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Horst v. Roy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 24, 2019

HEATHER LEANN HORST, Petitioner,
v.
TOM ROY, Respondent.

          Deborah K. Ellis, for plaintiff.

          Peter R. Marker, RAMSEY COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for defendant.

          ORDER

          Patrick J. Schiltz United States District Judge

         Petitioner Heather Leann Horst was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder after a jury found that she had aided and abetted the killing of her husband. The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously affirmed her conviction. See State v. Horst, 880 N.W.2d 24 (Minn. 2016). Horst then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. In a report and recommendation (“R&R”), Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau recommended denying Horst's petition. ECF No. 14.

         This matter is before the Court on Horst's objection to the R&R. The Court has conducted a de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Based on that review, the Court overrules Horst's objection and adopts the R&R.

         Before turning to Horst's objection, [1] the Court emphasizes the “high standard [that must] be met before a federal court may issue a writ of habeas corpus to set aside state-court rulings.” Uttecht v. Brown, 551 U.S. 1, 10 (2007). This Court may grant habeas relief to Horst only if the Minnesota Supreme Court's adjudication of any of her federal claims:

(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).

         “[C]learly established Federal law” means “the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). To act “contrary to” clearly established federal law, the state court must have either (1) arrived at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or (2) decided a case differently than the Supreme Court on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Id. at 412-13. Under the “unreasonable application” clause, federal habeas relief is warranted if the state court identified the correct governing legal principle, but unreasonably applied that principle to the facts of the case. Id. at 413. It is not enough, under the “unreasonable application” clause, that the state court's decision was wrong, or even that it was “clear error”; the decision must be “objectively unreasonable.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003). Finally, on habeas review, “a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         Horst objects to two aspects of the R&R:

         Horst first disagrees with Judge Rau's determination that there was nothing objectively unreasonable about the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision that Horst was not in custody (and thus not entitled to a Miranda warning) when she was questioned at length by Sergeant Jake Peterson of the St. Paul Police Department. Horst argues that she was in custody during that interrogation and that, because she was not provided with a Miranda warning, the statements that she made to Sergeant Peterson should have been suppressed. Horst further argues that the contents of her cell phone should have been suppressed, as they were the fruit of this poisonous tree.

         In support of her argument, Horst does not contend that the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision was contrary to clearly established federal law. In other words, Horst does not argue that the Minnesota Supreme Court decided a legal question that directly conflicted with a Supreme Court decision regarding the same legal question, nor does she claim that the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision conflicts with a Supreme Court decision that addressed materially indistinguishable facts. Rather, Horst argues that the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision represented an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

         In support of her argument, Horst emphasizes facts that the Minnesota Supreme Court did not explicitly discuss (or, in her view, afforded insufficient weight), and she ignores or downplays facts that the court did explicitly discuss (and, in her view, afforded excessive weight). If this Court were determining the issue as an original matter, the Court might well agree with Horst that she was in custody. The question for this Court is not, however, whether the decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court was correct as an original matter, but whether that decision was “objectively unreasonable.” Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 76; see also Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 665 (2004) (“We cannot grant relief under AEDPA by conducting our own independent inquiry into whether the state court was correct as a de novo matter.”). “A decision is not objectively unreasonable if ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' as to its correctness.” Bahtuoh v. Smith, 855 F.3d 868, 871 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011)).

         The Court cannot find that the unanimous decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court that Horst was not in custody was a decision with which no “fairminded jurist” could agree. The court correctly identified the guiding legal principles, independently reviewed the evidence in the record (discovering at least one factual error made by the trial court[2]), identified several factors that militated toward a finding that Horst was not in custody, [3] acknowledged that “some of the [other] facts are suggestive of a custodial setting” (and identified some of those other facts[4]), and concluded-based on “the totality of the circumstances”-that “Horst was not in custody when she made the statements that were the subject of her pretrial suppression motion.” Horst, 880 N.W.2d at 31-33. It is possible that the Minnesota Supreme Court was incorrect, but its decision was not an “unreasonable application of[] clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” § 2254(d).

         Horst's second complaint about the R&R relates to the State's use of her medical records. The evidence showed that Horst had told a number of friends that her husband had physically abused her and, as a result, caused multiple miscarriages. Indeed, the evidence showed that the man who killed Horst's husband at her request (Aaron Allen, the fiancé of the husband's stepsister) was motivated in part by Horst's complaint ...


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