Lechner v. Litscher

Decision Date07 August 2002
Docket NumberNo. 99-C-1062.,99-C-1062.
Citation213 F.Supp.2d 975
PartiesRandy J. LECHNER, Petitioner, v. Jon LITSCHER, Secretary of Department of Corrections, and Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Wisconsin

Craig W. Albee, Shellow, Shellow & Glynn, S.C., Milwaukee, WI, for petitioner.

Gregory M. Posner-Weber, Asst. Attorney General, Madison, WI, for respondent.


CURRAN, District Judge.

Randy Lechner, a prisoner in state custody, is seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Lechner was convicted after entering no contest pleas to the following offenses: (1) second-degree reckless homicide, in violation of Section 940.06 of the Wisconsin Statutes; (2) homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle in violation of Section 940.09(1)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes; (3) causing great bodily harm by intoxicated use of a vehicle, in violation of Section 346.63(2)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes; and (5) two counts of second-degree recklessly endangering the safety of another, in violation of Section 941.30(2) of the Wisconsin Statutes. Lechner's Petition is timely in that it was filed within one year of the date his opportunity to seek a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court expired. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). See also State v. Lechner, 217 Wis.2d 392, 576 N.W.2d 912. 217 Wis.2d 392, 576 N.W.2d 912 (1998). See also generally Anderson v. Litscher, 281 F.3d 672 (7th Cir.2002); Gutierrez v. Schomig, 233 F.3d 490 (7th Cir.2000), cert. denied, 532 U.S. 950, 121 S.Ct. 1421, 149 L.Ed.2d 361 (2001). This court, which is located in the district where Lechner was convicted, is empowered to consider his Petition by 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d).

The Respondent has answered and concedes that Lechner has exhausted all state remedies, but denies that Lechner is entitled to relief. The issues raised in the Petition have been fully briefed.


Lechner's Petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA) (enacted April 24, 1996), which requires federal courts to give great deference to state court determinations.1 The AEDPA provides that:

(d) 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). Recently, the United States Supreme Court explained the meanings of the statutory terms "contrary to" and "unreasonable application of" contained in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). The Court wrote:

As we stated in Williams, § 2254(d)(1)'s "contrary to" and "unreasonable application" clauses have independent meaning. 529 U.S., at 404-405, 120 S.Ct. 1495. A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the "contrary to" clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Id. at 405-406, 120 S.Ct. 1495. The court may grant relief under the "unreasonable application" clause if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from our decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case. Id., at 407-408, 120 S.Ct. 1495. The focus of the latter inquiry is on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable, and we stressed in Williams that an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one. Id., at 409-410, 120 S.Ct. 1495. See also id., at 411, 120 S.Ct. 1495 (a federal habeas court may not issue a writ under the unreasonable application clause "simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly").

Bell v. Cone, ___ U.S. ___, 122 S.Ct. 1843, 1850, 152 L.Ed.2d 914 (2002).

Courts analyzing a habeas corpus claim must first determine whether the issue is solely a question of law, or a mixed question of law and fact, or solely a question of fact. See Lindh v. Murphy, 96 F.3d 856, 870 (7th Cir.1996), rev'd on other grounds, 521 U.S. 320, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997). The "contrary to" clause of subsection 2254(d)(1) applies solely to questions of law. See Id. at 869. It requires federal courts "to give state courts' opinions a respectful reading, and to listen carefully to their conclusions, but when the state court addresses a legal question, it is the law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States that prevails." Id. Subsection 2254(d)(1) refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of the Supreme Court's decision as of the time of the relevant state-court decision. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000).

The disposition of a question of law raised in a federal habeas petition is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) even though the state court's analysis of that claim refers solely to state law. As long as a constitutional issue was decided on its merits by the state court, a federal court addressing a habeas corpus petition can conduct an independent review of the applicable law to decide whether the state law cited by the state court is in conformity with federal law as established by the United States Supreme Court. See Fullwood v. Lee, 290 F.3d 663, 677 (4th Cir. 2002).

Mixed constitutional questions of law and fact are those decisions "which require the application of a legal standard to the historical-fact determinations." Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 109, 116 S.Ct. 457, 133 L.Ed.2d 383 (1995). In cases where mixed questions of law and fact arise, federal courts will not grant collateral relief from state court judgments unless the state court's judgment is "unreasonable." Id. at 870. Unreasonableness equates to a demonstration of incorrectness by clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). In determining whether a state court's application of Supreme Court case law was reasonable, a federal court must assess whether the determination was minimally consistent with the facts and circumstances of the case. See Sweeney v. Parke, 113 F.3d 716, 718 (7th Cir.1997); Hennon v. Cooper, 109 F.3d 330, 334-35 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 819, 118 S.Ct. 72, 139 L.Ed.2d 32 (1997). The statutory "unreasonableness" standard allows the state court's conclusion to stand if it is one of several equally plausible outcomes. See Spreitzer v. Peters, 114 F.3d 1435, 1442 (7th Cir.1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1120, 118 S.Ct. 1060, 140 L.Ed.2d 121 (1998); Hall v. Washington, 106 F.3d 742, 748-49 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 907, 118 S.Ct. 264, 139 L.Ed.2d 190 (1997).

Finally, facts found by a state court are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption with clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Williams v. Parke, 133 F.3d 971, 973 (7th Cir.1997). The AEDPA amended the habeas corpus statute to provide that:

(e)(a) In a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. (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 fact-finder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(e).

The court must now apply these standards to Lechner's Petition.


The Wisconsin Supreme Court recounted the facts underlying this case as well as of the proceedings in the lower state courts. The following facts are presumed to be correct because they are uncontroverted by Lechner:

The relevant facts of this case are not disputed. On December 4, 1994, a witness observed a vehicle driven by the defendant, Randy Lechner, weaving in and out of traffic as it passed each in a succession of vehicles traveling southbound on State Highway 31. In his rearview mirror, the witness watched Lechner drive his vehicle across the double yellow center line of the highway to pass the vehicle traveling immediately behind the witness. The witness testified that Lechner then passed the vehicle in which he was traveling and the vehicle immediately in front of the witness. When Lechner reentered the southbound lane of traffic, the driver of the vehicle Lechner had just passed was forced to brake to avoid a collision. The witness estimated that Lechner was driving at a speed between 60 and 65 miles per hour even though the posted speed limit in that designated no passing zone was 45 miles per hour. The witness then watched as Lechner again drove his vehicle across the center line, passed another vehicle, and abruptly cut back into the southbound...

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