United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MATTHEW G. LAVOIE, Petitioner,
ANTHONY MENDONSA, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
TALWANI, District Judge.
Matthew Lavoie ("Lavoie" or "Petitioner")
has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [#1]. Lavoie
contends that his conviction and incarceration for murder
violate federal law because (1) he was denied his right to a
public trial under the Sixth Amendment when his trial counsel
decided not to object to the closure of the courtroom for two
days during jury voir dire proceedings without Lavoie's
knowing assent, and (2) he was denied his right to effective
assistance of counsel when his trial counsel did not object
to the courtroom closure. For the following reason, the
petition is DENIED.
Factual and Procedural Background
2001, Lavoie was indicted by a Middlesex County grand jury
for the murder of Westley Vaanen and for the unlawful
possession of a firearm. Suppl. Answer ("S.A.") 70,
72 [#15]. Vaanen was shot three times and died on March 7,
2001. Id. at 23. At the time of his death, Vaanen
lived with Kevin Fuller and Fuller's girlfriend, Samantha
Litalien. Id . In the weeks prior to Vaanen's
death, Lavoie stayed at the residence for roughly four nights
each week. Id . After Vaanen's death, Fuller
took money and cocaine from Vaanen's pockets and split it
with Litalien and Lavoie. Id . Fuller, Litalien, and
Lavoie disposed of Vaanen's body and evidence of the
murder. Id . After his arrest, Lavoie first
maintained to police that he did not kill Vaanen but assisted
Fuller in disposing of the body and evidence. Id. at
23-24. After a break in the interview with police, Lavoie
admitted that Fuller had given him the gun and that he had
shot Vaanen. Id. at 24.
jury voir dire process in Lavoie's murder trial took
place on November 20, 2003, and November 24, 2003. S.A.
216-17. On both days court officers told Lavoie's family
members to leave the courtroom when the potential jury
members entered and informed Lavoie's family that they
could reenter when the jury had been chosen. Id. at
216, 219. The trial court had not ordered the courtroom
closed, had not received a request that the courtroom be
closed, and was not aware that the courtroom had in fact been
closed to Lavoie's family. Id. at 219.
December 16, 2003, the jury found Lavoie guilty of
second-degree murder. Id. at 215. On November
9, 2006, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts denied his appeal
and also upheld the denial of his motion for a new trial.
Id .; Commonwealth v. Lavoie, 856 N.E.2d 917
(Mass.App.Ct. 2006) (table). The Supreme Judicial Court
denied further review on February 1, 2007. S.A. 215;
Commonwealth v. Lavoie, 861 N.E.2d 28 (Mass. 2007) (table).
December 31, 2007, Lavoie filed a second motion for a new
trial on the grounds that his right to a public trial under
the Sixth Amendment had been violated when the courtroom was
closed to the public during jury voir dire, his counsel did
not object, and Lavoie did not give his knowing waiver. S.A.
215. The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on
August 28, 2008 and September 11, 2008, after which the trial
judge found it "likely" that Lavoie's trial
attorney knew about Lavoie's right to a public trial and
that he did not discuss that right with Lavoie. Id.
at 219. Although Lavoie's trial attorney
did not specifically remember Lavoie's family being
excluded, he testified that "as a matter of
practice" he did not object to family members being
asked to leave the courtroom and in fact preferred that
family members not be in the courtroom during jury selection
so they might not comingle with jurors. Id. at 220.
Furthermore, although Lavoie's trial attorney did not
recall the specific exclusion in this case, he did remember
his belief that Lavoie's mother was an "emotional
individual" who may have been a "distraction."
Id . The trial judge concluded that Lavoie's
trial attorney had "consciously decided" to not
object to the removal of Lavoie's family during jury
trial court denied Lavoie's petition on April 2, 2009.
Id . The trial court found that the courtroom had
been closed to the public in violation of Lavoie's Sixth
Amendment right and also held that Lavoie had not waived his
Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Id. at
225-26. However, the trial court also held that Lavoie's
trial counsel's decision not to object was "not an
unreasonable tactical decision" and that the courtroom
closure "did not materially impact the defendant's
case or materially influence the verdict, " and
concluded that therefore Lavoie was not entitled to a new
trial. Id. at 229. Lavoie appealed the trial
court's decision on April 14, 2009. Id. at 21.
October 3, 2011, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reversed
the trial court and remanded the case to the Superior Court.
Id. at 282; Commonwealth v. Lavoie, 954
N.E.2d 547 (Mass.App.Ct. 2011). The Appeals Court noted the
trial court's determinations that the courtroom was
closed and that Lavoie did not knowingly waive his Sixth
Amendment rights. S.A. 284-87; Lavoie, 954 N.E.2d at
550-55. Based on Appeals Court precedent, including
Commonwealth v. Edward, 912 N.E.2d 515 (Mass.App.Ct.
2009), which post-dated the trial court decision, the Appeals
Court held that the right to a public trial can only be
waived with the defendant's "personal, knowing
assent." S.A. 287, 290; Lavoie, 954 N.E.2d at
554-55 & nn.10-12. The Commonwealth applied to the Supreme
Judicial Court of Massachusetts ("SJC") for leave
to obtain further appellate review and the SJC granted the
application on November 30, 2011. S.A. 320; Commonwealth v.
Lavoie, 958 N.E.2d 529 (Mass. 2011) (table).
affirmed the trial court's order denying a new trial on
January 11, 2013. S.A. 578; Commonwealth v. Lavoie,
981 N.E.2d 192 (Mass. 2013). The SJC explained that, although
the Appeals Court had previously held that a knowing waiver
from the defendant was required to waive a Sixth Amendment
right to a public trial, that issue had never been before the
SJC. S.A. 582; Lavoie, 981 N.E.2d at 197-98. The SJC
then held that Lavoie had waived his right to a public trial
through his counsel's failure to object and deemed his
counsel's decision to be "tactical." S.A. 582;
Lavoie, 981 N.E.2d at 198. Furthermore, the SJC
agreed with the trial court that the decision by Lavoie's
trial counsel not to object was "not manifestly
unreasonable when made" and therefore Lavoie's
ineffective assistance of counsel claim failed as well. S.A.
582-83; Lavoie, 981 N.E.2d at 198-99.
filed the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [#1] on
April 18, 2013.
Standard of Review
court's review of the habeas petition is governed by the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
("AEDPA"). Under AEDPA, if a state court has
adjudicated a claim on the merits, the federal habeas court
must defer to that adjudication unless it (1) "resulted
in a decision 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. Â§ 2254(d). A federal court must review de novo any
federal claim not reviewed by the state court on the merits.
See Clements v. Clarke, 592 F.3d 45, 52 (1st Cir.
is "adjudicated on the merits" if there is a
"decision finally resolving the parties' claims,
with res judicata effect, that is based on the substance of
the claim advanced, rather than on a procedural, or other,
ground." Teti v. Bender, 507 F.3d 50, 56 (1st
Cir. 2007) (quoting Sellan v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d 303,
311 (2d Cir. 2001)). A state court need not explain the
disposition or necessarily provide citations to federal law
in order to adjudicate a federal constitutional claim
"on the merits." See Zuluaga v. Spencer,
585 F.3d 27, 29-32 (1st Cir. 2009); see also
Clements, 592 F.3d at 53-54 (a state court's
reference to state court decisions that themselves deal with
federal constitutional issues may be sufficient to trigger
deferential review under AEDPA). Indeed, if a petitioner
presents a federal claim to a state court and the state court
denies relief, it is "presumed that the state court