United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
INDIRA TALWANI, District Judge.
Petitioner Joseph Buckman filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus against Respondent, Superintendent of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Norfolk, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner contends that he is being held in violation of the Constitution of the United States on the following three grounds: (1) the trial court's prohibition of prospective witnesses from the courtroom violated Petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, (2) the trial judge's ruling prohibiting defense counsel from making a third-party culprit defense violated Petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to present a full defense to the jury and to the assistance of counsel without official interference, and (3) the prosecutor's knowing presentation of false and materially misleading testimony violated Petitioner's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.
Presently before the court is Respondent's Motion to Dismiss the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus [#28], which, as directed by the court, addresses the merits of all claims made by Petitioner in the petition. The briefing in connection with this motion was, therefore, treated as the briefing on the merits of the petition, and the motion and petition are now decided together. See Order of Nov. 24, 2014 [#45]. For the reasons explained below, Respondent's motion is ALLOWED and the petition is DENIED.
Petitioner was indicted on March 2, 1998 by a Suffolk County grand jury on one count of first-degree murder. Supplemental Answer ("SA") 3, 891. In October 1998, a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. SA 122. After filing a timely notice of appeal, appellate proceedings were stayed pursuant to Petitioner's requests for further investigation. Commonwealth v. Buckman, 957 N.E.2d 1089, 1093 (Mass. 2011). In March 2005, Petitioner filed a motion for a new trial in the trial court, which was ultimately denied without hearing in April 2008. Id . Thereafter, Petitioner filed a supplemental motion for a new trial, which was denied without hearing in December 2009. Id.
Before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ("SJC"), Petitioner's appeal from those rulings was consolidated with his direct appeal. Id . After oral argument, the SJC remanded the case for further findings as to Petitioner's public trial claim. Id . In November 2011, the SJC upheld Petitioner's conviction. Id. at 1105. In December 2011, Petitioner filed a motion for rehearing, SA 1901, which was denied in February 2012, SA 798. Petitioner then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, which was denied in June 2012. SA 1949. Petitioner then timely filed the instant petition with this court. See Pet. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Writ Habeas Corpus [#1] [hereinafter Pet.].
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a federal court may not grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus for a claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's decision "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). As to (1), a state court precedent is contrary to Supreme Court precedent "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). A state-court decision "is also contrary to [Supreme Court] precedent if the state court confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite to ours." Id . A state court unreasonably applies clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it applies legal principles to the facts of a case "in an objectively unreasonable manner, " extends clearly established principles to a new context in which they do not belong, or refuses to extend clearly established principles to a new context in which they should apply. Sleeper v. Spencer, 510 F.3d 32, 38 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing L'Abbe v. DiPaolo, 311 F.3d 93, 96 (1st Cir. 2002)); see Williams, 529 U.S. at 407.
As to (2), a federal court may not disturb the state court's findings of fact unless a petitioner rebuts the presumption that those facts are correct with clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. § 2254(e)(1); see Sleeper, 510 F.3d at 38.
B. Ground 1: Violation of Sixth Amendment Right to Public Trial
Petitioner argues that his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated when all potential prosecution and defense witnesses were sequestered, which prevented four identified individuals from entering the courtroom during jury selection and prevented two of those individuals from attending jury instructions and closing arguments. Pet. Attach. C, 1-2. This claim was first raised in Petitioner's motion for a new trial. After the SJC remanded the case and directed the motion judge to conduct an evidentiary hearing as to this issue, the motion judge found that "[t]he credible evidence does not provide a basis to determine whether the defendant's children, any of their spouses or in-laws, or the Lockes were present in the courtroom either during impanelment or during the motion hearing that preceded impanelment." SA 01937-01938. The motion judge also found that particular law enforcement officers as well as Fay and Alan Rosenstein (the victim Susan Buckman's sister and brother-in-law) did not enter the courtroom during trial because they had been sequestered as witnesses, and that they had understood their sequestration to apply to impanelment. SA 01928-01929. Specifically, as to Fay and Alan Rosenstein, the motion judge found that the victim advocate had told them that they would not be permitted to enter the courtroom because they were sequestered and that they did not enter the courtroom until verdict. SA 01929. Moreover, the motion judge found that "[t]he evidence does establish that the court officers understood the sequestration order to apply to impanelment, " and that the court officers would have asked a sequestered witness to leave or would have denied entry to a sequestered witness during impanelment. SA 01938. The motion judge found, however, that "[c]ourt officers permitted all persons other than sequestered potential witnesses to enter to observe the impanelment process, " and that the evidence did not establish that anyone was asked to leave the courtroom prior to impanelment or was denied entry into the courtroom after impanelment had commenced. SA 01938-01939.
After considering these findings, the SJC rejected Petitioner's claim, relying on the motion judge's finding that "[t]he credible evidence does not provide a basis to determine whether the defendant's children [or any other of the defendant's family members] were present in the courtroom during impanelment or during the motion hearing that preceded impanelment' (emphasis added)." Buckman, 957 N.E.2d at 1095-96. The SJC reasoned that, based on that finding, Petitioner had failed to satisfy his burden to show that there was a partial closure of the court room. Id.
Following the SJC's decision, Petitioner petitioned the SJC for reconsideration of its judgment, arguing that the SJC had overlooked the motion judge's findings that particular law enforcement officers as well as Fay and Alan Rosenstein had been excluded from jury impanelment. SA 01906. The SJC summarily denied this petition. SA 00798.
In rejecting Petitioner's claim and denying his petition for reconsideration, the SJC adjudicated this federal constitutional claim on its merits. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98-99 (2011); Jewett v. Brady, 634 F.3d 67, 78 (1st Cir. 2011). Consequently, this court applies AEDPA deference to the result, not the explanation, of the SJC's decision. See DiBenedetto v. Hall, 272 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2001) ("[W]hen the state court has addressed the federal constitutional issue, it is its ultimate outcome, and not its rationalization, which is the focus."). The court, therefore, may not disturb the state court's judgment absent a decision "contrary to, or involve[ing] an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, " 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
Applying this standard to Petitioner's claim, the court must deny habeas relief. In Presley v. Georgia, 558 U.S. 209, 213-14 (2010), the Supreme Court held that "the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial extends to the voir dire of prospective jurors" and that "trial courts are required to consider alternatives to closure even when they are not offered by the parties." These holdings derived from prior Supreme Court precedent based on both the Sixth and First Amendments, such as Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984), and Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., 464 U.S. 501 (1984). These cases concerned complete closures prohibiting the general public from attending some portion of the trial or pretrial process, see Presley, 558 U.S. at 210 (exclusion of the public from voir dire of prospective jurors); Waller, 467 U.S. at 42 (exclusion of the public from pretrial suppression hearing); Press-Enterprise Co., 464 U.S. at 503 (exclusion of the public ...