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James v. Goguen

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 30, 2019

STEVEN JAMES, Petitioner,
v.
COLETTE GOGUEN, Respondent

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DAVID H. HENNESSY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Petitioner Steven James has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his state court conviction. (Docket #1). Respondent opposes the motion and has moved for dismissal. (Docket #15). On May 21, 2019, this matter was referred to me pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for a report and recommendation on the motion to dismiss. (Docket #19).

         For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that the motion to dismiss be allowed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 21, 1994, seventeen-year-old James and several of his friends had an altercation with a man outside a sandwich shop. Commonwealth v. James, 427 Mass. 312, 313, 315 (1998). James and his friends began taunting the man, and he fended them off with a baseball bat. Id. Eventually the man fell to the ground. Id. at 313. James picked up the bat and swung it at the man's head three times, each time with deadly force, crushing his skull and lacerating his brain. Id. The victim died of head injuries two days later. Id. at 313. James surrendered to police and gave a videotaped confession. Id. at 314.

         Following a jury trial, James was convicted of murder in the first degree by reason of extreme atrocity or cruelty. Id. at 312-13. James was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws chapter 265, section 2.[1] (Docket #17-1 at 57-58). James filed a direct appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the “SJC”), arguing that there was insufficient evidence of extreme atrocity or cruelty, that his videotaped confession should have been suppressed, and that the jury instructions failed to adequately address the impact of his mental impairment from intermittent explosive disorder. James, 427 Mass. at 313-16. He also argued that the jury instructions failed to address the relationship between his mental impairment and sudden combat, and that the judge did not properly instruct the jury on manslaughter. Id. at 316-17. The SJC rejected James' arguments and affirmed his murder conviction. Id. at 318.

         On March 17, 1999, James filed a timely petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. James v. Marshall, No. 1:99-cv-10728-RWZ (Docket #3). James claimed that the videotaped confession used at trial was taken in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and that its admission as evidence at trial was error. James v. Marshall, No. CIV.A. 99-10728-RWZ, 2002 WL 924241, at *1 (D. Mass. Mar. 12, 2002), aff'd, 322 F.3d 103 (1st Cir. 2003). On, March 12, 2002, his petition was denied. Id. at *2. Following an appeal, the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's order on March 14, 2003. James v. Marshall, 322 F.3d 103, 104 (1st Cir. 2003).

         On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court decided in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments.” Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 465 (2012). On June 6, 2013, James filed a motion for a new trial in the state court challenging the judgments against him under the federal constitution and in light of newly discovered juvenile brain science and United States Supreme Court precedent. (Docket #16-1 at 7, 49-50). The motion was bifurcated by the state court.[2] On December 24, 2013, the SJC determined in Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District that Miller v. Alabama had retroactive application to cases on collateral review. Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655, 658 (2013). The SJC further held that sentences of life without parole, whether mandatory or discretionary, violate the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” in Article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights when imposed on individuals who are under the age of eighteen when they commit murder in the first degree. Id. at 658-59. The SJC held that the exception to parole eligibility in Massachusetts General Laws chapter 265, section 2 was invalid as applied to juvenile homicide offenders, but that the remaining provisions of the statute had independent force and could be given effect without the parole ineligibility provision.[3] Id.

         On June 3, 2014, James supplemented his pending new trial motion with a request for a resentencing hearing to decide the constitutionality of his sentence in light of Miller v. Alabama. (Docket #16-1 at 8). On August 13, 2014, the trial court denied James' motion for a resentencing hearing, holding that “[o]nce James's sentence is commuted to life with the possibility of parole per the holding of Diatchenko, the narrow holding of Miller requiring the consideration of mitigation evidence will no longer apply to him.” (Id. at 48). On January 11, 2016, the trial court denied James' motion for a new trial in its entirety. (Id. at 9). James' sentence was modified to a sentence of life in prison, striking the ineligibility for parole, without a resentencing hearing or a specific docket entry.

