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Butler v. Mitchell

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 19, 2015

LISA A. MITCHELL, Respondent

For Reginald Butler, Petitioner: Michael J. Fellows, LEAD ATTORNEY, Easthampton, MA.

For Lisa A. Mitchell, Superintendent, Respondent: Christopher S. Hurld, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney General's Office, Criminal Bureau, Boston, MA; Kris C. Foster, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA.




In this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner, Reginald Butler (" Butler" ), challenges his conviction for rape in the Massachusetts Superior Court sitting in and for the County of Suffolk. He brings two claims: (1) that the eleven-and-a-half-year delay between the issuance of a criminal complaint in 1991 and the commencement of his trial in 2003 violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, and (2) that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the speedy trial issue on direct appeal.

A. State Trial Court Proceedings

In Commonwealth v. Butler, 464 Mass. 706, 985 N.E.2d 377 (2013), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (" Supreme Judicial Court" ) concisely laid out the procedural history and facts of this case, which this Court now " supplement[s] with other record facts consistent with the [Supreme Judicial Court's] findings." Yeboah-Sefah v. Ficco, 556 F.3d 53, 62 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Healy v. Spencer, 453 F.3d 21, 22 (1st Cir. 2006)).

On September 16, 1991, a criminal complaint and an arrest warrant issued from the Chelsea Division of the District Court Department against the defendant for rape in violation of [Massachusetts General Laws ch.] 265, § 22 (b), and unarmed burglary in violation of [Massachusetts General Laws ch.] 266, § 15, both alleged to have occurred three days earlier. On May 21, 1992, a warrant for the defendant's arrest for these crimes was lodged at the correctional institution where the defendant was serving a sentence on unrelated charges. It appears from the docket that court personnel in the District Court failed to enter details concerning the warrant in the warrant management system as required by [Massachusetts General Laws ch.] 276, § 23A. In January, 1993, while still incarcerated on the unrelated charges, the defendant signed a form requesting a speedy trial on the 1991 complaint. Although the District Court received the defendant's request, the form was not docketed and no action was taken on the request. A department of correction " summary/key issues" report dated April 14, 1993, stated that rape and burglary charges against the defendant were outstanding; however, subsequent " summary/key issues" reports issued between 1994 and 1997, which the defendant signed, stated that the defendant had " no outstanding legal issues."
The defendant completed his sentence on the unrelated charges and was released on June 21, 1997. Three days later, a second warrant for his arrest issued on the rape and burglary charges. The defendant was arrested and arraigned in District Court on the 1991 complaint on March 11, 1998. On April 10, 1998, however, the charges against him were dismissed without prejudice because the Commonwealth was unable to locate the rape victim.
The Commonwealth subsequently renewed contact with the victim and, on March 23, 1999, nearly one year following the dismissal of the charges, obtained aggravated rape and unarmed burglary indictments against the defendant. The defendant was arraigned in Superior Court on May 6, 1999.

Butler, 464 Mass. at 708.

On June 30, 2000, Butler moved in the Superior Court to dismiss his indictment, alleging violations of (1) his federal and state constitutional rights to a speedy trial, (2) preindictment delay in violation of due process, and (3) violation of Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure 36(c).[1] Supp. Answer (" S.A." ) 499, ECF No. 17. After briefing, the Superior Court denied Butler's motion to dismiss on December 7, 2000. S.A. 537-44.

The defendant's trial began on May 5, 2003, where the issue was not whether intercourse occurred (the fact of intercourse was established by deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA] evidence and conceded by the defendant), but whether, as the defendant claimed, the victim consented to sexual intercourse in exchange for drugs. A jury convicted the defendant of the lesser included offense of rape, and acquitted him of unarmed burglary.

Butler, 464 Mass. at 708-09. Butler was sentenced to 9 to 15 years in prison, to be served on or after an unrelated sentence he was already serving. S.A. 10.

B. State Direct Appeals

On September 14, 2005, Butler filed a direct appeal with the Appeals Court of Massachusetts. See Commonwealth v. Butler, 68 Mass.App.Ct. 658, 864 N.E.2d 33 (2007); see also S.A. 16-70. He argued that the Superior Court's denial of his motion to dismiss under Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 was in error. S.A. 24. In the appeal, he did " not present any claim that his right to a speedy trial as guaranteed by the State or Federal Constitution was violated." Butler, 68 Mass.App.Ct. at 659 n.2. The Appeals Court therefore denied the appeal, and affirmed his conviction. Id. at 667.

