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Spence v. Faucher

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 7, 2018

JOHN MARSHALL SPENCE, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN FAUCHER, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner John Marshall Spence ("Spence"), a Connecticut inmate proceeding pro se, brings this petition for habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his state conviction. Respondent (the "State") opposes the petition. This opinion resolves it.

         I.BACKGROUND

         On September 23, 2013, following a trial before a jury in the Connecticut Superior Court for the Judicial District of Fairfield, Spence was found guilty on charges of possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of eighteen years, execution suspended after nine years, followed by twenty years of probation with special conditions. See Respondent's Answer to Complaint ("Resp. Ans.") Appendix A, Doc. 14-2 at 2-3.

         Spence challenged his conviction on direct appeal, raising three grounds: (1) that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress statements Spence made to the police prior to his formal arrest; (2) that the trial court gave an erroneous constructive possession charge; and (3) that the trial court improperly permitted the State to offer rebuttal evidence on matters it was aware were at issue during the case-in-chief. See Resp. Ans. App. C, Doc. 14-6. The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the conviction, and the Connecticut Supreme Court denied certification to appeal. State v. Spence, 165 Conn.App. 110, 112 (2016), cert. denied, 321 Conn. 927 (2016).

         On September 30, 2016, Spence filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court challenging the initial question posed before the Miranda warning; the same issue asserted in his first ground on direct appeal. See Resp. Ans. App. F, Doc. 14-9. On October 12, 2016, the petition was declined by the state court as the relief requested was not available. See Petition, Doc. 1 at 6, 10; Resp. Ans. App. G, Doc. 14-10. On September 17, 2017, Spence commenced this federal habeas action. Doc. 1.

         The Connecticut Appellate Court determined that the jury reasonably could have found the following facts:

The state police began investigating [Spence's] activities when they received a tip that a person with a Connecticut Internet protocol (IP) address was downloading child pornography over peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Using a computer program tailored for law enforcement, the state police accessed the identified IP address and downloaded images of child pornography. The state police applied for and were granted an ex parte order to require the Internet service provider to reveal the name and street address associated with the identified IP address. The state police then obtained a search warrant for [Spence's] home.
On June 13, 2012, state troopers and local police executed a search and seizure warrant at [Spence's] home at 34 May Street in Fairfield. Police entered the home shortly after 6 a.m. and found [Spence], his wife, three children, and mother-in-law in the single family residence. At that time, the lead investigator, state police Detective David Aresco, asked [Spence] if he could explain why the state police were in his home. In response, [Spence] asked if "he could speak with Detective Aresco in private." Once outside, [Spence] received a Miranda warning and then provided an oral and written statement acknowledging that he had downloaded more than 150 images and videos of child pornography and that he had exclusive control of the computer where the files were stored.
Before [Spence's] trial began, he moved to suppress the statements he made to the state police on the day his home was searched. On September 6, 2013, the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion. Ultimately, the trial court denied the motion and [Spence] was convicted by a jury of possession of child pornography in the first degree.

Spence, 165 Conn.App. at 113-14 (footnote omitted).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The writ of habeas corpus stands as a safeguard against imprisonment of those held in violation of the law." Harrington v. Richter, 52 U.S. 86, 91 (2011). Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), "a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); see also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). Because federal habeas relief may only be obtained for a violation of federal law, it "does not lie for errors of state law." Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A federal habeas court may grant habeas relief "with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" only if the state decision 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. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). "This standard . . . is difficult to meet: To obtain habeas corpus relief from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the challenged state-court ruling rested on an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Metrish v. Lancaster, 569 U.S. 351, 357-58 (2013) (quotation marks and citation omitted). "Clearly established Federal law includes only the holdings of the Court's decisions; and an unreasonable application of those holdings must be objectively unreasonable." White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1699 (2014) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, the question before the federal court is not whether the state court's determination was incorrect, but rather whether that determination was unreasonable; "a substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). See also Virginia v. LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. 1726, 1728 (2017) ("In order for a state court's decision to be an unreasonable application of [Supreme Court] case law, the ruling must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice." (quotation marks and citation omitted)), reh'g denied, 138 S.Ct. 35 (2017).

         A state decision will be considered contrary to clearly established federal precedent "if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, " or "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of this Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from our precedent." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). A decision is considered an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law if it "correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case." Id. at 407-08.

         "This substantive limitation § 2254(d) places upon a federal court's power to give habeas relief to a state prisoner is frequently referred to as 'AEDPA deference.'" Lewis v. Comm'r of Corr., 975 F.Supp.2d 169, 172 (D. Conn. Dec. 16, 2013) (citations omitted), aff'd sub nom. Lewis v. Conn. Comm'r of Corr., 790 F.3d 109 (2d Cir. 2015). Employing such deference, a federal habeas court must presume all state court factual determinations to be correct, unless the petitioner rebuts the findings by "clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). "This [is] a difficult to meet and highly deferential standard . . . [which] demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Pinholster, 563 U.S. at 171 (quotation marks and citations omitted). As the Second Circuit stated, "[p]ursuant to that standard, we may reverse a state court ruling only where it was so lacking in justification that there was no possibility for fairminded disagreement." Samuel v. LaValley, 551 Fed.Appx. 614, 616 (2d Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         In sum, for habeas relief to be granted to a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court, the Court must find an unreasonable application of federal law or an unreasonable determination of facts by the state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Moreover, the petitioner must have exhausted his claims in state court. Id. at (b)(1)(A). "Exhaustion requires that the prisoner fairly present the federal claim in each appropriate state court (including a state supreme court with powers of discretionary review)." Richardson v. Superintendent of Mid-Orange Corr. Facility, 621 F.3d 196, 201 (2d Cir.2010) (quotation marks and citation omitted), cert. denied sub nom., Richardson v. Inserra, 562 U.S. 1188');">562 U.S. 1188 (2011). Finally, the federal court's review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits. Pinholster, 563 U.S. at 181.

         III.DISCUSSION

         Spence raises four grounds for habeas relief. The first ground is entitled, "the petitioner police encounter on the day of arrest, " Pet., Doc. 1 at 9, and asserts that Spence's Miranda rights were violated on the day of his arrest. Specifically, Spence states that he was "questioned on the day of 6/13/2012, in [his] home, and an incriminating question was posed to [him] with the hopes of a response, but the officer before questioning was started, failed to administer pre-Miranda warnings, ...


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