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Taylor v. Roy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 22, 2019

Kemen Lavatos Taylor, II, Petitioner,
Tom Roy, Respondent.


          Leo I. Brisbois United, States Magistrate Judge

         This matter came before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to a referral for report and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.1, as well as, upon Petitioner Kemen Lavatos Taylor's Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [Docket No. 24].

         For the following reasons, the Court recommends Petitioner's Amended Petition, [Docket No. 24], be DENIED, and further recommends declining to grant Taylor a certificate of appealability (COA).

         I. Background

         This case's procedural history is complicated, but understanding that history-especially Taylor's direct appeal-will help explain the discussion below. Thus, the Court will recount key, relevant aspects of Taylor's trial, his direct appeal, his first § 2254 petition, and his state-court petition for postconviction review, and then highlight the arguments raised by the present Amended Petition.

         A. Trial

         In October 2012, a grand jury indicted Taylor on nine counts of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder, including in relevant part one count of murder with premeditation and two counts of murder while committing another felony. Register of Actions, State v. Taylor, No. 27-CR-12-33028 (State-Court Docket) (case-information section), available at (last accessed Jan. 3, 2019); cf. Minn. Stat. § 609.185 (a)(1), (3) (first-degree-murder statute). The charges concerned an August 2011, incident in which several teenagers were shot at; two were hit, and one (Rayjon Gomez) died. State v. Taylor, 869 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn. 2015) (Taylor I).

         Two of the issues from Taylor's trial are relevant to the Amended Petition. See, (Pet.'s Mem., [Docket No. 25], at 8-12, 22-23. First, before the trial, the district court, “[t]o prevent disruptions by persons in the gallery, . . . issued a list of ‘basic rules' for [trial] spectators, ” including bans on “profanity, threatening gestures, gum chewing, and cell phones.” Taylor I, 869 N.W.2d at 10.[1] The court also “required spectators to show photographic identification before being allowed entry into the courtroom.” Id. at 10. Taylor did not object to these rules, including the photo-ID requirement. Id.

         Second, the district court excluded certain evidence that Taylor had wished to submit relative to two witnesses. Id. at 12. Under the prosecution's case theory, Taylor himself did not fire any shots during the August 2011, incident. Id. at 7. The shots during the incident were fried by Derrick Catchings and Donquarius Copeland, who along with Taylor were allegedly members of the Young-N-Thuggin gang. Id. The prosecution's account was that Taylor drove Catchings and Copeland into a north Minneapolis neighborhood to find “Skitz, ” an affiliate of another gang who had allegedly shot Taylor's younger brother. Id. After someone in the vehicle believed that he saw Skitz, Catchings and Copeland fired several shots at people in an alley-including the shot leading to Gomez's death. Id.

         At trial, Taylor wanted to introduce certain evidence that Catchings's and Copeland's motive for the shooting did not involve Taylor. Id. at 12. While not expressly explained, Taylor appears to believe that because he did not fire the critical shots his liability under Minnesota's first-degree-murder statute hinged on him sharing a motive with the shooters. (Pet.'s Mem., [Docket No. 25], at 22).[2] At trial, Taylor sought to ask “Copeland and Catchings about previous gang-related incidents, ” apparently to show that they had independent reasons-apart from avenging the shooting of Taylor's brother-to attack those associated with rival gangs. Taylor I, 869 N.W.2d at 12. The trial court excluded that evidence under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 403, [3]stating that “the fact that other people also had a motive that was either the same or different doesn't negate the fact that [Taylor] had a motive” and that “the fact that other people may have had different motives is [not] probative for anybody's case, and it certainly has the possibility of confusing the issues in the case.” Id.[4]

         Taylor's trial ended with the jury finding him guilty on all counts. Id. at 10. The court sentenced Taylor to life without the possibility of parole as well as two concurrent 180-month sentences. State-Court Docket; Pet.'s Mem., [Docket No. 25], at 1.

         B. Direct Appeal

         After his conviction, Taylor-represented by appointed counsel-filed a direct appeal with the Minnesota Supreme Court. (Pet.'s Mem., [Docket No. 25], at 2; Resp. Mem., [Docket No. 30], at 5).[5] His counsel's appellate brief raised numerous issues, including that (1) the district court's photo-ID requirement violated Taylor's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, and (2) the district court's Rule 403 ruling was erroneous because it denied Taylor the right to present evidence in his own defense and denied him the right to confront the witnesses against him. (Resp. Mem., [Docket No. 30], at 5-6); Taylor I, 869 N.W.2d at 10-14. Taylor also filed a pro se brief raising various other issues. (Resp. Mem., [Docket No. 30], at 6).

