Munson v. Chandler, No. 12 C 07566

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtJohn J. Tharp
Docket NumberNo. 12 C 07566
PartiesMICHAEL E. MUNSON, Petitioner, v. NEDRA CHANDLER, Warden, Respondent.
Decision Date24 March 2014

MICHAEL E. MUNSON, Petitioner,
NEDRA CHANDLER, Warden, Respondent.

No. 12 C 07566


Date: March 24, 2014

Judge John J. Tharp, Jr.


Michael Munson is imprisoned at the Dixon Correctional Center, serving a forty-year sentence for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Munson was convicted in 2003 after a jury trial in the Circuit Court of LaSalle County. He now petitions for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his pro se petition, Munson raises three categories of arguments supporting his petition for habeas relief. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the petition for a writ of habeas corpus and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.


In a federal habeas case initiated by a prisoner in custody pursuant to a state court proceeding, the state court's factual findings are presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Thompkins v. Pfister, 698 F.3d 976, 983 (7th Cir. 2012). The facts that follow are therefore primarily drawn from the state appellate court opinions on direct and post-conviction appeal. People v. Munson, No. 3-04-0703 (Ill. App. Ct. Jan. 10, 2007), Dkt.11-1; People v. Munson, No. 3-08-0803 (Ill. App. Ct. Mar. 3, 2011), Dkt. 11-2. Certain procedural facts are also derived from Munson's pleadings and transcripts of state court proceedings. Assertions that

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Munson offers to controvert these facts are presented, as relevant, in the discussion of the claims he asserts in his petition.

A. Factual Background

In June 2002, City of LaSalle police officers suspected Munson of being involved in drug activity. They believed that he was hiding evidence in his home and businesses, Ottawa Glass and M&M Adult Video. Based on an affidavit that stated that Munson was implicated in a 1998 drug transaction and that his wife had informed the police that he was using his businesses for drug transactions and had been arrested for cocaine possession, the state trial court issued a warrant that authorized the police to search Munson's home and businesses, and to seize cocaine and any items or documents "used in the manufacturing, packaging, processing, distribution, sale or consumption of cocaine." Before police searched Munson's home, his mother gave them permission to search the garage at her Ottawa home. There, officers found a department store shopping bag that contained several clear plastic bags containing cocaine. The total amount of cocaine seized from the garage was between 990 and 1011 grams. The cocaine was cut with a mixing agent, inositol powder, and packaged for delivery and sale. Munson's fingerprints were on the shopping bag and the plastic bags. The officers then searched Munson's residence, where they found a key in a bedroom used by Munson and his wife, Valinda. Valinda gave the officers permission to take the key, which opened Munson's mother's garage. When searching Munson's businesses, police found multiple bottles of inositol powder, two electronic scales, and four boxes of clear plastic sandwich bags.

B. Trial Proceedings

Munson was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to deliver. He was arraigned on June 26, 2002, at which time the State informed the court that Munson was being

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held in Grundy County on separate charges. The parties agreed to refrain from further proceedings until the Grundy County charges were resolved. Munson remained in the custody of Grundy County for about a year, until June 12, 2003, when the Grundy Charge was dismissed nolle prosequi due to the unavailability of a witness. On June 20, 2003, Munson appeared at a status hearing on the LaSalle County charge; a trial date was set for September 23, 2003. At the next status hearing on August 15, 2003, Munson's attorney moved to withdraw with no objection from Munson. A public defender was then appointed, who appeared with Munson on August 21, 2003; a new trial date was set for October 27, 2003. At a pretrial hearing on October 23, 2003, his public defender moved to withdraw due to a conflict of interest. The motion was granted and a new public defender, who was present in court, was appointed. The new public defender, Munson's third attorney, asked for thirty days to prepare for trial. The court agreed and set a status hearing for three weeks out. Munson indicated that he wanted an earlier trial, and the court took a brief recess so that Munson could consult his newly appointed counsel. When the hearing resumed, the judge informed Munson that if he wished to reinstate his speedy trial demand, she would set a quick trial date. Munson said, "Yes, please, if you could." The trial was set for November 17, 2003, and Munson made no further objections.

On October 31, 2003, Munson retained attorney Frederick Cohn to represent him. Cohn moved to substitute for public defender Reilly, indicating in his written motion that he would be ready to proceed with trial as scheduled. Munson insisted the trial date not be moved. Cohn, now Munson's fourth lawyer, filed pretrial motions to suppress and, on November 17, made an oral motion in limine to preclude evidence of Munson's commission of the Grundy County crime two days prior to the LaSalle County charge. The trial court denied the motions and the trial proceeded.

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One of the witnesses at trial was Chicago police officer Thomas Cunningham, who testified that he had arrested Munson in a drug transaction two days before the cocaine was found in his mother's garage. Before Cunningham testified, the court instructed the jury that his testimony was to be considered only for the limited issue of Munson's knowledge and intent.

Munson's defense was to raise reasonable doubt by showing that Valinda, not he, placed the bag of cocaine in his mother's garage. He took the stand at trial and testified that he had access to his mother's garage but that he did not know about the cocaine. He denied that the items found at his businesses were used to package cocaine. He said instead that he and Lavonne Sipula, his girlfriend and employee, used the sandwich bags to make holiday gift bags, that he purchased inositol powder at GNC for use as a dietary supplement, and that Sipula used the scales to weigh mail.1 Munson also testified that he had agreed to try to sell a vehicle belonging to his friend Robert Harris, who was incarcerated. Munson admitted that the title of the vehicle was in his name because Harris was having IRS problems. In preparation for the sale, Munson took the car to the garage at his home to have it worked on by a mechanic. Once at Munson's garage, the mechanic opened the trunk in front of Munson and Valinda. Munson went inside the house, and a few minutes later, Valinda carried a brown grocery bag inside. She asked Munson what was in the bag; he did not know. He opened it to find a white bag containing a smaller clear plastic bag holding white powder. Valinda left with the bag and returned later without it; she did not answer when Munson asked her what she had done with the bags.2

On cross-examination, the State asked Munson if he had ever used inositol powder as anything other than a dietary supplement. He answered that he had not, and was subsequently

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impeached by a prior statement that he had made to an FBI agent, in which he claimed that Harris had previously taught him how to cut cocaine with inositol power and admitted that he had done so. Munson also admitted on cross that he had seen cocaine before and that he thought the white powder inside the bag could have been cocaine. When the State asked him how many times he had previously seen it, Munson's attorney advised Munson to assert his Fifth Amendment right and refuse to answer the question. The jury was excused, and the trial court ordered Munson to answer the question. Munson was given time to consult with his attorney, and after the jury returned, he answered the question, testifying that he had seen cocaine many times in the past.

Munson also called three employees of the Ottawa Police Department as witnesses to testify regarding their prior encounters with Valinda. One detective testified that he found her nude in a hotel swimming pool; she told the detective that she was "being tormented by the people inside the mirrors of the hotel." Another officer testified that she once made statements through police dispatch that she was going to stab her husband because he allegedly took a desk from their home. Finally, an inspector testified that she had reported that "government agents were out to kill her" and that "she heals people by laying her hands on them and that God cleanses out the pollution, [] through the bleeding from her vagina."

During closing arguments, the State argued that Munson had lied when he stated that he did not know what the white substance was and then testified that he thought it probably was cocaine. The State also condemned Munson for "muddying up" Valinda. In the defense's closing argument, Munson's attorney reiterated the argument that Valinda or someone else put the bag of cocaine in the garage. The jury found Munson guilty of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

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