Lewis v. Commissioner
RULING denying 121 Motion for Reconsideration. Respondent has not established that AEDPA bars the Court from holding an evidentiary hearing in this matter. Signed by Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr on September 7, 2012. (Caldwell, M.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
SCOTT T. LEWIS,
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION,
RULING ON RESPONDENT'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION
HAIGHT, Senior District Judge:
Petitioner Scott T. Lewis applies to this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, making three
claims regarding his conviction for murder: (1) he was denied due process because exculpatory
evidence was suppressed (the “Brady claim”); (2) his conviction was based on perjured testimony
(the “perjury claim”); and (3) his right to present a defense was violated because a third-party
confession was not admitted at trial (the “third-party confession claim”). On February 23, 2012, this
Court issued a Ruling on Respondent’s Procedural Objections (the “Feb. 23 Ruling”) [Doc. 113],
in which it found that it is procedurally barred from considering the perjury claim. In the Feb. 23
Ruling, the Court stated that it will conduct an evidentiary hearing with respect to the two remaining
claims. Feb. 23 Ruling at 17.1
On March 8, 2012, respondent Commissioner of Correction filed the present motion, which
The factual and procedural background in this matter is described in the Feb. 23 Ruling
at 2-4 and is not repeated here.
it labels a Motion for Reconsideration as to Court’s Order for an Evidentiary Hearing (the “Motion”)
[Doc. 121], arguing that this Court is barred from conducting an evidentiary hearing in this matter
by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. While the
Motion is labeled a motion for reconsideration, it is not a motion for reconsideration of a ruling in
the normal sense, but rather a vehicle for bringing Respondent’s objections to the holding of an
evidentiary hearing before the Court. Thus, the Court does not address here the legal standard for
granting a motion for reconsideration, but rather proceeds to the Respondent’s objections.
If a habeas petition is not dismissed on initial review, “the judge must review the answer, any
transcripts and records of state-court proceedings, and any materials submitted under Rule 7 to
determine whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted.” Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section
2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. “Prior to [AEDPA], the decision to hold an
evidentiary hearing in a federal habeas action was generally left to the sound discretion of the district
courts ... That basic rule has not changed.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). “In
deciding whether to grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must consider whether such a
hearing could enable an applicant to prove the petition’s factual allegations, which, if true, would
entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief.” Id. at 474. In this case, the Court has found that an
evidentiary hearing is warranted.
Respondent argues that two provisions of AEDPA bar an evidentiary hearing in this matter:
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2). Memorandum of Law in Support of
Respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration (“Supp. Memo.”) [Doc. 121-1] passim. Petitioner argues
that neither provision bars such a hearing. Petitioner’s Memorandum in Opposition to Respondent’s
Motion for Reconsideration as to Court’s Order for an Evidentiary Hearing (“Opp. Memo.”) [Doc.
126-1] passim. The Court addresses each of these provisions in turn.
The first provision of AEDPA at issue, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), places limits on the granting of
a habeas corpus application.
It does not address the Court’s discretion to order evidentiary hearings.
However, Respondent argues that one of its sub-sections, Section 2254(d)(1), nevertheless places
limits on the Court’s discretion to order evidentiary hearings. Supp. Memo. at 2-3.
Section 2254(d) provides as follows:
(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a prisoner 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.
Thus, Sections 2254(d)(1) and (2) constitute the two conditions under which a petitioner can obtain
a writ of habeas corpus with respect to a claim when that claim was adjudicated on the merits in state
Respondent’s argument that Section 2254(d)(1) bars an evidentiary hearing is based on the
Supreme Court’s holding in Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011). The Supreme Court
there held that a district court’s decision about whether or not the Section 2254(d)(1) condition
applies should be based exclusively on the record before the state court. And, while Respondent
does not make this point, Section 2254(d)(2) expressly requires a district court to rely on the statecourt record to determine whether the alternative condition applies. If the only issue before the Court
in this matter was the issue of whether Section 2254(d) bars habeas relief, an evidentiary hearing
would not be appropriate.