         Taylor asserts that while his direct appeal was pending, he asked his appointed counsel to stay his appeal so as to press certain claims through a motion for postconviction relief. (Pet.'s Mem., [Docket No. 25], at 2). As Taylor explains it, “Minnesota requires appellants to seek a stay of their direct appeal in order to pursue postconviction issues and then combine both the direct appeal and postconviction appeal together if postconviction relief is denied.” Id. (citing Minn. R. Crim. Pro. 28.02(4)(4); State v. Garasha, 393 N.W.2d 20 (Minn.Ct.App. 1986)).[6] Taylor alleges his appointed counsel refused to seek a stay, so Taylor asked his counsel to withdraw so that Taylor could proceed pro se. Id. at 2-3. His counsel filed that motion to withdraw on March 31, 2015- more than a month after the Minnesota Supreme Court had scheduled oral argument on Taylor's appeal for April 8, 2015. State v. Taylor, No. A14-0942, Order 2 (Minn. Apr. 28, 2015) (April 2015 Order). The Minnesota Supreme Court granted the motion to withdraw, and it altered the appeal's scheduling: the court would still consider the appeal on April 8, 2015, but on the “non-oral” calendar for nonargued cases. Id. at 1.

         On April 8, 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court met and considered Taylor's appeal as scheduled. Id. Later that day, Taylor's prior attorney submitted a motion by Taylor to stay the appeal so that Taylor could file a petition for postconviction relief in state court. Id. The motion asserted that Taylor “feels that it's appropriate for him to file a petition for postconviction relief to expand the record concerning effective assistance of counsel, newly discovered evidence, and to explore Brady material.” State v. Taylor, No. 14-0942, Mot. to Stay Direct Appeal for Postconviction Proceedings Pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 28.02, Subd. 4(4) at 2 (Minn. Apr. 8, 2015). The prosecution opposed the motion, noting (among other things) that the Supreme Court had already considered the case and that Taylor had not “provide[d] any specifics regarding his potential claims.” State v. Taylor, No. A14-0942, State's Resp. to Mot. to Stay Direct Appeal for Postconviction Proceedings 1 (Minn. Apr. 22, 2015). The Minnesota Supreme Court denied the motion, observing that “[t]he appeal has been submitted to the court and an opinion will be filed in due course.” April 2015, Order.

         Taylor then moved to voluntarily dismiss his appeal, stating that he “feels and strongly believes that the issues raised in [his counsel's brief] are inadequate to warrant relief and do not meaningfully represent the issues and arguments which would show that [Taylor's] trial was unfair . . . .” State v. Taylor, No. A14-0942, Not. of Mot. and Mot. for Voluntary Dismissal of Direct Appeal (May 26, 2015). He asserted that various issues had been inadequately factually developed below, describing them as follows:

Appellant wants to raise and challenge among other issues: trial counsel's ineffectiveness for failing to call certain witnesses, failing to adequately challenge certain prejudicial and unconstitutional evidence, failing to present an adequate defense, failing to challenge the State's Brady violation; judicial bias on behalf of the trial judge; and misconduct on behalf the prosecution for intentionally suppressing and withholding Brady material, misstating burden of proof, and other various misconducts of conduct on by the prosecution.


         In Taylor's view, to develop a factual record for these issues, he needed to petition the trial court for postconviction review first, do the needed factual record development there, and then proceed with his direct appeal. Id. Importantly, however, the issues that Taylor listed do not include the public-trial argument made by his appointed attorney's appellate brief.[7]

         The Minnesota Supreme Court denied Taylor's motion to dismiss, and on August 26, 2015, issued an opinion affirming Taylor's convictions. Taylor I, 869 N.W.2d at 23. Addressing the trial court's photo-ID requirement, Taylor I observed in relevant part that “[t]he record does not show whether the identification requirement was enforced and, if so, whether anyone who sought to enter the courtroom could not.” Id. at 10. In the Minnesota Supreme Court's view, this meant that there was no record evidence that “a significant portion of the public was unable to attend due to the identification requirement; that Taylor, his family, his friends, or any witnesses were excluded; or that any individuals actually excluded were known to Taylor.” Id. at 11. The court thus concluded that the photo-ID requirement was not a “true” closure-that is, the closure was “too trivial to amount to a violation of the [Sixth] Amendment.” Id. (quoting State v. Lindsey, 632 N.W.2d 652, 660-61 (Minn. 2001)) (internal citation omitted; brackets in Taylor I).

