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McDowell v. Pollard

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 24, 2019

MATTHEW A. MCDOWELL, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIAM POLLARD, Respondent.

          DECISION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          DAVID E. JONES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In March 2014, Matthew A. McDowell pled guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree reckless homicide and concealing a corpse. In June 2014, the Kenosha County Circuit Court sentenced Mr. McDowell to consecutive prison terms of twenty-nine years of initial confinement and ten years of extended supervision on the reckless homicide count, and three years of initial confinement and one year of extended supervision on the concealing a corpse count. Mr. McDowell is currently serving his time at Dodge Correctional Institution.

         In 2017, Mr. McDowell filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that his custody is unconstitutional because he was sentenced based on inaccurate information and that a new factor warrants re-sentencing. The Respondent opposes the petition, arguing that Mr. McDowell has failed to meet his burden of proving that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, or based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. For the following reasons, the Court will deny Mr. McDowell’s petition.

         I. Background

         Matthew McDowell pled guilty to first-degree reckless homicide and concealing a corpse. Petition For Writ Of Habeas Corpus 2. The following facts are taken from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision:

McDowell admitted that during an argument, he pushed the victim onto a bed and placed his hands on her face and neck. He stated she was choking and that he heard a crack and realized the victim was no longer breathing. The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be blunt neck trauma due to assault and the death was ruled a homicide.

         Court of Appeals Decision 2. Mr. McDowell was given a bifurcated sentence of thirty-nine years for count one, and a bifurcated sentence of four years for count two. Id. He is currently incarcerated at Dodge Correctional Institution. Pet. 1

         Mr. McDowell filed a post-conviction motion for relief/sentence modification and argued that his due process right to be sentenced on accurate information was violated and that a new factor warranted re-sentencing. Pet. 4. His motion was denied. Id. Mr. McDowell subsequently filed a direct appeal, arguing the same grounds as his post-conviction motion. Pet. 3. On March 16, 2016, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming Mr. McDowell’s sentence. See Ct. App. Decision.

         On September 20, 2017, Mr. McDowell filed a federal habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting three grounds for relief: (1) that the Court of Appeals erred in denying his request for re-sentencing as he was sentenced based on inaccurate information, (2) that a new factor entitles him to a re-sentencing, and (3) that the errors at sentencing were not harmless. Mr. McDowell was allowed to proceed on his claims. See Rule 4 Order, ECF No. 4. The Petition is now fully briefed and ready for disposition. See Brief in Support of Petitioner’s Habeas Corpus Petition, ECF No. 11; Brief Opposing Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ECF No. 14; and Reply Brief in Support of Petitioner’s Habeas Corpus Petition, ECF No. 17.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal habeas corpus review is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214. Under AEDPA, a prisoner in custody pursuant to a state-court judgment of conviction is entitled to federal habeas relief only if he is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). With respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court, a federal court can grant an application for a writ of habeas corpus “only if the state court’s decision was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent, involved an unreasonable application of such precedent, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in state court.” Promotor v. Pollard, 628 F.3d 878, 888 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)); see also White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014).

         “A legal principle is ‘clearly established’ within the meaning of [§ 2254(d)(1)] only when it is embodied in a holding of [the Supreme Court].” Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47 (2010) (citing Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000)). A state-court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if “the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 412–13 (opinion of O’Connor, J.). Similarly, a state-court decision results in an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law when that court either “identifies the correct governing legal rule from [Supreme Court] cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner’s case” or “unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply.” Id. at 407. A writ of habeas corpus may not issue under the “unreasonable application” clause “simply because the federal court concludes that the state court erred. Rather, the applicant must demonstrate that the state court applied the Supreme Court’s precedent in an objectively unreasonable manner.” Kubsch v. Neal, 838 F.3d 845, 859 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24–25 (2002)). Thus, the petitioner “must show that the state court’s ruling . . . was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement.” Kubsch, 838 F.3d at 859 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011)).

         “[A] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010). For purposes of federal habeas review, state-court factual determinations are entitled to “substantial deference.” Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015). To obtain relief under § 2254(d)(2), a petitioner must demonstrate that the state-court decision “rests upon fact-finding that ignores the clear and convincing weight of the evidence.” McManus v. Neal, 779 F.3d 634, 649 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Goudy v. Basinger, 604 F.3d 394, 399 (7th Cir. 2010)); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). “The decision must be ‘so inadequately supported by the record as to be arbitrary and therefore objectively unreasonable.’” Alston v. Smith, 840 F.3d 363, 370 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Ward v. Sternes, 334 F.3d 696, 704 (7th Cir. 2003)).

         When applying the above standards, federal courts look to “the ‘last reasoned state-court decision’ to decide the merits of the case, even if the state’s supreme court then denied discretionary review.” Dassey v. Dittmann, 877 F.3d 297, 302 ...


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