Then, on June 25, 2008, Butler moved in Superior Court for a new trial, arguing that his appellate counsel had " rendered ineffective assistance . . . by failing to argue to the Appeals Court that his right to a speedy trial" under the federal and state constitutions had been violated by the long gap between the period the criminal complaint was issued and his eventual trial. S.A. 545. This motion was denied in the Superior Court on May 22, 2009, S.A. 558, and affirmed by the Appeals Court two years later, on July 8, 2011, Commonwealth v. Butler, 79 Mass.App.Ct. 751, 759, 949 N.E.2d 936 (2011).

Finally, on July 25, 2011, Butler appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, S.A. 781, which rendered its decision on March 26, 2013, Butler, 464 Mass. at 706. The court first ruled that under Article 11 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, " the speedy trial clock starts when a Massachusetts criminal complaint issues," id. at 707, and thus the more than ten-year delay between complaint and trial was " presumptively prejudicial," id. at 714. The court then analyzed the speedy trial framework as set out by the United States Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), and Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 112 S.Ct. 2686, 120 L.Ed.2d 520 (1992), and after balancing the relevant factors, held that Butler's rights to a speedy trial were not violated. Id. at 719-20. The Supreme Judicial Court thus concluded that because " the decision not to advance a losing argument" did not violate Butler's right to counsel, his ineffective assistance claim could not lie. Id.

C. Federal Habeas Petition

On June 24, 2013, Butler filed a habeas petition in federal district court. Pet., ECF No. 1. He supplemented this petition with a memorandum of law on July 3, 2013. Mem. Supp. Pet. Habeas Corpus (" Pet. Mem." ), ECF No. 5. Lisa A. Mitchell, the respondent (the " Commonwealth" ), responded on August 15, 2013. Resp't's Mem. Law Opp'n Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus (" Resp't's Mem." ), ECF No. 19.


A. AEDPA Standard of Review

A federal district court reviewing the judgment of a state court that was adjudicated on the merits is subject to the constraints of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (" AEDPA" ), 110 Stat. 1214 (1996). AEDPA establishes a " formidable barrier to federal habeas relief," Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013), and dictates that:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim
(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). Petitions under this provision are not to be granted lightly, as " a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011).

Under the " contrary to" prong of AEDPA review, the First Circuit has held that " [a] state court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if it 'contradicts the governing law set forth in the Supreme Court's cases or confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court' but reaches a different result." Companonio v. O'Brien, 672 F.3d 101, 109 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting John v. Russo, 561 F.3d 88, 96 (1st Cir. 2009)); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) (holding that a decision is " contrary to" clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it is " 'diametrically different,' 'opposite in character or nature,' or 'mutually opposed'" to such precedent). This prong, therefore, is used when the state court clearly applies the wrong rule to the legal question at hand.

The unreasonable application prong, on the other hand, applies when:

[T]he state court correctly identifies the governing legal principles, but (i) applies those principles to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner; (ii) unreasonably extends clearly established legal principles to a new context where they should not apply; or (iii) unreasonably refuses to extend established principles to a new context where they should apply.

Sleeper v. Spencer, 510 F.3d 32, 38 (1st Cir. 2007).

Unreasonable application requires something that is beyond being " merely erroneous or incorrect," id., but must be something such that " fairminded jurists" would agree that the application is objectively unreasonable. Cullen v. Pinholster,563 U.S. 170, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1402, 179 L.Ed.2d 557 (2011) (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 101); Grant v. Warden, Me. State Prison,616 F.3d 72, 76 (1st Cir. 2010). Moreover, the scope of the legal rule at question determines whether it has been unreasonably applied. " If the legal rule is specific, the range of reasonable judgments is correspondingly narrow. Conversely, if the legal rule is general, the range of reasonable judgments is likely to be broad." Foxworth v. St. Amand,570 F.3d 414, 425 (1st Cir. 2009); see also Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. ...

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