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Stechauner v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 31, 2017

Matthew C. Stechauner, Petitioner-Appellant,
Judy P. Smith, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued January 11, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 2:08-cv-000607-CNC - C.N. Clevert, Jr., Judge.

          Before Bauer, Flaum, and Easterbrook, Circuit Judges.

          Flaum, Circuit Judge.

         Matthew Stechauner seeks habeas relief from his Wisconsin convictions for second-degree reckless homicide and armed robbery. He argues that the Wisconsin appeals court unreasonably denied post-conviction relief despite alleged Miranda violations and ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court declined to hold an evidentiary hearing and denied Stechauner's petition for habeas relief. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I. Background

          On November 22, 2004, Stechauner was riding in a car with friends. An unmarked police cruiser pulled up behind the car, and Stechauner tried to hide his sawed-off shotgun from view. In the process, the gun accidentally fired and hit Stechauner in the leg, and he was driven to the hospital.

         Stechauner received treatment for the gunshot wound.[1] In the process of tending to Stechauner, one of the nurses noticed a bag of bullets in Stechauner's pocket, and so called the police. Officer Guajardo went to the hospital but could not locate the bullets. Then, at about 7:15 PM, Detective Kolatski arrived, followed later by Sergeant Doney Officer Guajardo was in full police uniform; Detective Kolatski and Sergeant Doney apparently were not. The officers entered Stechauner's hospital room, where he was awaiting discharge but still dressed in a hospital gown. Stechauner's mother also arrived at the hospital but was denied access to Stechauner's room. (However, there is no indication that Stechauner was aware at that time that his mother was trying to see him.) Detective Kolatski later testified that he had the following exchange with Stechauner in the hospital room:

... I told [Stechauner] that in order for me to help him out at all that he needed to tell me the entire truth including about where the bullets were. ... I explained to him that ... we realized that he hadn't left the room, there were no visitors, and that the bullets were either in the room someplace or he had possibly ingested them.
And that shortly thereafter Mr. Stechauner bent over on the gurney and pulled ... the bag of bullets out from what I believe to be his rectum.

         Stechauner had then explained to the officers that he had shot himself with the sawed-off shotgun in a car, and that he had a probation officer. When Detective Kolatski asked Stechauner what had happened to the gun, Stechauner answered that it was being kept at a friend's house. Stechauner then called the friend from the hospital to arrange for the gun to be dropped off in a trash container close to the house. The questioning lasted about ninety minutes, during which time Stechauner "seemed lucid, and ... was able to answer ... questions." Stechauner was not given Miranda warnings at the hospital. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966).

         Around 8:00 or 8:30 PM, Stechauner was discharged from the hospital. He left on crutches with the officers, was placed in handcuffs, and got into Officer Guajardo's cruiser, with Detective Kolatski following behind. Stechauner directed the officers to the place where he believed the gun was located, but the officers were unable to find the gun in the trash bins near Stechauner's friend's house. Around that time, the friend arrived and he and Stechauner got into a heated discussion, with Stechauner still seated inside the cruiser and the friend on the other side of the cruiser door. After the exchange, either Stechauner or the friend (neither party knows which) told the officers that the gun was actually hidden under the steps leading up to the friend's house. Officer Guajardo found the gun and gave it to Detective Kolatski. Kolatski then tried to remove a casing lodged inside the gun but had trouble doing so. Seeing Detective Kolatski struggle, Stechauner shouted out that one had to use pliers to remove the casing. Officer Guajardo also heard Stechauner's instructions and recalled that she had found a pair of pliers in Stechauner's coat when she had been searching for the bag of bullets in the hospital. She gave Detective Kolatski the pliers, who then removed the casing. As of this point, Stechauner still had not received any Miranda warnings.

         While handling the sawed-off shotgun, Detective Kolatski developed a hunch that Stechauner may have been involved in a recent string of robberies and other crimes carried out using such a weapon. Detective Kolatski said that he wanted to bring Stechauner in for further questioning. Around 9:00 PM, Stechauner went with Detective Kolatski to the station, where Stechauner was formally arrested. Several hours later, starting around 2:00 AM the following day, Stechauner was given Miranda warnings and was interrogated by two other officers. Over the course of the next nine hours, Stechauner admitted to several crimes, some tied to the sawed-off shotgun.

         Based on Stechauner's confession, the State charged Stechauner with first-degree reckless homicide as party to a crime;[2] "two counts of 'armed robbery, use of force' as party to a crime"; personal robbery; and possession of a firearm by a felon. Stechauner pleaded not guilty and moved to suppress his hospital statements, cruiser statements, and the sawed-off shotgun.

          The trial court held a suppression hearing at which Stec-hauner, Detective Kolatski, and other law enforcement officials testified. Kolatski testified that Stechauner had not been in custody at the hospital, had been free to leave, had seemed lucid and able to answer questions, and never had been placed in handcuffs in the hospital room. Regarding the cruiser statements, Kolatski said that Stechauner had "indicated where the alley was where the gun was supposed to be hidden" and had "yelled out to [Kolatski] when [Stechauner] saw [Kolatski] struggling ... to get the casing out."

