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Seales v. Thompson

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 18, 2015

AUGHN P. SEALES, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL THOMPSON, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR HABEAS CORPUS

LEO T. SOROKIN, District Judge.

Petitioner Vaughn P. Seales, a prisoner at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord, Massachusetts, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254, in which he raises nine challenges to his convictions and sentences. Doc. No. 1. The respondent has opposed the petition. Doc. No. 17. For the reasons that follow, Seales's petition is DENIED, as each of his claims is either meritless, not cognizable, or procedurally defaulted.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 24, 2010, following a jury trial, Seales was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder and eleven other charges arising from a string of domestic disputes with the mother of his children.[1] Commonwealth v. Seales, 978 N.E.2d 106, 2012 WL 5430953, at *1 (Mass.App.Ct. Nov. 8, 2012) (unpublished memorandum and order). He was sentenced to an aggregate term of six-to-eight years' incarceration with a concurrent eight-year term of probation, followed by five years of supervised probation. S.A. at 1185.[2]

The charges against Seales related to a series of domestic disputes with Marietta Dussourd, the mother of his two children. After dating for several years, the couple and their daughters moved into an apartment in Malden, Massachusetts, in December 2007. S.A. at 539-40, 548. Later that month, according to Dussourd, Seales struck her in the face during an argument. Id. at 544. This incident formed the basis of one A&B charge. Id. at 112. Dussourd did not report the incident at that time, and the two remained together. Id. at 545, 547.

In February 2008, the couple argued again. This time, Dussourd testified, Seales threw a glass at her; the two hit each other with a mop; Seales chased Dussourd and hit her with his hands; he pushed her against a wall and placed a screwdriver at her neck; he tore her clothes off while punching her face, arms, and legs; she hit his head against a bedpost; he doused her with lighter fluid and unsuccessfully attempted to light her on fire; and he threatened to kill her. Id. at 549-60, 680. After the series of physical altercations ended, Seales took Dussourd's wallet, identification, and keys, and stayed home to monitor her movements and activities for three days. Id. at 560. This incident formed the basis of the assault with intent to murder charge, one kidnapping charge, two ABDW charges, [3] and one A&B charge. Id. at 103-04, 108-09, 113. Dussourd did not seek medical attention or report this incident to police. Id. at 562-63. Once again, the two remained together. Id. at 564.

Dussourd described another argument, about a month later, during which Seales again struck her in the face. Id. at 564, 567. This incident formed the basis for an A&B charge. Id. at 114. This time, Dussourd did make a report to police and obtained a restraining order prohibiting Seales from contacting her or abusing her. Id. at 567. In August 2008, Dussourd initiated contact with Seales, despite the fact that the restraining order remained in force. Id. at 687. Then, at Dussourd's request, the restraining order was modified in October 2008 to permit contact between Seales and Dussourd, though it continued to prohibit abuse. Id. at 572, 576-77. Less than two weeks later, according to Dussourd, the couple had a loud argument during which Seales struck Dussourd's face and leg. Id. at 578-81. This incident formed the basis for one ABVRO charge and one VRO charge. Id. at 116-17. This time, neighbors called the police, and officers came to the Malden apartment. See id. at 582. Although Dussourd concealed her injuries and did not report the incident then, she did ask police to instruct Seales to leave the apartment and not return. Id. at 582-84. Days later, the couple reconciled, and Seales returned to their home. Id. at 586, 589-90, 878-80.

