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Gaines v. Vidal

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 14, 2016

JAMES GAINES, Petitioner,
OSVALDO VIDAL, Respondent.


          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Petitioner James Gaines (“Gaines”) has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus (“Petition”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 2254 based upon five constitutional grounds. D. 1. Gaines has moved to stay the Petition to allow him to return to state court and exhaust certain of his claims. D. 21. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Gaines's motion for stay and abeyance, id., and DENIES Gaines's petition. D. 1.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         The following facts are primarily drawn from the Suffolk Superior Court's ruling on Gaines's second motion for a new trial and the Massachusetts Appeals Court's opinion on the related appeal. On May 26, 2005, a jury in Suffolk Superior Court convicted Gaines of armed assault with intent to murder, aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm. Commonwealth v. Gaines, No. 02-cr-11091-RJB, 2012 WL 3061155, at *1 (Mass. Super. Ct. June 1, 2012) (“Gaines I”). Gaines filed two motions for a new trial and appealed his conviction and sentence.

         On May 28, 2009, Gaines filed his first pro se motion for a new trial based upon the grounds that he was: (1) denied the right to a fair trial due to the factors the Superior Court (Hinkle, J.) considered in sentencing; and (2) denied the right to effective assistance of counsel. Id. at *1 n.1. As to his sentencing, Gaines claimed that his right to a fair trial was violated when the court considered the victims' status as uniformed police officers as an aggravating factor in determining his sentence. Commonwealth v. Gaines, No. 13-P-1155, 2014 WL 3630194, at *1 (Mass. App. Ct. July 24, 2014) (“Gaines II”). In addition, Gaines argued that his trial counsel was ineffective because counsel “opened the door to the introduction of prejudicial evidence.” Id.

         In June 2011, the Superior Court granted a motion to stay the motion for a new trial and in November 2011 this stay was continued to give Gaines's newly acquired appellate counsel time to file a second motion. Gaines I, 2012 WL 3061155, at *1 n.1. On January 10, 2012, the court (Brassard, J.), lifted the stay because appellate counsel never filed the second motion and subsequently denied Gaines's first motion for a new trial on both asserted grounds. Id.

         On January 20, 2012, Gaines, with the assistance of counsel, filed a second motion for a new trial and resentencing. Id. In that motion, Gaines raised the same two grounds as those in his first motion for a new trial as well as two new grounds: (1) that he was denied the right to a public trial pursuant to the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments; and (2) the Massachusetts firearm statutory scheme violated his right to bear arms and right to due process. Id. at *5, *9. On June 1, 2012, the court declined to address the right to a fair trial and ineffective assistance of counsel claims “because the court already found: (1) the trial judge did not use an improper factor in sentencing Gaines; and (2) Gaines' trial counsel was not ineffective, these arguments will not be considered in the current motion.” Id. at *1 n.1. As such, the court ruled solely on the two new grounds that Gaines advanced in his second motion. Id.

         In deciding the first ground regarding the right to a public trial, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing, hearing testimony from Gaines's trial attorney and friends and family, a police officer, a court officer and a recorded interview from the trial judge, and reviewed the jury empanelment procedure. Id at *2. The court found that the trial court did not close the courtroom to the public or to Gaines's friends and family during empanelment and thus concluded that the empanelment procedure was not conducted contrary to the right to a public trial. Id. at *5-6, *9. Accordingly, Gaines was not entitled to a new trial based upon that ground, id. at *10.

         As to the second ground, Gaines argued that the firearm statutory scheme that he was convicted under was “unconstitutionally burdensome and create[d] a restriction on the fundamental right to own a handgun.” Id. at *9. Gaines also argued that the statutory scheme improperly shifts the burden to him to show that he had the proper license rather than to the Commonwealth to prove that he did not. Id. In rejecting these arguments, the court noted that “the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment is not unlimited” and concluded that the license requirement was constitutional and did not improperly shift the applicable burden because “the absence of a license is not an element of the crime.” Id. at *9, 10. The court reasoned that the license requirement “imposes the burden of production on the defendant” and, as with any affirmative defense, the “ultimate burden of disproving a properly raised affirmative defense [is] on the prosecution.” Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Powell, 459 Mass. 572, 589 (2011); Commonwealth v. Jefferson, 461 Mass. 821, 834-35 (2012)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A. The Appellate Court Affirmed the Superior Court's Denial of the Motions for a New Trial

         The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the Superior Court's rulings on the motions for a new trial. Gaines II, 2014 WL 3630194, at *1. The Massachusetts Appeals Court concluded that: (1) Judge Hinkle properly exercised her discretion in sentencing and was not biased; (2) the Superior Court properly rejected the ineffective assistance of counsel claim because Gaines did not establish that “counsel's lapse deprived him of an otherwise available defense;” (3) Gaines did not meet his burden to show that the public was excluded from his trial; and (4) the Massachusetts firearm statutes did not violate the Second and Fourteenth Amendments where the Supreme Judicial Court had previously rejected identical claims. Id at *1-2. The Supreme Judicial Court subsequently denied further review. Commonwealth v. Gaines, 469 Mass. 1109 (2014).

         B. Gaines's Grounds for Relief

         In the Petition before this Court, Gaines raises five grounds for relief (“Ground(s)”) and, within four of the Grounds, advances several claims (“Claim(s)”):

1. Gaines's right to a fair trial was violated and he received an illegal sentence because: (a) Judge Hinkle improperly considered the fact that the victims were uniformed police officers as an aggravating factor; and (b) Judge Hinkle was biased against Gaines and unfairly sentenced him because the courtroom was filled with uniformed police officers during his sentencing. D. 1 at 5.
2. Gaines was denied effective assistance of counsel when: (a) counsel opened the door to the admission of an unfairly prejudicial flyer that included a mugshot of Gaines; (b) counsel failed to challenge potentially biased jurors during empanelment; (c) counsel failed to inform Gaines of a plea offer; and (d) counsel failed to move to suppress illegally seized evidence. Id. at 7.
3. Gaines's right to a public trial was violated because Judge Hinkle ordered jury selection to be conducted “in private, ” at which time members of the public, specifically Gaines's family and friends, were denied entry to the courtroom. Id. at 8.
4. The Massachusetts firearm statutory scheme, Mass. Gen. L. c. 269, § 10(h) and c. 278, § 7: (a) create an unconstitutional restriction of Gaines's Second Amendment right; and (b) violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the statutes improperly shift the burden to Gaines to “prove his innocence.” D. 1 at 10.
5. Gaines's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure were violated. Id at 12.

         III. Review of Habeas Petitions

         A. Standard of ...

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