         Taylor I also rejected Taylor's argument about the excluded evidence concerning Catchings and Copeland. As already noted, this argument had two prongs: Taylor argued that excluding the evidence violated his right to present evidence in his own defense, and that it violated his right to confront witnesses. As to the argument's first prong, Taylor I held that even if it had been error to exclude the evidence, the error was harmless. Id. at 12-13 (“We are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that a reasonable jury would have reached the same verdict even if Taylor had been able to present evidence that Copeland and Catchings had been involved in specific, prior gang-related incidents.”). Criticially, the court stated, “the district court's assumed error did not preclude Taylor from exploring Copeland's and Catchings' gang-related motives; it only precluded evidence of particular previous acts.” Id. at 13. Indeed, the court noted various things Taylor had been allowed to offer into evidence suggesting that Copeland and Catchings “were not primarily or solely motivated by the shooting of Taylor's brother.” Id.

         As for Taylor's confrontation argument, the court again assumed that excluding the evidence was error, but again found the error harmless. Id. at 13-14. The court noted that while Copeland's and Catchings's testimony was “critically important to the State's case, ” their testimony had been corroborated by multiple sources, Taylor had been able to impeach Copeland and Catchings in numerous ways, and Taylor had been able to “elicit a considerable amount of testimony on alternative motives.” Id.

         C. First § 2254 Petition

         On November 14, 2016, Taylor filed this action's original petition for a writ of habeas corpus. (Pet. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody [Docket No. 1]). He asserted twelve grounds of relief, including (as relevant here) that (1) the state court's photo-ID requirement violated his right to a public trial; (2) the state court violated Taylor's right to due process by barring the introduction of evidence regarding Copeland's and Catching's alternative motives; and (3) his appellate counsel was ineffective because he had failed to look for spectators who had been prevented from attending his trial due to the photo-ID requirement. (Id. at 5, 7, 17).[8]

         On March 1, 2017, Taylor filed a petition for postconviction relief in Minnesota state court. Pet. for Postconviction Relief, State v. Taylor, No. 27-CR-12-33208 (Minn. Dist. Ct. Mar. 1, 2017) (Postconviction-Relief Petition), filed within Resp't's App., [Docket No. 31] (Roy Appendix); see gen., Section I.D infra. The same day, he asked this Court to stay these § 2254 proceedings so that he could exhaust his state-court postconviction remedies. (Mot. for Stay of Proceedings [Docket No. 11]). This Court promptly granted that motion. (Order [Docket No. 12]).

         D. State Postconviction Proceedings

         The gravamen of Taylor's state Postconviction-Relief Petition was that Taylor wanted to introduce evidence that various “[c]ommunity members” and “relatives of [Taylor]” had in fact been denied access to Taylor's trial because they “could not show a Photo ID”; he provided nine affidavits from individuals stating that they had been excluded from the trial. (Postconviction-Relief Pet. at 1).[9] Because Taylor I's public-trial-right discussion reflected there being no record evidence that the photo-ID requirement caused anyone's exclusion, Taylor sought an evidentiary hearing to “expand the record with respect to the courtroom closing.” Id. at 2. Taylor further suggested that the decision by his direct-appeal counsel not to stay the direct appeal “in order to expand the record on the closed courtroom issue” constituted ineffective assistance of counsel that itself violated Taylor's constitutional rights. Id.

         The state trial court denied the Petition in an Order dated April 28, 2017. State v. Taylor, No. 27-CR-12-33208, Order Denying Pet'r's Req. for Postconviction Relief (Minn. Dist. Ct. Apr. 28, 2017) (hereinafter “April 2017, Order”), filed within Roy App. In that April 2017, Order, the court cited State v. Knaffla, 243 N.W.2d 737 (Minn. 1976), for the proposition that “in the case of post-conviction relief, all matters which have already been fully and fairly litigated should not be re-litigated, ” and Doppler v. State, 660 N.W.2d 797 (Minn. 2003), for the point that “[w]hen a petitioner bases his claims for post-conviction relief upon facts and issues that he either raised or knew about at the time of the direct appeal, Minnesota courts do not allow for reconsideration of those issues.” Id. at 3. The court then determined that under this precedent, Taylor's attempt to factually supplement his public-trial-right argument was Knaffla-barred: he had already brought the public-trial-right argument to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which had rejected it. Id. at 4. The court also observed that while exceptions to the Knaffla rule exist, Taylor had not argued that they applied to his case. Id.

