United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
EVERETT M. SENNHOLZ, Petitioner,
DON STRAHOTA, Respondent.
DECISION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR RELIEF UNDER
28 U.S.C. § 2254
William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.
Everett Sennholz filed this petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254, asserting that his state court conviction and
sentence were imposed in violation of the Constitution.
Sennholz was convicted in the Kenosha County Circuit Court on
four counts of first degree sexual assault of a child under
thirteen and was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The
court screened the petition on October 3, 2016 and allowed
Sennholz to proceed on two claims: (1) ineffective assistance
of trial counsel for failure to object to a witness'
testimony concerning the credibility of the complaining
witness; and (2) ineffective assistance of trial counsel for
failure to object to the State's allegedly improper
closing argument. The case is now before the court for
resolution. For the reasons discussed herein, the petition
will be denied and the case dismissed.
was convicted of sexually assaulting his granddaughter E.M.
on four different occasions when she was between the ages of
eight and twelve. Although she did not report the abuse for
more than twenty years, E.M. testified she ultimately
reported the crimes after she learned that Sennholz was
potentially abusing another family member. The State's
case did not rely solely upon E.M. or other witnesses'
testimony, but also a note E.M. wrote to her friend when she
was fourteen years old in which she recounted the abuse and a
conversation E.M. secretly recorded with Sennholz in 2010 in
which he seemingly admitted to the abuse. In his defense,
Sennholz testified that the allegations were false and that
his statements to E.M. were just to get her off his back.
After a four-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict on
all four counts.
filed a motion for postconviction relief in the state circuit
court in which he claimed his trial counsel was ineffective
on nine different grounds. The circuit court denied relief,
and Sennholz appealed. ECF Nos. 1-3, 1-4. The Wisconsin Court
of Appeals rejected Sennholz's arguments and affirmed the
judgment. ECF No. 1-1. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied
Sennholz's petition for review. ECF No. 1-2.
Sennholz's federal habeas petition pursuant to §
2254 followed and he was allowed to proceed on two claims:
(1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to
object to a witness' testimony concerning the credibility
of the complaining witness; and (2) ineffective assistance of
trial counsel for failure to object to the State's
allegedly improper closing argument.
petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under AEDPA,
habeas corpus relief for persons serving sentences imposed by
state courts may not be granted on any claim that was
adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings unless
the adjudication of the claim
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the United States Supreme Court; 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.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A state court decision is
“contrary to . . . clearly established Federal
law” if the court did not apply the proper legal rule,
or, in applying the proper legal rule, reached the opposite
result as the Supreme Court on “materially
indistinguishable” facts. Brown v. Payton, 544
U.S. 133, 141 (2005). A state court decision is an
“unreasonable application of . . . clearly established
Federal law” when the court applied Supreme Court
precedent in “an objectively unreasonable
is, and was meant to be, a difficult standard to meet.
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011).
“[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply
because that court concludes in its independent judgment that
the relevant state court decision applied clearly established
federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that
application must be “objectively unreasonable.”
Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003)
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
has raised two arguments suggesting that his trial counsel
was ineffective. Ineffective assistance of counsel deprives a
defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and is
therefore a proper ground for relief under 28 U.S.C. §
2254. To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a
defendant must show (1) counsel's representation fell
below an objective standard of reasonableness and (2) there
is a reasonable probability that counsel's errors
affected the outcome of the proceeding. Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).
§ 2254(d) applies, however, the court must instead
determine “whether there is any reasonable argument
that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential
standard, ” not whether counsel's actions were
reasonable. Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105. As such,
rather than showing that “he would have satisfied
Strickland's test if his claim were being
analyzed in the first instance, ” a habeas petitioner
must show that the state court applied Strickland in
an objectively unreasonable manner. Bell v. Cone,
535 U.S. 685, 698-99 (2002). Judicial scrutiny of
counsel's performance under the standards created by
Strickland and § 2254(d) is “highly
deferential.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 88.
Adding AEDPA's additional ...