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Rucker v. Miles

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 31, 2019

RENARD RUCKER, Petitioner,
v.
EDDIE MILES, JR., Respondent.

          Renard Rucker, MCF Stillwater, pro se Petitioner.

          Linda M. Freyer, Hennepin County Attorney's Office, for Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DAVID T. SCHULTZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Renard Rucker seeks a Writ of Habeas Corpus vacating his state court conviction and sentence for three counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct. Rucker raises three distinct grounds to support his request, each implicating his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. Respondent Eddie Miles, Jr. moves to dismiss Rucker's petition as being procedurally defaulted. Because all of Rucker's grounds for habeas relief are procedurally defaulted, the Court recommends the petition be dismissed with prejudice.

         FINDINGS OF FACT[1]

         Rucker was charged with three counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct for actions that took place over the course of more than a year. Minnesota v. Rucker, 2017 WL 746422, at *1 (Minn.Ct.App. Feb. 27, 2017), review denied (Minn. May 16, 2017). The State of Minnesota alleged that, on multiple occasions, Rucker sexually penetrated H.B., his girlfriend's daughter, while all three of them were living together. Id.

         During voir dire, Rucker's trial counsel noted to the trial court that the 21-member jury panel was entirely Caucasian. Rspd's App. 40 (Order Den. Pet'r's Mot. for Postconviction Relief), Docket No. 12. The trial court agreed. Id. However, Rucker's counsel did not make any further motion or note which jurors the prosecution peremptorily struck. Id.; Rucker, 2017 WL 746422, at *4.

         At trial, several individuals testified, including H.B., H.B.'s mother, and a forensic examiner from CornerHouse, a nonprofit organization that provides support services in cases involving the possible mistreatment of children. Rspd's App. 41-42. The prosecution also showed the jury a recorded interview the forensic examiner conducted with H.B. while she was at CornerHouse. Id. Jurors received a printed transcript of the interview, which was collected after the video was shown. Id. The judge informed the jurors before viewing the interview that the recording was the evidence, not the transcript. Id.

         Although the prosecution and Rucker's counsel had agreed to redact portions of the interview in which H.B. discussed Rucker's history of abusing her mother, the transcript provided to the jury was not redacted. Id. at 42-43. In a later part of the video shown to the jurors, H.B. also made statements about Rucker's mistreatment of her mother that were similar to the earlier comments the parties had agreed to redact. Id. at 43. Outside the presence of the jury, Rucker's counsel stated his concern that jurors may have read the unredacted transcript, but, ultimately, he declined to poll the jury, instead requesting that the judge reiterate his limiting instruction that the video was the evidence. Id. at 43-45.

         Rucker was convicted on all three counts and sentenced to 201 months in prison. Id. at 45. After the trial, one of the jurors wrote letters to Rucker's trial counsel, the court, and the prosecution. The juror stated that he felt harassed and intimidated by the others, but made no specific allegation of a threat of violence. Id. Rucker's counsel moved for a hearing to impeach the jury's verdict because of potential juror misconduct. The trial court denied the motion, concluding the defense had failed to make a prima facie showing of intimidation. Id.

         Rucker initially appealed his conviction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing, among other grounds, that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel during his trial. Rucker, 2017 WL 746422, at *1. He then sought a stay of the direct appeal to pursue postconviction relief in district court based on a theory of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. When the district court denied his petition for postconviction relief, the Minnesota Court of Appeals lifted the stay, determined that Rucker had not satisfied the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and affirmed the verdict. Rucker, 2017 WL 746422, at *1-4, 6. Rucker sought review from the Minnesota Supreme Court, but only on the ground that his trial counsel was ineffective because he had failed to review the transcript and video of H.B.'s interview before they were published to the jury. Rspd's App. 140-41 (Pet. for Review). The Minnesota Supreme Court denied review. Rspd's App. 152.

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         In his petition, Rucker asserts three grounds for habeas relief.[2] He contends that his trial counsel was deficient for (1) failing to properly inquire into a juror's letters claiming that juror felt harassed, (2) failing to preserve the record regarding the racial makeup of the jury panel by making a Batson motion, and (3) failing to review the interview video and ...


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