         Taylor appealed that decision arguing that the district court had abused its discretion in refusing him an evidentiary hearing. Taylor v. State, No. A17-0965, Appellant's Br. and Addendum 4-5 (Minn. Aug. 29, 2017), filed within Roy App. In Taylor's view, the affidavits presented to the state court below comprised enough factual material to mandate an evidentiary hearing about a possible violation of his public-trial right. Id. at 6-8. He also claimed that Knaffla did not bar the Postconviction-Review Petition because of one of the rule's exceptions-that a postconviction-review petition can raise a previously addressed issue “when fairness so requires and the petitioner does not deliberately or inexcusably fail to raise the issue on direct appeal.” Id. at 8-9 (quoting Doppler, 660 N.W.2d at 801-02). In response, the State argued, inter alia, that because Taylor had not argued this interests-of-justice exception to the state district court, he had forfeited the argument. Taylor v. State, No. A17-0965, Resp't's Br. 6-7 (Minn. Oct. 12, 2017), filed within Roy App.

         The Minnesota Supreme Court issued Taylor II on April 4, 2018, affirming the state court's denial of the Postconviction-Review Petition. Taylor v. State, 910 N.W.2d 35, 36 (Minn. 2018) (Taylor II). The decision rested on agreement with the State's forfeiture argument: because Taylor “did not argue in the district court that the interests-of-justice exception should be applied in his case, ” the court held, “he has forfeited appellate review of that argument.” Id. at 38-39 (citing Brocks v. State, 883 N.W.2d 602, 605 (Minn. 2016)).

         E. Amended § 2254 Petition

         After the Minnesota Supreme Court issued Taylor II, Taylor informed this Court of the decision. (Letter [Docket No. 20]). This Court lifted the preexisting stay, and it ordered Taylor to file an amended § 2254 petition “representing the current status of issues in the present case.” (Order [Docket No. 21]).

         Taylor filed the Amended Petition on June 7, 2018. (Am. Pet. [Docket No. 25]). Therein, Taylor raises six arguments.[10]

• First, Taylor argues that Taylor I “unreasonably applied clearly established federal law” while determining that the state court had not violated his public-trial rights. Id. at 8.
• Second, Taylor contends that if he “is required to show prejudice” to bring his first argument, “he should be granted a hearing to present his claim because the Minnesota courts denied him an opportunity to present a factual basis for his claim and show prejudice . . . .” Id. at 12.
• Third, he claims that this Court should grant him a hearing “on cause and prejudice to show (1) that Minnesota's postconviction process is ineffective to protect Taylor's and other indigent applicant[s'] due process rights and (2) determine whether Taylor's appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by not providing Taylor access to the state postconviction process.” Id. at 15.
• Fourth, he asserts that the trial court's decision to bar him from offering “alternative perpetrator evidence” violated his “Sixth Amendment right to present a complete defense.” Id. at 22.
• Fifth, he suggests that the cumulative effect of the first and fourth errors listed above justifies issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. Id. at 23.
• Sixth, he argues that the ineffective assistance of his appellate counsel-noted above as a ground for excusing procedural default-is also a standalone ground for habeas relief. Id. at 24.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Court will now address the arguments from the Amended Petition. By way of summary, the Court reaches the following conclusions: First, the Taylor I discussion of the trial court's photo-ID requirement was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. Second, Taylor procedurally defaulted his factually supplemented version of his public-trial argument. Third, while Taylor contends that-for at least two reasons-cause and prejudice exist which excuse that procedural default, neither argument has merit. Fourth, Taylor argues that the trial court's exclusion of alternative-motive evidence gives him a separate ground for habeas relief, but here too Taylor I's treatment of the issue is not contrary to, or a misapplication of, federal law. Fifth, Taylor's assertion that cumulative error supports a grant of habeas relief here is a wholly without merit: The Court has found no error which may be cumulated, and the Eighth Circuit does not provide habeas relief on the basis of cumulative error. Finally, the Court finds unpersuasive Taylor's claim that ineffective assistance of counsel provides him a standalone ground for habeas relief. For reasons discussed in the cause-and-prejudice discussion, Taylor has procedurally defaulted this ineffective-assistance argument as well.

         A. The Photo-ID Requirement and Clearly ...

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