Engelhardt v. Heimgartner

Decision Date31 January 2014
Docket NumberNo. 11-3179-SAC,11-3179-SAC
PartiesROBERT J. ENGELHARDT, Petitioner, v. JAMES HEIMGARTNER, et al Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas

This case comes before the Court on a petition for habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 USC § 2254 by an inmate at El Dorado Correctional Facility who was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to a hard 50 life sentence.

The parties do not dispute the procedural history of the case or the facts regarding the underlying crime as stated in the Kansas Supreme Court's decision in petitioner's state criminal case, State v. Engelhardt, 280 Kan. 113 (2005), and in the Kansas Court of Appeals (KCOA)'s decision reviewing petitioner's K.S.A. 60-1507 proceeding, Engelhardt v. State, 2011 WL 445953 (2011) (Case No. 103,556). Accordingly, the Court adopts those facts as correct and finds it unnecessary to repeat them herein except as set forth in the analysis of the petition. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Saiz v. Ortiz, 392 F.3d 1166, 1175 (10th Cir. 2004). Respondents admit that Petitioner has exhausted his available state court remedies.

I. AEDPA Standard

This matter is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). AEDPA imposes a "highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. ----, 130 S.Ct. 1855, 1862 (2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under AEDPA, where a state prisoner presents a claim in habeas corpus and the merits were addressed in the state courts, a federal court may grant relief only if it determines that the state court proceedings resulted in a decision (1) "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) "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).

A state court decision is "contrary to clearly established Federal law" when: (a) the state court " 'applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases' "; or (b) " 'the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [that] precedent .' " Maynard v. Boone, 468 F.3d 665, 669 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000)). A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of clearly established federallaw when it identifies the correct legal rule from Supreme Court case law, but unreasonably applies that rule to the facts. Williams, at 407-08. Likewise, a state court unreasonably applies federal law when it either unreasonably extends, or refuses to extend, a legal principle from Supreme Court precedent where it should apply. House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1018 (10th Cir. 2008).

In reviewing state criminal convictions in federal habeas corpus proceedings, a federal court does not sit as a super-state appellate court. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991). "The question under AEDPA is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable—a substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). In order to obtain relief, a petitioner must show that the state court decision is "objectively unreasonable." Williams, 529 U.S. at 409 (O'Connor, J., concurring). "[A] decision is 'objectively unreasonable' when most reasonable jurists exercising their independent judgment would conclude the state court misapplied Supreme Court law." Maynard, 468 F.3d at 671.

II. Issues
A. Petitioner's Absence During Jury View

Petitioner contends that his fifth and sixth amendment rights were violated when the district court prohibited him from being present during thejury's view of the crime scene. Petitioner alleges that the trailer site was emotionally charged, that the physical corroboration of witness' testimony was crucial, and that his absence conveyed to the jury that he was dangerous or a flight risk.

The prosecution requested a jury view. The district court believed that the view of the trailer where the stabbing occurred would help the jury understand the amount of space in the trailer and its layout. Engelhardt, 280 Kan. at 120. The district court ruled that petitioner would not be allowed inside the trailer because of its close quarters, but could be present outside the trailer. The court suggested two practical ways to accomplish that, but petitioner declined. Id. The bailiff took only the jurors to the scene. The district judge had directed them to enter the trailer two at a time, to walk to one end and back, and then to get back on the bus. The judge had further admonished the jurors not to talk among themselves or touch anything in the trailer. Id. at 121. No one contends that the jury violated these admonitions.

1. State Court Holding

The Kansas Supreme Court recognized that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require a defendant's presence at every critical stage of the criminal proceedings against him. 280 Kan. at 122. But the Court found the jury view did not constitute a critical stage of the proceedings against him.280 Kan. at 122-24. The Court found that the role of the jury view was "strictly corroborative," as it enabled them to see the space available in the trailer, particularly the distance between the place of the attack (in the front room) and the place the witnesses were (in the bedrooms), and the results of the clean-up job described by witnesses (bleaching, repainting, etc.). Id, at 123.

Additionally, the Court concluded that "[i]n light of the overwhelming evidence against Engelhardt in this case, any theoretical error in excluding him from the jury view would have been harmless under any potentially applicable formula." 280 Kan. at 125. It rejected as illogical petitioner's claim of prejudice, stating:

As for the possibility that Engelhardt's absence may have contributed to a jury perception of him as a flight risk or dangerous, we have no doubt that jurors seeing him inside the trailer in shackles and accompanied by police officers would have been led to a similar, perhaps stronger, perception.

280 Kan. at 125.

2. Habeas Review

It is a basic premise of our justice system that during a felony prosecution, the defendant has a Fourteenth Amendment privilege to be present under certain circumstances.

The Court has assumed that, even in situations where the defendant is not actually confronting witnesses or evidence against him, he has a due process right "to be present in his own person whenever his presence has a relation, reasonably substantial, to the fulness of his opportunity to defend against the charge." Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 105-106, 54 S.Ct. 330, 332, 78 L.Ed. 674 (1934).
Although the Court has emphasized that this privilege of presence is not guaranteed "when presence would be useless, or the benefit but a shadow," id., at 106-107, 54 S.Ct., at 332, due process clearly requires that a defendant be allowed to be present "to the extent that a fair and just hearing would be thwarted by his absence," id., at 108, 54 S.Ct., at 333. Thus, a defendant is guaranteed the right to be present at any stage of the criminal proceeding that is critical to its outcome if his presence would contribute to the fairness of the procedure.

Kentucky v. Stincer, 482 U.S. 730, 745, 107 S.Ct. 2658, 667 (1987) (finding no due process violation by excluding defendant from a hearing to determine two young witnesses' competency to testify). Two common exceptions to this rule exist but are inapplicable here. See Crosby v. United States, 506 U.S. 255, 259 (1993) (waiver by voluntary absence); Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 343 (1970) (forfeit by disruptive behavior).

The United States Supreme Court has specifically ruled that a felony defendant has no right to be present at a bare inspection. See Snyder v. Com. of Mass., 291 U.S. 97, 108, 54 S.Ct. 330 (1934), overruled on other grounds by Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964) (finding the Fourteenth Amendment does not assure an accused charged with a felony the privilege to be present at a mere view of scene of the offense, where nothing is said to direct the jury's attention to features to be observed, and nothing improper is shown). "While portions of Snyder have been overruled, the central holding of Snyder remains good law. Larson v. Tansy, 911 F.2d 392, 394 (10th Cir. 1990); Kentucky v. Stincer, 482 U.S. 730, 745 (1987); Devin v. DeTella, 101 F.3d 1206, 1209 (7th Cir.1996)." Stewart v. Roberts, 2006 WL 1128701 (D.Kan. 2006) (denying habeas relief because defendant's absence during a jury view of the crime scene is not a constitutional violation). Thus no constitutional violation occurred here, where the jury conducted a bare inspection outside Petitioner's presence.

Petitioner claims prejudice, but fails to show how his presence at the trailer during the jury viewing would have made any difference. See Hale v. Gibson, 227 F.3d 1298 (10th Cir. 2000) (finding defendant's absence from a hearing on counsel's motion to withdraw did not violate the defendant's due process rights). Petitioner had been in the trailer before and knew its logistics and appearance so was able to discuss with his attorney matters pertaining to the scene. His presence would not have helped ensure a more reliable determination as to the size and location of the rooms in the trailer, the existence or extent of the clean-up, or any other matter.

The sole specific suggestion of prejudice is that the jury might infer he was too dangerous or too much a flight risk to attend the...

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