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McKnight v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

March 27, 2017

MARLON D. McKNIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Marlon D. McKnight, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging his convictions and 40 year sentence by the Elkhart Superior Court on April 29, 2010, under cause number 20D03-0802-FA-6. “Federal habeas review . . . exists as a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(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
(2) resulted in a decision that 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).

[This] standard is intentionally difficult to meet. [The Supreme Court has] explained that clearly established Federal law for purposes of §2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of th[at] Court's decisions. And an unreasonable application of those holdings must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice. To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quotation marks and citations omitted). To warrant relief, a state court's decision must be more than incorrect or erroneous; it must be “objectively” unreasonable. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quotation marks omitted).

         GROUND ONE

         In Ground One, McKnight argues that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The Respondent argues this claim is procedurally defaulted because McKnight's arguments in the State court did not mention the Sixth Amendment until he petitioned for transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court and by then it was too late to add a new claim. To avoid procedural default, a habeas petitioner must fully and fairly present his federal claims to the state courts. Boyko v. Parke, 259 F.3d 781, 788 (7th Cir. 2001). “Fair presentment requires the petitioner to give the state courts a meaningful opportunity to pass upon the substance of the claims later presented in federal court.” Id. (quoting Rodriguez v. Scillia , 193 F.3d 913, 916 (7th Cir. 1999)). In the interests of federal-state comity, both the operative facts and controlling law must be put before the state courts. Ellsworth v. Levenhagen, 248 F.3d 634, 639 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Wilson v. Briley, 243 F.3d 325, 327 (7th Cir. 2001); Boyko, 259 F.3d at 788).

         It is true that in State court McKnight focused on violations of Indiana Criminal Rule 4(B).[1]However, “the task of the habeas court . . . is assessing, in concrete, practical terms, whether the state court was sufficiently alerted to the federal constitutional nature of the issue to permit it to resolve that issue on a federal basis.” Ellsworth v. Levenhagen, 248 F.3d 634, 639 (7th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks and internal citations omitted). Fair presentment “does not require a hypertechnical congruence between the claims made in the federal and state courts; it merely requires that the factual and legal substance remain the same.” Anderson v. Brevik, 471 F.3d 811, 814-15 (citing Boyko, 259 F.3d at 788).

         There are four factors to consider in determining whether a federal claim was fairly presented to the state courts: “(1) whether the petitioner relied on federal cases that engage in a constitutional analysis; (2) whether the petitioner relied on state cases which apply a constitutional analysis to similar facts; (3) whether the petitioner framed the claim in terms so particular as to call to mind a specific constitutional right; and (4) whether the petitioner alleged a pattern of facts that is well within the mainstream of constitutional litigation.” Id. at 815.

         Indiana Criminal Rule 4(B) is about the right to a speedy trial. McKnight's State court argument was that he was denied a speedy trial in violation of Rule 4(B). This argument calls to mind the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and that argument is well within the mainstream of constitutional litigation. Moreover, “the time limits for bringing a defendant to trial set forth in the rule [4(B)] are . . . more rigorous than the constitutional requirements.” O'Neill v. State, 597 N.E.2d 379, 382 (Ind.Ct.App. 1992). Thus, by finding that Rule 4(B) was not violated, the State courts inherently found that the Sixth Amendment was not violated. “When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 99 (2011). This is true whether the State court summarily rejects every claim or is merely silent as to a federal claim. Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1091 (2013). Therefore, habeas corpus relief is only available on this Sixth Amendment claim if the State court's denial was an unreasonable application of clearly established United States Supreme Court law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).

         “The Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972), set forth the now well-established standard governing Sixth Amendment speedy trial challenges. That four-part test considers: whether delay before trial was uncommonly long, whether the government or the criminal defendant is more to blame for that delay, whether, in due course, the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial, and whether he suffered prejudice as the delay's result.” Ashburn v. Korte, 761 F.3d 741, 751--752 (7th Cir. 2014) (parallel citations and quotation marks omitted).

         A three count information was filed against McKnight on February 4, 2008. (DE 8-1 at 1.) A total of 763 days elapsed before the trial resulting in his conviction began on March 8, 2010. (Id. at 7.)

The trial court set the initial pre-trial conference for February 8, 2008, and on that day, the trial court appointed a public defender to represent McKnight. On March 6, 2008, McKnight dismissed the public defender, his private attorney entered an appearance, and the trial court set the pre-trial conference for May 1, 2008, with the delay being charged to McKnight for purposes of Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C). On May 1, 2008, the trial court reset the pre-trial conference for May 22, 2008, at McKnight's request. On May 21, 2008, McKnight requested another continuance, and the trial court rescheduled the matter for June 5, 2008. On June 5, July 17, and July 30, 2008, McKnight requested additional continuances and agreed that the delays would be charged to him in accordance with Crim. R. 4(C).
On August 21, 2008, the trial court held a pre-trial conference where McKnight's attorney was present but ...

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