violation of the Constitution or
laws or treaties of the United States.”).
federal claims adjudicated during a petitioner's
state-court proceedings, AEDPA is “highly
deferential” to the state court's decision on that
federal claim. Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2198
(2015). AEDPA 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 . . . 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.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). AEDPA “was intended to be
difficult to meet and only authorizes a federal habeas court
to issue the writ in cases where ‘there is no
possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state
court's decision conflicts with [the Supreme Court's]
precedents.'” Shelton v. Mapes, 821 F.3d
941, 949 (8th Cir. 2016) (alteration in original)
(quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102
(2011)). AEDPA's highly deferential scheme
necessarily means that some constitutional violations will go
unremedied, in favor of “promoting ‘comity,
finality, and federalism.'” Carey v.
Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 220 (2002) (quoting Williams
v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 420, 436 (2000)).
phrase “clearly established Federal law, as determined
by the Supreme Court of the United States” in §
2254(d)(1), “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the
dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time
of the relevant state-court decision.”
Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. And the Supreme Court has
cautioned lower courts against “framing [its]
precedents at . . . a high level of generality.”
Nevada v. Jackson, 569 U.S. 505, 512 (2013).
state court decision is ‘contrary to'
clearly-established federal law if the state court arrives at
a conclusion opposite to that reached by the United States
Supreme Court on a question of law.” Davis v.
Grandlienard, 828 F.3d 658, 666 (8th Cir.
2016) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at
405). “A state-court decision will
certainly be contrary to [the Supreme Court's] clearly
established precedent if the state court applies a rule that
contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme
Court's] cases.” Williams, 529 U.S. at
405. “A state court's decision is not
‘contrary to . . . clearly established Federal law'
simply because the [state] court did not cite [Supreme Court]
opinions, ” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12,
16 (2003) (per curiam) (omission in original) (quoting
Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002)), or simply
because the state-court decision “relied heavily on its
own precedent, ” Davis, 828 F.3d at 666.
‘unreasonable application' of Supreme Court
precedent occurs when a state court correctly identifies the
governing legal standard but either unreasonably applies it
to the facts of the particular case or unreasonably extends
or refuses to extend the legal standard to a new
context.” Munt v. Grandlienard, 829 F.3d 610,
614 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Williams, 529
U.S. at 407). AEDPA's “‘unreasonable
application' clause requires the state court decision to
be ‘objectively unreasonable,' which demands the
decision be more than incorrect or erroneous.”
Davis, 828 F.3d at 666 (quoting Lockyer v.
Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). “The
‘objectively unreasonable' standard is not
satisfied even by clear error.” Id.
state-court decision is contrary to or an unreasonable
application of clearly established federal law, “[a]
federal court must then resolve the claim without the
deference AEDPA otherwise requires.” Panetti v.
Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 953 (2007); see Lafler v.
Cooper, 566 U.S. 156, 173 (2012).
SIXTH AMENDMENT ...