A few days before Thanksgiving 2008, when Seales failed to fulfill his obligation to participate in services provided for the family by the Department of Children and Families ("DCF"), Dussourd ended the relationship. Id. at 591-92. After a night out with friends on Thanksgiving eve, Dussourd returned home in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving and got into an argument with Seales on the phone. Id. at 592-96. Dussourd testified that, midargument, Seales burst into her bedroom, threw her phone against a wall, and beat her so severely that she blacked out briefly. Id. at 598. He then instructed her to pack some things, led her to his car, and drove her to his mother's apartment in Boston. Id. at 599, 605-06. According to Dussourd, Seales forced her to leave a message for her mother, who was watching Dussourd's daughters and was expecting her to join them for Thanksgiving dinner, saying she was still out with friends. Id. at 612-13. The day after Thanksgiving, when Seales took a shower and left Dussourd alone in his bedroom, Dussourd took her cell phone and fled. Id. at 615-16. Dussourd contacted her sister, who happened to be in the area at the time, and arranged to meet her. Id. at 616-17. Although Seales eventually chased after Dussourd and caught her, Dussourd's sister and a nearby police officer intervened, and Seales ran away. Id. at 617-19. This incident formed the basis for one kidnapping charge, one ABVRO charge, and one VRO charge. Id. at 105, 115, 118. Police interviewed Dussourd and photographed her injuries following the incident. Id. at 619-20.

At trial, the prosecution offered testimony from Dussourd, her mother, her sister, a friend who stayed with her after the March incident, a friend who went out with her on Thanksgiving eve, six police officers and detectives who responded to or investigated the various incidents at issue, and the DCF caseworker assigned to assist the family. The defense called one additional police officer and pursued two main theories: first, that Dussourd's accounts of the incidents were largely uncorroborated and were not credible; and second, that the police investigation into the incidents was inadequate.

In April 2009, Seales was indicted on sixteen offenses based on the foregoing series of events. Id. at 103-18. The trial court directed verdicts in his favor as to two of the charges, and the jury convicted him of twelve charges and acquitted him of two others following trial.[4] Id. at 1148-52. At Seales's sentencing, the trial court dismissed one count of VRO, finding it duplicative of the ABVRO charge for the same date (October 17, 2008), id. at 116-17, 1166, and placed the other count of VRO on file without imposing a sentence on it, id. at 1165-66. See Seales, 2012 WL 5430953, at *1 n.1 & *2 n.9.

Seales filed a timely direct appeal presenting ten issues, the following nine of which he has essentially repeated here as his federal habeas claims:

1. Whether the evidence at trial was insufficient to support a conviction for assault with intent to murder, where there was no evidence showing intent to kill or disproving mitigation;
2. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury that Seales could be convicted of assault with intent to murder only upon proof that there were no factors mitigating his behavior, where Dussourd admitted to striking Seales with a mop and hitting his head against a bed post;
3. Whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence of prior bad acts;
4. Whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence of Dussourd's mental state;
5. Whether the trial court erred in allowing a DCF caseworker to testify that she instructed Dussourd to remove her children from Seales's presence, where such testimony essentially vouched for the prosecution and suggested Seales was dangerous;
6. Whether the trial court created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice by giving the jurors some, but not all, of her instructions in writing;
7. Whether the trial court created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice by reversing the burden of proof in her written jury instructions;
8. Whether the trial court created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice by failing to fully and forcefully instruct the jury regarding the presumption of innocence; and
9. Whether the Due Process and Double Jeopardy clauses were violated where Seales was convicted of: (a) both A&B and ABDW arising from the February 2008 incident; and (b) both VRO and ABVRO arising from the October and November 2008 incidents.

See S.A. at 44-46.[5] On November 8, 2012, in an unpublished decision, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ("MAC") affirmed Seales's convictions and sentences. See generally Seales, 2012 WL 5430953. Seales petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") for further review, citing the same nine issues he presented to the MAC and repeats here. S.A. at 283-85. The SJC denied further review on February 1, 2013. S.A. at 13. Seales did not petition the Supreme Court for certiorari, nor did he pursue any collateral challenges to his conviction in state court via a motion for a new trial. Instead, he reiterated his direct appeal claims in a timely pro se federal habeas petition.[6] Doc. No. 1 at 5-16. His petition is fully briefed and ripe for resolution.

II. DISCUSSION

As set forth in detail in the sections that follow, Seales is not entitled to federal habeas relief. Three of his claims are meritless, four present questions of state law that are not ...


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