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Adorno v. Melvin

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 1, 2017

Miguel Adorno, Petitioner-Appellee,
Michael Melvin, Respondent-Appellant.

          Argued January 12, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14 C 00791 - John J. Tharp, Jr., Judge.

          Before Bauer, Sykes, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         Miguel Adorno, an Illinois prisoner, was convicted of attempted murder using a firearm. On direct appeal he challenged certain remarks by the trial judge about the state's burden of proof. More particularly, he argued that the judge's comments-delivered impromptu during voir dire-invited the jury to convict on less than the reasonable-doubt burden of proof required by the Constitution's guarantee of due process of law. He also claimed that the judge's remarks violated state law. The Illinois Court of Appeals addressed only the state-law argument and rejected the claim; the court made no reference to federal law. Adorno then sought federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Applying de novo review, the district judge found a due-process violation and granted the petition.

         We reverse the judgment. Because the state court did not specifically address Adorno's federal claim, our first task is to decide whether the Richter presumption applies. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86 (2011). When a state prisoner presents a federal claim to a state court and the court denies relief without explanation, Richter requires a federal habeas court to presume that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits. Id. at 99. The presumption triggers deferential review under § 2254(d); the federal court must give the state-court judgment the benefit of any arguments or theories that could have supported the state court's judgment. Id. at 102.

         The Richter presumption is rebuttable, but we do not need to decide whether it has been rebutted here. Even under de novo review, Adorno's claim fails. There is no reasonable likelihood that the jury convicted him on less than the reasonable-doubt standard.

         I. Background

         While attending a house party in the Hermosa neighborhood in Chicago, Adorno was accused of stealing an iPod and a laptop from one of the hosts. After the laptop was retrieved from the back seat of the car Adorno arrived in, he and his friends were asked to leave. A fistfight ensued between Adorno and Jeffery Nagamine, the host's brother.

         According to several witnesses, Adorno threatened to kill Nagamine and retrieved a gun from his friend's car to make good on the threat. As the other guests retreated back into the house, Adorno fired several shots into the crowd. The partygoers were lucky; no one was killed and only one person was hit, sustaining a gunshot wound to the arm.

         Adorno was arrested and initially told police that he knew nothing about the house party. He claimed to have spent the entire evening with his mother. Later Adorno admitted his involvement in the shooting but claimed that he fired his gun at the crowd in self-defense. The State's Attorney charged him with attempted murder in the first degree while armed with a firearm.

         The case proceeded to jury trial. During voir dire, the judge preliminarily informed the venire about the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof in criminal cases. He told the prospective jurors that Adorno was presumed innocent and that the presumption could be overcome only if the state proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge explained that Adorno was not required to present any evidence on his own behalf but could instead rely entirely on the presumption of innocence. The judge then discussed the standard of proof in greater detail:

Illinois does not define reasonable doubt, but any of you who may have sat on a civil jury there's a preponderance of the evidence, reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in our country and in our [s]tate. Those of you who may have sat on civil cases, preponderance of the evidence, if you look at this like a scale, all you have to do is tilt it. So the definition of preponderance of the evidence is, it's more likely than not that the event occurred.
Again, Illinois doesn't define reasonable doubt. That's up for you to decide in words, but in analogy to the scale thing, you would have to tip it like this, so that would be some insight into ...

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