However, that is not the only issue before the Court. The Court must decide other questions,
including, inter alia, (1) whether, if Section 2254(d) does not bar relief, relief is warranted; and (2)
whether Petitioner’s claim of actual innocence requires the Court to reach the merits of his defaulted
perjury claim. See House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 537-40 (2006). The Feb. 23 Ruling makes it clear
that the Court did not order a hearing specifically on the Section 2254(d) issue. Rather, it is to be
a hearing “with respect to the Brady claim and Petitioner’s third claim, which is the third-party
confession claim.” Feb. 23 Ruling at 17.
Respondent’s argument seems to be that Cullen bars evidentiary hearings on all issues in
habeas petitions, generally or in some cases. In fact, the Cullen holding was confined to the question
of whether the Section 2254(d)(1) condition applies. Cullen at 1398-1400.
Petitioner devotes considerable space in his brief to arguing that Section 2254(d) does not
bar habeas relief in this matter. Opp. Memo. at 10-16, 19-20. However, the present Motion does
not place that question before the Court, and nothing in this Ruling constitutes a holding on that
question. The only issue raised by the Motion is the propriety of an evidentiary hearing.
Respondent’s first AEDPA argument is without merit.
The second provision of AEDPA upon which Respondent relies, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2), bars
evidentiary hearings under certain specific circumstances. It reads as follows:
(2) If the applicant has failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court
proceedings, the court shall not hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim unless the applicant
shows that-(A) the claim relies on-(i) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral
review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable; or
(ii) a factual predicate that could not have been previously discovered through
the exercise of due diligence; and
(B) the facts underlying the claim would be sufficient to establish by clear and
convincing evidence that but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have
found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense.
Section 2254(e)(2) thus applies only if Petitioner has failed to develop the factual basis of
the claim in state court. Respondent’s argument on this point could hardly be less clear, but it
appears that Respondent assumes, without arguing, that Petitioner failed to develop the factual basis
for his Brady claim. Supp. Memo. at 16. Respondent does not extend the Section 2254(e)(2)
argument to the third-party confession claim at all. Petitioner, on the other hand, asserts that he
developed certain facts in state court, but does not discuss his development of the facts that are
relevant to the Brady claim. Opp. Memo. at 21-22.
The Court, in the absence of argument from the parties on the question of whether Petitioner
developed the factual basis for his Brady claim in state court, could deny the Motion simply because
Respondent has not shown why Section 2254(e)(2) applies. However, the Court notes that Petitioner
did develop the factual basis for his claims in state court. At the state habeas trial Petitioner
presented, inter alia: (1) the testimony of his former attorney, John Williams, directly on the Brady
issue; (2) eleven documents, including several directly relevant to his Brady and third-party
confession claims, such as the full transcript of Detective Michael Sweeney’s testimony in Morant
v. State, No. 398736, 2000 WL 804695 (Conn. Super. Ct. June 5, 2000); and (3) more than two days
of testimony from other witnesses, much of which was relevant to the Brady and third-party
confession claims. He was prevented from presenting what might have been his most important
evidence because Ovil Ruiz, a central figure in this matter, invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege
against self-incrimination and refused to answer Petitioner’s questions. See Transcript of State
Habeas Trial, attached as Exhibit 6 to Petitioner’s Updated Response to Respondent’s Second
Supplemental Memorandum of Law [Doc. 110].
Respondent has not established that Petitioner failed to develop the factual basis for any of
his claims. Thus, Respondent’s second AEDPA argument is also without merit.
Respondent has not established that the Court lacks discretion to hold an evidentiary hearing
in this matter and the Court sees no reason to modify its order for such a hearing. Respondent’s
Motion for Reconsideration as to Court’s Order for an Evidentiary Hearing [Doc. 121] is DENIED.
Petitioner’s Motion to Proceed to an Evidentiary Hearing [Doc. 131] raises a different set of issues,
and nothing in this Ruling constitutes a holding on that motion.
It is SO ORDERED.
September 7, 2012
New Haven, Connecticut
/s/ Charles S. Haight Jr.
Charles S. Haight Jr.
Senior United States District Judge
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