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Pedroza v. Goguen

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 13, 2020

HECTOR SAMUEL PEDROZA, Petitioner,
v.
COLLETTE GOGUEN, Respondent.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON PETITIONER'S PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (DOCKET NO. 1)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Hector Samuel Pedroza (“Petitioner”) petitions for a writ of habeas corpus in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Docket No. 1). For the following reasons, the Court denies his petition.

         Background

         In December 2014, a jury found Petitioner guilty of one count of rape of a child. On appeal, Petitioner argued that (1) the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser when it excluded evidence of prior accusations of abuse by the victim (his niece) against another uncle, (2) it was prejudicial error to allow substitute first complaint testimony from the victim's brother where she had told her friend and cousin prior to telling her brother, and both were present and available to testify; and (3) the prosecutor improperly vouched for the witness's credibility and misstated the evidence during closing arguments. S.A.[1] 36-62. The Massachusetts Appeals Court (“MAC”) rejected these contentions and affirmed the verdict. Com. v. Pedroza, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 1118 (2016). Petitioner filed an application for leave to obtain further appellate review (“ALOFAR”) with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), raising only the argument that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of the victim's prior accusations against another uncle. The SJC denied appellate review on March 6, 2017, see Com. v. Pedroza, 476 Mass. 1112 (2017), and Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition with this Court (the “Petition”). He raises three arguments:

Ground One: The trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser when it excluded evidence of the victim's prior accusations of sexual abuse against another uncle.
Ground Two: It was prejudicial error to allow substitute first complaint testimony from the victim's brother where she had told her friend and cousin prior to telling her brother, and both were present and available to testify.
Ground Three: The prosecutor improperly vouched for the witness's credibility and misstated the evidence during closing arguments.

(Docket No. 1).

         Discussion

         1. Grounds Two and Three

         A federal court may not consider a petition for habeas corpus unless the petitioner has fully exhausted his state court remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); see also Adelson v. DiPaola, 131 F.3d 259, 261 (1st Cir. 1997). To exhaust a claim, a petitioner must provide the highest state court having jurisdiction over the claims “the opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004). In Massachusetts, the “decisive pleading” is the ALOFAR filed with the SJC. Adelson, 131 F.3d at 263. Here, Petitioner raised only Ground One in his ALOFAR. S.A. 176-85. Because the SJC has not had the opportunity to rule on Ground Two or Ground Three, these claims are unexhausted, and the Court may not consider either one.

         2. Ground One

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254, if a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings, a federal court may only grant habeas corpus relief if the adjudication (1) “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or (2) “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” Id. § 2254(d). AEDPA further provides that, “[i]n a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct, ” and “[t]he applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” Id. § 2254(e)(1).

         Here, Petitioner argues that the MAC's decision was based on an unreasonable factual determination. Specifically, he challenges the MAC's finding that the trial judge did not exclude evidence of the victim's prior accusations. Neither the Supreme Court nor the First Circuit has yet decided whether courts should apply the unreasonableness standard laid out in § 2254(d) or the presumption of correctness standard laid out in § 2254(e)(1) to resolve challenges to a state court's ...


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