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Thompson v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 27, 2017

WALTER THOMPSON, Petitioner,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR HABEAS CORPUS (DOC. NO. 1)

          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge.

         Walter Thompson, on parole following a sentence of imprisonment served at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction in Walpole, Massachusetts, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he raises four challenges to his convictions and sentences. Doc. No. 1. The respondent has opposed the petition. Doc. No. 31. Because each of his claims is either meritless, procedurally defaulted, or not cognizable, Thompson's petition is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In early 2011, following a jury trial in the Middlesex Superior Court, Thompson was convicted of distributing cocaine as a second or subsequent offense, and of doing so within a "school zone, " both in violation of Massachusetts law. Commonwealth v. Thompson, 19 N.E.3d 419, 419 (Mass. 2014); Doc. No. 1 at 2; Doc. No. 31 at 2. He was sentenced to terms of imprisonment on each charge, and presently is on parole. Doc. No. 1 at 2; Doc. No. 31 at 2.

         The charges against Thompson arose from a hand-to-hand transaction observed by two Cambridge police detectives, which the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) described as follows:

On July 31, 2008, at approximately 10 P.M., [two] police Detectives . . . were conducting patrols in Cambridge. From their parked, unmarked vehicle, they observed . . . Michael Benoit and Lori Quigley sitting on a curb in the parking lot of a convenience store . . . . Both detectives were experienced in detecting street-level narcotics sales and were familiar with this parking lot from previous narcotics investigations. Benoit and Quigley were counting change in their open hands and looking furtively in all directions. Quigley stood and made a call at a pay telephone . . . . After about twenty seconds, she hung up the telephone and returned to the curb, where she and Benoit continued looking up and down the streets. Quigley paced as she did so. After about ten minutes, Thompson approached on bicycle . . . . He rode through the parking lot and, without stopping, exchanged a few words with Quigley. Thompson, with Quigley following him at a hurried pace, . . . stopped at a nearby house. As Quigley approached him, they looked back and forth at each other and all around in all directions. Quigley extended her hands toward Thompson, with one palm open and facing up, and the other in a closed fist. Thompson did the same, extending a closed fist toward Quigley's open hand and an open hand to her closed fist. Their hands made contact briefly, in a manner consistent with exchanging items between them. This exchange took place approximately 500 feet from school property. Quigley continued pacing, acting as though she was nervous. She returned to where Benoit was sitting at the curb. Quigley and Benoit walked at a quickened pace across the parking lot and . . . behind a fence at a nearby house, [and] Thompson got back on his bicycle and rode [away].
The detectives radioed a description of Thompson[, ] . . . got out of their car and . . . found Quigley and Benoit behind the house in an area that was well lit with floodlights. Benoit had in his hand an object that turned out to be a small plastic bag containing “crack” cocaine, and he was opening the bag. The detectives identified themselves and displayed their badges. Benoit quickly . . . dropped the bag. The detectives detained them and . . . retrieved the bag from where Benoit had dropped it. It was the cut-off corner of a plastic sandwich bag, consistent with packaging of approximately one-half gram of crack cocaine, which was typically valued between forty and sixty dollars. The detectives arrested Benoit and Quigley[, ] . . . searched [them, and found] a glass tube of the type used to smoke crack cocaine . . . on Quigley's person.
Other officers stopped Thompson[, ] . . . searched [him, and found] . . . two folds of cash, one containing forty-five dollars and the other containing forty dollars, a cellular telephone and charger, a pack of cigarettes, and a cigarette lighter.

Thompson, 19 N.E.3d at 419-20. In its review of Thompson's case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court (“MAC”) noted the detectives who observed the transaction between Thompson and Quigley “never saw what, if anything, was exchanged.” Commonwealth v. Thompson, 988 N.E.2d 876, 876 (Mass. App. Ct. 2013) (unpublished opinion). The MAC also specified that the plastic bag recovered from where Benoit had dropped it “contain[ed] .13 grams of crack cocaine.” Id.

         At trial, both detectives testified that, as they approached Benoit and Quigley to arrest them, it appeared as though Benoit already had opened the small plastic bag containing the drugs. S.A. Vol. II at Tab 5, pp. 15, 120.[1] In addition, the Commonwealth called a narcotics expert, who testified that crack often was sold in half-gram or quarter-gram amounts, packaged in the corners of plastic baggies, with half-gram packages selling for between $40 and $60, and quarter-gram packages selling for $20. S.A. Vol. II at Tab 6, pp. 47-48. The expert further testified that it was not uncommon for the crack actually sold to weigh less than the promised or expected amount, due to the imprecise manner in which crack is made and prepared for selling (as compared to powder cocaine, which is easier to package and weigh more accurately), or due to a seller attempting to maximize profits by taking advantage of a buyer's desperation for drugs and/or lack of opportunity to inspect what is purchased at the time of the sale. Id. at 48-51.

         Thompson filed a timely direct appeal. S.A. Vol. I at 5-6. On June 7, 2013, in an unpublished decision, the MAC affirmed Thompson's convictions and sentences. See generally Thompson, 988 N.E.2d 876. Thompson successfully petitioned the SJC for further review, Commonwealth v. Thompson, 3 N.E.3d 80 (Mass. 2014) (table), but the SJC affirmed, albeit “on somewhat different grounds” than the MAC. Thompson, 19 N.E.3d at 419. Thompson 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 the same four claims he pressed on direct appeal in this timely pro se federal habeas petition. See generally Doc. No.

         I. Those four claims are:

1. That his convictions were based “on insufficient evidence, speculation, and the piling of inference upon inference, ” id. at 6;
2. That the trial court violated his right to due process and improperly lessened the Commonwealth's burden of proof by using “the mailbox example” when answering a question from the jury regarding circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences, id. at 8;
3. That the trial court improperly admitted a photograph of the alleged buyer despite the fact that its “prejudicial nature . . . greatly outweighed its probative value, ” id. at 9; and
4. That he should have benefitted from a subsequent change in state law reducing the radius triggering a “school zone violation, ” id. at 11.

         Thompson's petition is fully briefed and ripe for resolution.

         II. DISCUSSION

         As discussed in detail in the sections that follow, Thompson is not entitled to federal habeas relief. One of his claims is meritless, two are procedurally defaulted, and one ...


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