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Lehman v. Warden

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

April 29, 2019

STEPHEN M. LEHMAN, Petitioner,
WARDEN, Respondent.



         Stephen M. Lehman, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition to challenge his conviction for dealing controlled substances under Cause No. 35D01-904-FA-63. Following a jury trial, on August 11, 2009, the Huntington Superior Court sentenced him as a habitual offender to forty-two years of incarceration.


         In deciding this habeas petition, the court must presume the facts set forth by the State courts are correct unless they are rebutted with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The Court of Appeals of Indiana summarized the evidence presented at trial:

In August of 2008, Huntington City Police Detective Michael Slagel (Detective Slagel) worked with Charles Howard (Howard), a confidential informant. On August 5, 2008, Howard contacted Detective Slagel to inform the detective that he had a deal set up. Detective Slagel contacted other officers to help with the transaction and they all met with Howard at a predetermined meeting place. At the meeting place, Detective Slagel searched Howard and his vehicle and placed an electronic device on him. He also handed Howard $200 to purchase drugs.
Howard, followed by the officers, traveled to 626 Court Street in Huntington, Indiana. The officers saw Howard pull into the alley at the residence and then lost visual contact. However, Detective Slagel was able to hear the transaction on the audio device and recognized both Howard and Lehman's voice. Detective Slagel heard Howard and Lehman talk about weighing out different amounts of cocaine, and discuss a “ball, ” “powder, ” and “doing a line.” Huntington City Police Detective Cory Boxell (Detective Boxell), who also monitored the transaction through the audio device, heard Lehman talk about his upcoming appointment with his probation officer. When the transaction was complete, Howard left the residence and drove to the meeting place while being followed by the officers. At the meeting place, Howard handed Detective Slagel a clear plastic bag containing a white powdery substance. This substance tested positive for cocaine.
On August 20, 2008, Detective Slagel received another call from Howard about setting up another deal with Lehman. Again, a meeting was set up at a predetermined place where Howard was searched. He was fitted with an electronic listening device and given money to buy drugs. Howard and the officers drove to Lehman's residence in separate vehicles. Howard pulled into the alley and Huntington City Police Detective Chad Hacker (Detective Hacker) saw Lehman walk up to Howard's vehicle. Detective Slagel and Officer Boxell, who were monitoring the audio device, heard Howard talk to Lehman about twenty milligram pills and thirty milligram pills. When the transaction was completed, Howard returned to the meeting place with the officers in tow and gave Detective Slagel a clear plastic bag with ten orange twenty-milligram Adderall capsules. In the fall of 2008, Howard died of a drug overdose.
On April 2, 2009, the State charged Lehman with Count I, dealing in cocaine, a Class A felony, I.C. § 35-48-4-1; and Count II, dealing in a schedule I, II, or III controlled substance, a Class A felony, I.C. § 35-48-4-2. The next day, the State amended this charging information by adding an habitual substance offender Count, I.C. § 35-50-2-10. On July 9 and 10, 2009, a jury trial was conducted. At the close of the evidence, the jury returned a guilty verdict on Counts I and II. Thereafter, Lehman pled guilty to the habitual substance offender charge. On August 11, 2009, during the sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Lehman to concurrent sentences of thirty-six years each on Counts I and II, and enhanced the sentence on Count I by six years because of the habitual substance adjudication. Lehman's aggregate sentence amounted to forty-two years.

ECF 6-5 at 2-4; Lehman v. State, 87 N.E.3d 61 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017).

         Lehman argues that he is entitled to habeas relief on the basis that the trial court violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause by admitting two audio recordings of a deceased informant. He further argues that trial counsel was ineffective for having a conflict of interest, for failing to investigate the controlled buys, including their location and the amount of controlled substances, and for failing to present several witnesses. He also argues that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise an argument under the Indiana Constitution and for failing to investigate the audio recordings of the deceased informant.[1]


         Before considering the merits of a habeas petition, the court must ensure that the petitioner has exhausted all available remedies in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); Lewis v. Sternes, 390 F.3d 1019, 1025 (7th Cir. 2004). 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 “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 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Boyko, 259 F.3d at 788). It does, however, require “the petitioner to assert his federal claim through one complete round of state-court review, either on direct appeal of his conviction or in post-conviction proceedings.” Lewis, 390 F.3d at 1025 (internal quotations and citations omitted). “This means that the petitioner must raise the issue at each and every level in the state court system, including levels at which review is discretionary rather than mandatory.” Id. “A habeas petitioner who has exhausted his state court remedies without properly asserting his federal claim at each level of state court review has procedurally defaulted that claim.” Id.

         Lehman presented his Confrontation Clause claim to the Court of Appeals of Indiana and the Indiana Supreme Court on direct appeal. ECF 6-2; ECF 6-6. At the post-conviction relief stage, Lehman also properly exhausted his claims that trial counsel failed to represent him free from conflict, failed to investigate the controlled buys, including their location and the amount of controlled substances, and failed to call several witnesses. ECF 6-9; ECF 6-13. However, while Lehman raised ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims before the Huntington Superior Court, he did not raise them on appeal. ECF 6-9. Lehman is thus procedurally barred from pursuing the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims on habeas review, and the court will not consider them on the merits.


         “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).

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 ...

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