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Piantedosi v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 14, 2019



          Leo T. Sorokin, United States District Judge.

         Christopher Piantedosi, an inmate at the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The respondent has moved to dismiss the petition, arguing it presents claims that Piantedosi has not exhausted in state court. Doc. Nos. 15, 16.[1] Piantedosi has not responded to the motion. Because all but one of Piantedosi's claims are unexhausted, the motion to dismiss will be ALLOWED unless Piantedosi elects to delete the unexhausted claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 23, 2013, after a jury trial in Middlesex County Superior Court, Piantedosi was convicted of first-degree murder and malicious destruction of property. Doc. No. 1 at 1-2. The charges stemmed from the stabbing death of Piantedosi's long-term girlfriend in front of the couple's teenaged daughter. Commonwealth v. Piantedosi, 87 N.E.3d 549, 551-52 (Mass. 2017). He received a mandatory life sentence on the murder charge. Doc. No. 1 at 1.

         Piantedosi filed a timely appeal. Doc. No. 17-1 at 11. Through counsel, his direct appeal challenged: 1) “the judge's decision declining to permit a defense expert to testify on direct examination to hearsay statements made by the defendant”; 2) “the introduction of testimony by the Commonwealth's expert concerning what ‘drove' the defendant's behavior”; and 3) “the judge's failure to instruct the jury that the consequences of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity would include a potential psychiatric commitment for life.” Piantedosi, 87 N.E.3d at 550. Piantedosi also asked the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) “to exercise its extraordinary authority under [state law] to reduce the verdict to murder in the second degree.” Id. at 551. In his reply brief, Piantedosi added three claims pursuant to Commonwealth v. Moffett, 418 N.E.2d 585 (Mass. 1981); he asserted that a member of his jury should have been excused mid-trial, that a manslaughter instruction was warranted, and that certain video evidence should have been admitted. Doc. No. 1 at 17-18.

         The SJC rejected Piantedosi's claims in a December 18, 2017 decision. Id. at 2. In his timely pro se federal habeas petition, Piantedosi reasserts the same challenges he presented to the SJC. Id. at 3, 6, 8-9, 11; see also id. at 17-18 (attaching without explanation the pages of his brief to the SJC in which the three Moffett claims were identified). As set forth below, all but one of Piantedosi's federal claims are unexhausted.


         A state prisoner is not entitled to habeas relief in federal court unless he has first exhausted his available remedies in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b); O'Sullivan v. Boerkel, 526 U.S. 838, 839 (1999); Mele v. Fitchburg Dist. Ct., 850 F.2d 817, 819 (1st Cir. 1988). A petitioner “shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available . . . if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented.” § 2254(c). To satisfy this requirement, a petitioner must complete the state's established appellate review process, thereby giving “the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues.” O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 839; accord Mele, 850 F.2d at 819.

         In Massachusetts, a petitioner must present his claims to the SJC before asking a federal habeas court to consider them. Mele, 850 F.2d at 820, 823. “[A]n appealed issue cannot be considered as having been fairly presented to the SJC for exhaustion purposes unless the applicant has raised it within the four corners of” his petition or brief to the SJC. Id. at 823; cf. Silvia v. Hall, 193 F.Supp.2d 305, 311 (D. Mass. 2002) (finding issues were fairly presented to the SJC where they were discussed in the text of the fact and argument sections of the SJC petition, though not listed among the “issues for further appellate review”).

         A petitioner may not escape the exhaustion doctrine by pairing unexhausted claims with other constitutional questions that have been fairly presented to every level of the state courts. Such a “mixed petition” is subject to dismissal unless the petitioner elects to abandon his unexhausted claims. DeLong v. Dickhaut, 715 F.3d 382, 386 (1st Cir. 2013); accord Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 522 (1982). Although federal courts may hold a mixed petition in abeyance while the petitioner returns to state court to litigate any unexhausted claims, such discretion is appropriately exercised only where there is a good cause for the failure to exhaust, and the unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious. DeLong, 715 F.3d at 387; accord Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 275-76 (2005).


         The respondent asserts that Piantedosi's petition contains four federal claims, of which three are unexhausted. Doc. No. 16 at 1-2. The record demonstrates that the respondent is correct with respect to the four claims it addresses, and, to the extent Piantedosi seeks to press federal challenges related to the three Moffett claims he presented to the SJC, such challenges also are unexhausted.

         A. Grounds 1 through 4

         The respondent implicitly concedes-correctly-that Piantedosi exhausted the federal basis for Ground 1 in his direct appeal. See id. at 1-2, 6, 8-11 (arguing that Piantedosi “did nothing to alert the SJC to the federal quality of Grounds 2-4”); see also Piantedosi, 87 N.E.3d at 553 (characterizing the first claim on appeal as asserting a federal constitutional violation). As such, the petition plainly includes one ...

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