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Stanley v. Mulligan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 23, 2019

STEVEN K. STANLEY, Petitioner,
v.
MULLIGAN et al., Respondents.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 2254

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Steven K. Stanley has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges his state court criminal convictions on the grounds that evidence was introduced against him in violation of the Fourth Amendment, that the evidence was not sufficient to convict him, and that his rights were violated during the course of state habeas corpus proceedings. Because I conclude that Stanley has not shown that the state courts engaged in an unreasonable finding of facts or application of the law, I will deny his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

         Background

         Stanley is currently a prisoner in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Correction. On December 12, 2012, a jury convicted Stanley of 100 counts of criminal violation of a protective order in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-223, stalking in the first degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181c, and threatening in the second degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-62. He was sentenced on February 25, 2013, to a total effective sentence of eighteen years in prison.

         Stanley appealed his conviction to the Connecticut Appellate Court. See State v. Stanley, 161 Conn.App. 10 (2015), cert. denied, 320 Conn. 918 (2016). He raised several claims, including that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that he personally made the calls to the victim that served as the basis for his convictions. The Appellate Court found the evidence was sufficient, see 161 Conn.App. at 14-16, and the Connecticut Supreme Court denied Stanley's petition for certification for appeal. See State v. Stanley, 320 Conn. 918 (2016).

         In the meantime, Stanley filed the first of four state habeas petitions on August 14, 2013. He claimed trial errors and improper conduct by the prosecutors. See Stanley v. Warden, 2014 WL 1345266, at *1 (Conn. Super. 2014). Judge Cobb dismissed the trial error claims as barred by the doctrine of procedural default. Ibid. She found that Stanley's allegations regarding prosecutorial misconduct-specifically that the prosecutor intimidated his witnesses at his criminal trial and failed to provide him with phone records-may have been procedurally defaulted, and that if not, they nonetheless failed on the merits. Ibid. She dismissed the petition, concluding that Stanley's phone records had been produced by the prosecution, that only the victim's phone records had actually been entered into evidence at trial, and that the prosecutors did not threaten or intimidate witnesses. Ibid.

         The Connecticut Appellate Court dismissed Stanley's appeal. See Stanley v. Commissioner of Correction, 156 Conn.App. 903 (2015) (per curiam). Stanley did not seek certification for an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

         Stanley filed a second state habeas petition on July 7, 2015. Judge Sferrazza dismissed all but one of his claims and then held a trial on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Stanley v. Warden, 2017 WL 2539074, at *1 (Conn. Super. 2017). Judge Sferrazza concluded that Stanley could not show that his counsel was ineffective. Id. at *5. Stanley appealed the ruling, and the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed without opinion. See Stanley v. Commissioner of Correction, 194 Conn.App. 903 (2019).

         Apart from his effort to seek habeas relief, Stanley petitioned for a new trial on July 31, 2015, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 52-270. He alleged prosecutorial misconduct, deprivation of the opportunity to prepare a defense, and abuse of judicial discretion during the trial. Judge Nazarro granted the respondent's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the first two claims were barred by res judicata, because they had already been decided on direct appeal or in a habeas proceeding, and that the third claim was barred either by res judicata or because it had not been diligently pursued. See Stanley v. State's Attorney, 2016 WL 4007590 (Conn. Super. 2016). This judgment was affirmed without opinion by the Connecticut Appellate Court, see Stanley v. State's Attorney, 179 Conn.App. 901 (2018), and the Connecticut Supreme Court denied the petition for certification to appeal, see Stanley v. State's Attorney, 328 Conn. 926 (2018).

         On May 19, 2017, Stanley filed a third state habeas petition claiming that prosecutors had threatened his witnesses, that he had not received notice when his telephone records were procured, that the judge mishandled his criminal trial, and that the cell phone number he called so many times did not actually belong to the victim. In an oral ruling issued February 21, 2018, Judge Mullarkey granted respondents' motion to dismiss on the grounds that the same claims were subjects of Stanley's pending appeals, or that Stanley failed to raise them in earlier proceedings at which they could have been raised. Doc. #10-8 at 43-44 (transcript of ruling); Stanley v. Comm. of Corr., CV17-4008840-S. Stanley appealed the decision, which is currently pending before the Appellate Court. Stanley v. Comm. of Corr., AC 41705.

         Stanley filed a fourth state habeas petition on March 28, 2018, alleging that prosecutors behaved improperly at his trial and intimidated his witnesses at one of his subsequent habeas proceedings. See Stanley v. Comm'r of Correction, 2019 WL 5681384 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2019). Judge Newson denied the petition on the grounds that Stanley's claim of prosecutorial misconduct at his criminal trial was barred by res judicata and that he had not advanced any evidence in support of his claim of additional prosecutorial misconduct at one of his habeas trials. Ibid. Stanley's appeal is pending. Stanley v. Comm. of Corr., AC 42876.

         Stanley filed the instant federal habeas petition on March 15, 2019. Doc. #1. Although his claims are difficult to interpret, I understand him to raise the following three grounds for relief: (1) that the prosecution improperly procured his telephone records without notice and that their admission at trial violated his rights; (2) that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that he made the telephone calls to the victim; and (3) that Judge Newson erred in declining to enforce all of the witness subpoenas for one of Stanley's state habeas corpus hearings. Respondents have moved to dismiss the petition. Doc. #9. Stanley has filed multiple responses. Docs. #13, #14, #15.

         Discussion

         Federal courts have very limited authority to overturn state court criminal convictions. A state court defendant who seeks relief by way of a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 must show that his state court conviction was rendered by means of a very clear violation of federal law-i.e., that the state court's adjudication of his claims “(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or that it “(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the ...


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