         In contrast, Stechauner testified that he had been intoxicated upon arriving at the hospital from a combination of alcohol, marijuana, sleeping pills, and ecstasy; that the officers had handcuffed him to the hospital bed; that the officers had told Stechauner's mother that he was already under arrest at the hospital; and that the hospital had given him three Vi-codin, which he had taken before leaving. Relevant to this appeal, Stechauner's trial counsel did not call several witnesses. According to Stechauner, these witnesses included Stechauner's mother, who would have testified that Stechauner had been in custody in the hospital; several friends, who would have said that Stechauner had been intoxicated before the accidental shooting; and the treating physician and nurse, who would have testified that he had been handcuffed to the hospital bed. Trial counsel also did not introduce the hospital report of Stechauner's treatment.

         The trial court denied Stechauner's motion to suppress. The court credited Detective Kolatski's testimony and discredited Stechauner's, finding that Stechauner had not been restrained in any way in the hospital, and had not been in custody, such that Miranda's warning requirement had not been triggered. The court ruled the hospital statements were admissible. The trial court then found that Stechauner had been in custody once in handcuffs and in the squad car. However, the court determined that Stechauner's statements regarding the shotgun had all been volunteered and were not the result of custodial interrogation. The court found no Miranda violation with respect to these statements and admitted them, as well. The court also admitted the shotgun.

         Stechauner later pleaded no contest to second-degree reckless homicide as party to a crime, and armed robbery as party to a crime. The other counts were dismissed but considered for sentencing purposes. Stechauner was sentenced to a total of twenty-five years of confinement and fifteen years of extended supervision.

         Stechauner moved for post-conviction relief in the trial court, arguing that the court should have suppressed the inculpatory statements made in the hospital and in the police cruiser. The court denied that motion, and Stechauner, represented by new counsel, appealed. In this first state-court appeal, Stechauner argued that both the hospital and cruiser statements had been taken in violation of Miranda, but did not argue that his trial counsel had been ineffective for not calling the friendly witnesses and for not introducing the hospital report. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, State v. Stechauner, No. 2006AP1923-CR, 731 N.W.2d 384 (unpublished table decision), 2007 WL 901536 (Wis. Ct. App. Mar. 27, 2007), and the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined review, State v. Stechauner, No. 2006AP1923-CR, 741 N.W.2d 241 (unpublished table decision) (Wis. July 17, 2007).

         On July 14, 2007, Stechauner filed his petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the district court under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("AEDPA"), and raised five grounds for relief. The trial court's screening order eliminated two of those grounds, leaving the following: (1) that the state trial court had admitted Stechauner's statements and shotgun in violation of Miranda, (2) that Stechauner had received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel due to appellate counsel's failure to argue that trial counsel had been ineffective at the suppression hearing, and (3) that Stechauner's plea had been involuntary. Noting that Stechauner had failed to exhaust grounds (2) and (3) in the state courts, the district court administratively closed the habeas petition to give Stechauner a chance to exhaust them.

         Stechauner then filed a second motion for post-conviction relief in state court, raising the three remaining issues mentioned above. See Wis. Stat. § 974.06. The state trial court denied relief, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed. State v. Stechauner, No. 2009AP2367, 795 N.W.2d 62 (unpublished table decision), 2010 WL 4945103 (Wis. Ct. App. Dec. 7, 2010). The appellate court rejected Stechauner's Miranda arguments on the ground that it had already disposed of them in his first motion for post-conviction relief. Because Stechauner had failed to raise the two other arguments in the first post-conviction motion, they were barred unless Stechauner could demonstrate good cause for having failed to raise them. See Wis. Stat. § 974.06(4). The court reasoned that post-conviction counsel's alleged ineffectiveness in failing to raise these issues would have been sufficient reason to excuse their earlier absence. The court then applied the Strickland standard for effective assistance of counsel and rejected the arguments. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). The court determined that none of the proposed witnesses actually would have aided Stechauner's suppression arguments, and dismissed the hospital-record argument as meritless or underdeveloped. The court concluded that Stec-hauner had not suffered any prejudice from these alleged errors and thus had received effective assistance of counsel. The Wisconsin Supreme Court again declined review. State v. Stec-hauner, No. 2009AP2367, 797 N.W.2d 524 (unpublished table decision) (Wis. Apr. 12, 2011).

         On June 15, 2011, the district court reopened Stechauner's case. Stechauner presented the three grounds for relief and requested an evidentiary hearing. The district court denied habeas relief and the request for a hearing, but granted a certificate of appealability on the Miranda and Strickland issues.[3]

         II. Discussion

         We review de novo the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief. Harris v. Thompson,698 F.3d 609, 622 (7th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). When a state court has reviewed a petitioner's claim on the merits and denied relief, a habeas petition may be granted only if the state court's ruling "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, " or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(d). Under this deferential standard, the state court's ruling stands unless ...

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