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Boyd v. Eckstein

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

October 18, 2019

VINCENT E. BOYD, Petitioner,


          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         Petitioner Vincent Boyd (“Boyd”) has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that his Sixth Amendment rights to self-representation and to confront his witnesses were violated, and that his nolo contendere pleas were, consequentially, invalid. The parties have fully briefed their respective positions on Boyd's asserted grounds for relief. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Boyd's petition is without merit and therefore must be denied.


         State criminal convictions are generally considered final. Review may be had in federal court only on limited grounds. To obtain habeas relief from a state conviction, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) (as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”)) requires the petitioner to show that the state court's decision on the merits of his constitutional claim was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005). The burden of proof rests with the petitioner. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). The relevant decision for this Court to review is that of the last state court to rule on the merits of the petitioner's claim. Charlton v. Davis, 439 F.3d 369, 374 (7th Cir. 2006).

         A state-court decision runs contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent “if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [those] cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court but reaches a different result.” Brown, 544 U.S. at 141. Similarly, a state court unreasonably applies clearly established Supreme Court precedent when it applies that precedent to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner. Id.; Bailey v. Lemke, 735 F.3d 945, 949 (7th Cir. 2013).

         The AEDPA undoubtedly mandates a deferential standard of review. The Supreme Court has “emphasized with rather unexpected vigor” the strict limits imposed by Congress on the authority of federal habeas courts to overturn state criminal convictions. Price v. Thurmer, 637 F.3d 831, 839 (7th Cir. 2011). It is not enough for the petitioner to prove the state courts were wrong; he must also prove they acted unreasonably. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2005); Campbell v. Smith, 770 F.3d 540, 546 (7th Cir. 2014) (“An ‘unreasonable application of' federal law means ‘objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even ‘clear error' will not suffice.'”) (quoting White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014)).

         Indeed, the petitioner must demonstrate that the state court decision is “so erroneous that ‘there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with [the Supreme] Court's precedents.'” Nevada v. Jackson, 133 S.Ct. 1990, 1992 (2013) (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102). The state court decisions must “be given the benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002); Hartjes v. Endicott, 456 F.3d 786, 792 (7th Cir. 2006). Further, when a state court applies general constitutional standards, it is afforded even more latitude under the AEDPA in reaching decisions based on those standards. Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009); Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004) (“[E]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.”).

         As the Supreme Court has explained, “[i]f this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102. Indeed, Section 2254(d) stops just short of “imposing a complete bar on federal-court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings.” See Id. This is so because “habeas corpus is a ‘guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems,' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Id. at 102-103 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring)).

         A federal court may also grant habeas relief on the alternative ground that the state court's adjudication of a constitutional claim was based upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). The underlying state court findings of fact and credibility determinations are, however, presumed correct. Newman v. Harrington, 726 F.3d 921, 928 (7th Cir. 2013). The petitioner overcomes that presumption only if he proves by clear and convincing evidence that those findings are wrong. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Campbell, 770 F.3d at 546. “A decision ‘involves an unreasonable determination of the facts if it rests upon factfinding that ignores the clear and convincing weight of the evidence.'” Bailey, 735 F.3d at 949-50 (quoting Goudy v. Basinger, 604 F.3d 394, 399-400 (7th Cir. 2010)). “‘[A] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013) (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)). If shown, an unreasonable factual determination by the state court means that this Court must review the claim in question de novo. Carlson v. Jess, 526 F.3d 1018, 1024 (7th Cir. 2008).

         2. BACKGROUND

         In 2010, Boyd was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child. He cycled through three attorneys before he was finally assigned to John Wallace (“Wallace”) in 2012. At the final pretrial conference, Boyd sought a continuance and, when that was denied, tried to fire Wallace because he felt that Wallace was not adequately prepared for trial. Additionally, he felt that Wallace wanted him to enter a guilty plea.

         Initially, the trial court would not allow Boyd to fire his attorney.[1]

         Petitioner then sought to represent himself. The Court allowed this, with the caveat that Wallace would remain as standby counsel. The contours of Wallace's role as standby counsel were defined in the following exchange:

DEFENDANT: Can I just represent myself on this case then?
COURT: Mr. Wallace is still going to be sitting there.
MR. WALLACE: That would be fine with me.
COURT: And you want to do your own openings and closings and all that?
DEFENDANT: I would like to completely represent myself on this case.
COURT: Okay, and Mr. Wallace will be at your side for standby counsel.
DEFENDANT: All right, and if I'm allowed to represent myself, can I have an opportunity to file the motions that I've asked be filed- MR. WALLACE: We can take ‘em-he can take ‘em up chronologically a couple of ‘em, we can do ‘em, yes. I know exactly what he wants to do but-I can-I can assist him, so for the record, he has terminated me, he is proceeding pro se, and I have been appointed standby counsel. I will assist him in his defense, and I will advise him on what and what not to do.
COURT: Well, he hasn't fired you. You're standby counsel, but he has a right to represent himself.

(Docket #12-22 at 11-13).

         The parties addressed further logistics, and the district attorney, “Ms. Paider, ” raised the issue of Boyd questioning the victims on the stand in light of his prior sexual assault convictions. The transcript reads, in relevant part:

MS. PAIDER: Well, Your Honor, then in terms of the -at least one of the other acts' victims, the one from the Langlade County case, the one he was convicted of, I know in some of his motions he is questioning that conviction and wants to have a trial within a trial. He's already pled and been sentenced. There's a Judgment of Conviction there. He can't dispute the fact that that's there, and technically, because the charge is first-degree sexual assault of a child, the fact he has been convicted of it by law is allowed to come in, so I just want him to be aware of that as well. He's not going to be able to collaterally attack that conviction at this trial -
(Defendant speaks but is inaudible.)
COURT: That's true.
COURT REPORTER: I didn't hear him.
DEFENDANT: I have the right to defend myself against it. I would-I would like some latitude in questioning the victim and I would talk to- COURT: You will get no latitude.
MR. WALLACE: He's wishes-he's requesting some latitude in questioning- COURT: You will get no latitude. You don't-just because you're representing yourself doesn't mean you get to violate the rules of evidence. I mean you get to - you're right, you have a right to defend yourself within the law. That doesn't mean just because you're representing yourself you- means you get to ask questions that aren't relevant, that are prejudicial, that are hearsay. You don't get to violate the rules of evidence just because you're representing yourself.
DEFENDANT: No, I understand that. I just think I should be able to tell the jury - COURT: If you don't-if you don't know what the rules are, maybe you should reconsider ...

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