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Hawes v. Beltz

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 4, 2019

Elizabeth Mary Hawes, Petitioner,
Tracy Beltz, Warden of MCF-Shakopee Respondent.

          Melvin R. Welch, Welch Law Firm, LLC, (for Petitioner); and

          Kelsey R. Kelley, Anoka County Attorney's Office, (for Respondent).



         This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Elizabeth Mary Hawes's Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (“Federal Habeas Petition”). (ECF No. 8). This matter was referred to the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and District of Minnesota Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons stated below, the Court recommends denying the Petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Trial Court and Direct Appeal

         Hawes was charged with aiding and abetting in the first-degree premeditated murder of her brother, Edwin, in 2008. State of Minnesota v. Hawes, 801 N.W.2d 659, 662 (Minn. 2011). The State argued that Hawes helped her other brother Andrew murder Edwin; and Hawes claimed that Andrew killed Edwin without her assistance. Id. Hawes, who demanded a speedy trial, went to trial before Andrew and was found guilty. Id. at 667-68. Hawes moved for a new trial on the grounds of newly available evidence-an affidavit from Andrew stating he would waive his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and testify that Hawes had nothing to do with Edwin's murder. Id. at 667-68. The district court denied the motion because Hawes knew of this testimony at the time of trial. Id. at 668. Hawes was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Id.

         Hawes directly appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court and presented three arguments.[1] She first argued the evidence was insufficient to sustain her conviction because the State's case was wholly circumstantial and there was no evidence she encouraged Andrew to act. Id. at 673. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that while the evidence was circumstantial, Hawes aiding Andrew in Edwin's murder was “the only reasonable hypothesis supported by the circumstances . . . in their entirety, ” and thus the evidence was sufficient to show that Hawes aided and abetted in Edwin's murder. Id. at 672-73. Second, Hawes argued the district court erred in preventing her from testifying about Andrew's out-of-court statements. Id. at 674. The court held that any alleged error was harmless because the fact “[t]hat Andrew murdered Edwin was not in dispute at Hawes trial; the question was whether Hawes aided and abetted Andrew in committing the murder.” Id. at 674-75. Third, Hawes argued the district court erred in denying her motion for a new trial on the grounds of new evidence. Id. at 675. The supreme court held the district court did not err because Hawes knew of Andrew's expected testimony at the time of trial and thus affirmed her conviction on August 24, 2011. Id. at 659.

         B. Postconviction Petitions

         Nearly four years later, on July 10, 2015, Hawes sought postconviction relief in Scott County District Court. (ECF No. 14, Ex. 5). Hawes, acting pro se, claimed ineffective assistance of counsel because her counsel failed to introduce Andrew's out of court and post-trial statements about Hawes's involvement in the crime. (Id.). Hawes claimed this alleged ineffective assistance resulted in constitutional due process violations, and that her imprisonment constituted cruel and unusual punishment due to the incarceration of an innocent person. (Id.). Hawes further claimed the trial court erred in suppressing Andrew's out of court statements and in denying her motion for a new trial. (Id.). The respondents moved for dismissal because Hawes's claims did not entitle her to relief. (ECF No. 14, Ex. 6). The postconviction court noted Hawes did not raise “any challenges to jurisdiction or the lawfulness of her executed sentence, and there is nothing in the record to support any such claims.” (ECF No. 14, Ex. 7). Hawes's postconviction relief was denied. (ECF No. 14, Ex. 7).

         Hawes appealed the dismissal of her postconviction petition to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. (ECF No. 14, Ex. 8). The court held Hawes's claim was legally insufficient. (ECF No. 14, Ex. 9). The court stated Hawes “merely challenges the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to her underlying conviction, a challenge she previously raised in a motion for a new trial.” (Id.). The court also found Hawes's counsel “failed for reasons of law and not inadequate representation” as Hawes's “claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is based on disappointment that her posttrial motion and appeal failed.” (Id.). The court of appeals affirmed the district court's motion to dismiss. (Id.).

         On May 2, 2016, Hawes mailed “an appeal of habeas corpus” to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which was not accepted for failure to comply with with Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 117. (ECF No. 14, Exs. 10, 15).[2] Hawes then filed a motion for an extension of time to file a late petition for review, which was also denied. (ECF No. 14, Exs. 14-15).

         Hawes next filed a postconviction petition with the Anoka County District Court on May 12, 2016. (ECF No. 14, Ex. 11). Hawes asked for a reversal of her conviction, a new trial, or a reduction in her sentence because having her trial before Andrew's restricted her from presenting her full case to the jury. (Id.) The district court dismissed her petition without a hearing on May 23, 2016. (ECF No. 14, Ex. 13). The court stated Hawes was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing because it was untimely, the court had already ruled on the issue of whether Hawes was entitled to a new trial based on Andrew's affidavit, the court's decision to deny a new trial was affirmed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, and Hawes's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were known at the time of her direct appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. (ECF No. 7, Ex. U).

         C. Federal Habeas Petition

         Hawes filed the instant writ of habeas corpus in this Court on December 22, 2017. (ECF No. 8). Hawes argues: (1) she has exhausted her state court remedies; (2) she should be allowed to appeal her conviction despite the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations because she can establish her innocence; (3) there was ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel; (4) the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision that exclusion of Hawes's testimony as harmless error was objectively unreasonable; and (5) the postconviction court was objectively unreasonable in holding the trial court did not violate Hawes's Sixth Amendment rights by denying her motion for a new trial. (ECF No. 5).


         “Federal habeas corpus review of a state criminal conviction is available only for claims involving federal constitutional issues.” Carney v. Fabian, 441 F.Supp.2d 1014, 1022 (D. Minn. 2006), aff'd, 487 F.3d 1094 (8th Cir. 2007). That is, “it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions. In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991).

         A federal district court may entertain a state prisoner's application for a writ of habeas corpus only when the petitioner has exhausted state court remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999); Gill v. Swanson, Civ. No. 07-4555 (JMR/AJB), 2008 WL 4371378, at *2-3 (D. ...

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