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Coleman v. Dolan

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 23, 2017

HAKEEM COLEMAN, Petitioner,
v.
EDWARD DOLAN, Respondent.

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

          Leo T. Sorokin, United States District Judge.

         Hakeem Coleman, who currently is serving a period of probation after convictions for gun and traffic offenses, has filed a counseled petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Doc. No. 1.[1] Coleman raises two challenges to his gun-related convictions - one to the sufficiency of evidence that he possessed the firearm in question, and one to the constitutionality of the Massachusetts statute pursuant to which he was charged. Id. at 5, 7. The respondent has opposed the petition, arguing Coleman's claims are meritless. For the reasons that follow, the petition is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 13, 2011, following a jury trial in Boston Municipal Court, Coleman was convicted of carrying a firearm without a license, carrying a loaded weapon, and operating a vehicle with a suspended license. Doc. No. 1 at 1-2. He received consecutive two-and-one-half-year sentences of incarceration on the gun charges, with the second sentence suspended. Id. at 1; S.A. at 618-19.[2] The charges arose from a car stop. Around 1:00 a.m. on September 18, 2009, Coleman was driving alone in his girlfriend's car. Commonwealth v. Coleman, 988 N.E.2d 876, 2013 WL 2436468, at *1 (Mass. App. Ct. 2013) (unpublished). Police stopped the car after noticing broken tail and brake lights. Id. When they ran his name to determine the status of his driver's license, the officers learned Coleman had an arrest warrant for failing to appear for jury duty. Id. A loaded gun was found in the unlocked glove compartment during an inventory search of the car. Id. Coleman had no license to carry a firearm. Id.

         At trial, the officers who stopped and arrested Coleman testified that he appeared nervous throughout their encounter with him, and that his hands appeared to be shaking during the inventory search of the car. Id. Coleman's girlfriend testified that Coleman had borrowed her car around 6:00 p.m. on September 17, 2009, and that she had removed her belongings from the glove compartment before giving him the keys. Id. She said she did not own a gun and had not seen one in the glove compartment that evening. Id.

         Coleman also testified. According to him, he had borrowed the car in order to attend a fundraising event held to raise money for funeral expenses of a friend who had died recently. Id.; S.A. at 479. He testified that, after the event, he had agreed to give two other men who also had known his friend a ride to the Orchard Park Housing Projects. Coleman, 2013 WL 2436468, at *1; S.A. at 482-83. Coleman said he left the two men alone in the car for a few minutes while he spoke with another friend before leaving the parking lot. Coleman, 2013 WL 2436468, at *1; S.A. at 484-87. He was stopped by police officers while driving home, after dropping the two men off as promised. Coleman, 2013 WL 2436468, at *1; S.A. at 487.

         The defense argued the evidence was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Coleman knew of - let alone constructively possessed - the gun, and that it likely had been placed in the glove compartment by one of the men he had driven home from the fundraiser. S.A. at 518-26; see Coleman, 2013 WL 2436468, at *3 (rejecting direct appeal challenge to sufficiency of evidence showing constructive possession). The jury disagreed, finding Coleman guilty of both charges arising from his possession of the gun. S.A. at 613-14.

         Coleman timely appealed, and the Massachusetts Appeals Court (“MAC”) affirmed in an unpublished June 6, 2013 decision. Coleman, 2013 WL 2436468, at *1. The MAC rejected Coleman's challenge to the sufficiency of evidence establishing constructive possession, as well as a Second Amendment challenge to the Massachusetts firearms statute. Id. at *3-4. The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) denied Coleman's application for further review on July 25, 2013. Commonwealth v. Coleman, 991 N.E.2d 187 (Mass. 2013) (table). He did not seek certiorari before the United States Supreme Court.

         Coleman filed a timely, counseled federal habeas petition in this Court on October 21, 2014 raising two claims:

1) There was insufficient evidence from which a jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Coleman possessed a firearm, and the MAC's rejection of this sufficiency claim was objectively unreasonable; and
2) The application of Massachusetts's firearms laws violated Coleman's constitutional right to bear arms by placing on him the burden of proving that he was licensed to carry a firearm, and the MAC's rejection of this Second Amendment claim was objectively unreasonable.

Doc. No. 1 at 5, 7; see also Doc. No. 45 at 9-19. Coleman's claims have been fully briefed.[3]

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. General ...


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