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Pierre-Louis v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 28, 2019

McSHEVENS PIERRE-LOUIS, Petitioner,
v.
KELLY RYAN, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          INDIRA TALWANI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner McShevens Pierre-Louis[1] filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking reversal of his conviction, and later sought to hold his petition in abeyance. For reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Petitioner's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus [#1] and Motion to Hold Habeas Corpus Petition in Abeyance [#19].

         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted by a jury on May 10, 2013, of two counts of armed robbery while masked, and one count of conspiracy to commit masked armed robbery. Pet. for Habeas Corpus at 1 [#1]. He is currently incarcerated at MCI Shirley, where he is serving a sentence of 12 to 15 years incarceration. Id.; Am. Mem. in Supp. of Pet. For Habeas Corpus at 1 (“Pl.'s Am. Mem.”) [#17].

         Following his conviction, Petitioner appealed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court (“MAC”). See Commonwealth v. Pierre-Louis, 88 Mass.App.Ct. 1108, 2015 WL 5944438 (Oct. 14, 2015). On October 14, 2015, the MAC upheld Petitioner's conviction. Id. at *3. Petitioner filed a timely application for leave to obtain further appellate review (“ALOFAR”), which was denied on March 3, 2016. Pet. for Habeas Corpus, Att. 1, Motion for Leave to File Late Further Appellate Review [#1-1]; Pet. for Habeas Corpus, Att. 1, Notice of Denial of Application for Further Appellate Review [#1-1]. On March 10, 2017, Petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

         II. Discussion

         On appeal to the MAC, Petitioner argued that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to establish him as one of the perpetrators, that the trial judge abused her discretion by failing to give a full Telfaire-Rodriguez jury instruction alerting jurors to the possibility of a mistaken witness identification, and that the trial judge erred in allowing expert testimony regarding Petitioner's DNA. Pierre-Louis, 2015 WL 5944438, at *1. The petition for habeas relief asserts two of the claims previously presented to the MAC: first, that habeas relief is proper because the evidence presented at his trial was insufficient to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt, Pl.'s Am. Mem. at 3 [#17]; and second, that the trial judge abused her discretion by failing to give a Telfaire-Rodriguez instruction. Id. at 5.

         A. Exhaustion

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), an application for a writ of habeas corpus will not be granted on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court “unless it appears that . . . the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). Exhaustion requires that, before seeking habeas relief, a petitioner present, or do his best to present, the substance of a federal habeas claim “fairly and recognizably” to the state's highest tribunal. Adelson v. DiPaola, 131 F.3d 259, 262 (1st Cir. 1997); see Clements v. Maloney, 485 F.3d 158, 162 (1st Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted). “A claim is fairly presented so long as it is made in such a way that ‘a reasonable jurist' would have recognized ‘the existence of the federal question.'” Josselyn v. Dennehy, 475 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Casella v. Clemons, 207 F.3d 18, 20 (1st Cir. 2000)). “This means that ‘the legal theory [articulated] in the state and federal courts must be the same.'” Clements, 485 F.3d at 162 (alteration in original) (quoting Gagne v. Fair, 835 F.2d 6, 7 (1st Cir. 1987)).

         B. Insufficiency of Evidence

         Petitioner has exhausted his claim of insufficiency of evidence. He raised the claim during his initial appeal before the MAC. Pierre-Louis, 2015 WL 5944438, at *1. After his conviction was affirmed by the MAC, he raised the claim in his ALOFAR with the Supreme Judicial Court, which was denied. Commonwealth v. McShevens Pierre-Louis, 473 Mass. 1112 (Mar. 3, 2016). Because this claim has been presented at every level of the state court system, and has been exhausted, the court may consider its merits.

         A federal court can grant habeas relief from a state conviction only when the state court's decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Under clearly established Federal law, “proof of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt is constitutionally required.” In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 362 (1970).

         The reviewing court does not ask “whether the evidence was constitutionally sufficient, ” but only “whether the state court's ruling that the evidence is constitutionally sufficient was itself ‘unreasonable.'” Winfield v. O'Brien, 775 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)). A court evaluating such a habeas petition must review all facts in the light most favorable to the prosecution and ask whether “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979) (emphasis in original). “In conducting its review of a state-court conviction for evidentiary sufficiency, a habeas court may not freely reweigh competing inferences but must accept those reasonable inferences that are most compatible with the jury's verdict.” Magraw v. Roden, 743 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2014).

         Here, Petitioner argues that the evidence presented in his criminal trial was insufficient to identify him as a perpetrator, and therefore no rational trier of facts could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Pl.'s Am. Mem. at 3 [#17]. He argues that no witnesses identified him as present at the crime scene during the night in question, and the sole piece of evidence linking him to the crime was a T-shirt containing his DNA found near the store, which he asserts is not enough to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 4-5. Respondent argues that, under the highly deferential standard of review governing habeas petitions, this court should defer to the MAC in its rejection of Petitioner's “insufficient evidence” claim. Resp't's Mem. of Law (“Resp't's ...


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