         On January 25, 2016, the United States Supreme Court decided Montgomery v. Louisiana, making Miller retroactive to cases on collateral review. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). On February 9, 2016, James filed a petition for leave to appeal the denial of his motion for a new trial, pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, § 33E.[4] (Id. at 15). The single justice reserved and reported one issue to the full court: “whether the postconviction case of a defendant who was tried on an indictment for murder in the first degree and was convicted of murder in the first degree, but who was a juvenile at the time of the crime and thus subject to a lesser penalty than life without the possibility of parole, is a ‘capital case' as defined in §33E.” Commonwealth v. James, 477 Mass. 549, 550 (2017). In response, the SJC held that the gatekeeper provision of § 33E “applies to a juvenile defendant who, like James, has had a direct appeal, has received plenary review and, following that review, remains convicted of murder in the first degree.” Id. at 552. The case was remanded to the single justice to determine whether the issues presented in his new trial motion were “new and substantial” for purposes of § 33E. Id. On August 28, 2018, the single justice denied James' gatekeeper petition, determining that James had failed to raise a new and substantial issue justifying further review. (Docket #16-1 at 103-13).

         James filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus on September 17, 2018.[5] (Docket #1). On December 31, 2018, Respondent filed the instant motion to dismiss. (Docket #15).

         II. PETITIONER'S HABEAS CORPUS PETITION

         James asserts fifteen grounds in his habeas corpus petition:

(1) the Massachusetts gatekeeper provision is an unfair roadblock that deprived James of post-Miller review, violating his Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights;
(2) newly discovered juvenile brain science is material to the Commonwealth's burden, and, therefore, the state judgments and decisions violate James' Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights;
(3) Based on Miller and new juvenile brain science, the jury instructions violated James' Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights;
(4) James' trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel;
(5) The mandatory nature of the two life sentence judgments, i.e. the original judgment and what James alleges post-Miller to be a new judgment, imposed upon James, without an individual sentencing hearing for juvenile defendants or an evidentiary hearing or consideration of Miller factors or any appeal to a full appellate court, is contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent and violates James' Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights;
(6) The state court's decision to deny an evidentiary hearing was contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent and violated James' Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights;
(7) In light of Miller and the new scientific evidence of the under-developed juvenile brain, a new trial is required because the statutory law at the time of James' 1995 trial - which automatically sent 17-year-old juveniles to adult Superior Court without any judicial mitigation review or a juvenile transfer hearing - is unconstitutional as applied to 17-year-old juveniles, and violated James' Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights;
(8) In light of Miller and pre-existing Supreme Court jury instruction precedent and the new scientific evidence of the under-developed juvenile brain, a new trial is required because a jury must determine whether James' adolescent brain formed the necessary intent for murder, yet the jury was not presented with evidence regarding James' juvenile mitigation and unreasonably was not instructed on James' juvenile mitigation issues as they related to the Commonwealth's burden of proof, in violation of James' 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights;
(9) At the time of James' trial there was no way to present a juvenile mitigation defense based on the inadequate state of the law and science, such that a true and just verdict was never reached, in violation of James' 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights, and the state court decisions are contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent and based on an unreasonable determination of the facts;
(10) The Massachusetts murder statute used to indict, convict and sentence James is unconstitutional as applied to juveniles because, after striking the unconstitutional portions of the statute, the remaining statutory language is incapable of functioning independently and is therefore void for vagueness and violates James' Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the state court decisions are contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent and based on an unreasonable determination of the facts;
(11) Because evidence about James' mental disorders in DSM-V is both new and material to the verdict and contradicts the Commonwealth's trial expert witness on issues relevant to the degree of guilt, the trial without this evidence and the resulting conviction and sentences violated James' Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the state court decisions are contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent and based on an unreasonable determination of the facts;
(12) The state court decision declining to hold that seventeen-year-old James had a right to consult in person with an interested and informed adult before any interrogation or waiver of rights (despite applying that right to other juvenile defendants), and holding that a juvenile's initial request not to speak to police does not need to be scrupulously honored, is contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, an unreasonable determination of facts, and violated James' Fifth, Sixth, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendment rights;
(13) The grand jury was not properly instructed on the law of mitigation, in violation of James' Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the state court decisions are contrary to and an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent and based on an unreasonable determination of the facts;
(14) There was a substantive Sixth Amendment violation of James' right to a public trial, and because the state court decisions on waiver and the requirement to show prejudice on a structural error are contrary to and an unreasonable application of federal law in ...

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