Norton v. Spencer

Decision Date30 October 2003
Docket NumberNo. 03-1571.,03-1571.
Citation351 F.3d 1
PartiesRoger NORTON, Petitioner, Appellee, v. Luis SPENCER, Respondent, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Dean A. Mazzone, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Bureau, with whom Thomas F. Reilly, Attorney General, were on brief, for appellant.

Stewart T. Graham, Jr., with whom Graham & Graham, was on brief, for appellee.

Before TORRUELLA and LIPEZ, Circuit Judges, and SCHWARZER,* Senior District Judge.

TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

Roger Norton, petitioner-appellee, defends the district court's order granting his writ of habeas corpus. After careful review, we affirm.

I. Background

Roger Norton ("Norton"), was accused of sexually assaulting Héctor Fuentes ("Fuentes"), an eleven year old child. Fuentes reported Norton's alleged indecent assault to the state police after he discovered his cousin, Noel Rodríguez ("Noel"), crying inside Norton's camper. Noel also told the police that he was indecently assaulted by Norton.

Following a pretrial hearing in Massachusetts Superior Court, the trial judge ruled that Noel was not competent to testify because he refused to answer questions regarding where Norton had allegedly touched him. As a result, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ("Commonwealth") did not proceed on the indictment alleging that Norton indecently assaulted Noel. The Commonwealth did proceed, however, on the charges against Norton alleging he indecently assaulted Fuentes.

Fuentes was the only witness to testify to the incidents at trial. He testified that Norton grabbed his genitalia, without consent, at least three times. Fuentes also testified that Norton asked him to have sex on more than one occasion.

Norton was convicted on four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen, and sentenced to incarceration in state prison. On appeal, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ("MAC") affirmed the conviction in Commonwealth v. Norton, 40 Mass.App.Ct. 1121, 664 N.E.2d 883 (Mass.App.Ct. 1996) ("Norton I"). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") denied Norton's application for leave to obtain further appellate review in Commonwealth v. Norton, 423 Mass. 1103, 667 N.E.2d 1159 (Mass.1996) ("Norton II").

Some time after the SJC denied Norton's application for further appellate review Norton made two discoveries that he argued constituted "new evidence" under 28 U.S.C. § 2245(d)(1)(D). The first discovery involved the timing of the assaults. At trial, the prosecution established that the alleged assaults occurred in late 1989, around the time Fuentes's mother was in the hospital giving birth. Norton later discovered the birth certificate of Fuentes's sibling, who was born in July 1989, not late 1989. Norton also obtained affidavits stating that he was not a guest in Fuentes's cousin's house, the place where the alleged assaults occurred, in July 1989.

Second, Norton obtained affidavits from Noel and Noel's mother, María Sonia Rodríguez ("Rodríguez"), stating that Noel had fabricated his allegation against Norton at the insistence of Fuentes and that Fuentes also fabricated his allegations. Further, Rodríguez added that the Assistant District Attorney and another person repeatedly told Noel and Fuentes how to testify even after Noel informed them that none of it was true and that Fuentes had made it all up. It is undisputed that the prosecutor never provided Norton with the information contained in Noel's or Rodríguez's affidavits.

Norton moved for a new trial before the original trial judge based on the new evidence. The motion was denied. The MAC affirmed the denial of Norton's motion for new trial in Commonwealth v. Norton, 49 Mass.App.Ct. 1110, 728 N.E.2d 972 (Mass.App.Ct.2000) ("Norton III"). The SJC denied Norton's application for leave to obtain further appellate review in Commonwealth v. Norton, 432 Mass. 1110, 738 N.E.2d 354 (Mass.2000) ("Norton IV").

Norton then filed a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ("district court") claiming, inter alia, that the prosecution violated rights afforded by Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). The district court ordered that Norton's writ of habeas corpus be allowed unless the Commonwealth timely filed a request for an evidentiary hearing. Norton v. Spencer, 253 F.Supp.2d 65, 76 (D.Mass.2003) ("Norton V"). The Commonwealth did not file such a request. Rather, the Commonwealth filed a motion to reconsider. The district court denied the motion and ordered the habeas writ be granted unless the Commonwealth instituted proceedings to retry Norton. Norton v. Spencer, 256 F.Supp.2d 120 (D.Mass.2003) ("Norton VI"). The Commonwealth moved for a stay of the district court's order granting Norton's request for habeas relief with this Court. This Court granted the stay pending disposition of this appeal.

II. Analysis
A. Standard of Review for the District Court

The first question in this case is whether the district court used the proper standard of review when it granted habeas relief. In reviewing a judgment on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, this Court examines the legal conclusions of the district court, including the proper standard of review, de novo. Almanzar v. Maloney, 281 F.3d 300, 303 (1st Cir.2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 817, 123 S.Ct. 86, 154 L.Ed.2d 22 (2002).

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA")

prohibits a federal court from granting an application for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to a claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that adjudication 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. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 399, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) (internal quotations omitted). However, "AEDPA's strict standard of review only applies to a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings." Fortini v. Murphy, 257 F.3d 39, 47 (1st Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 1018, 122 S.Ct. 1609, 152 L.Ed.2d 623 (2002); see also Ellsworth v. Warden, 333 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir.2003).1 If a claim was not adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding, then the issue is reviewed de novo. Id.

The parties disagree as to whether Norton's federal claim under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963) was adjudicated on the merits in the state court proceeding. In denying Norton's motion for new trial, the trial court stated that Norton

filed a motion for a new trial raising the same issues as were raised on the direct appeal or that could have been raised. [Norton's attorney] ... did an excellent job in cross examining witnesses and developing any inconsistencies. The incident in [Norton's] trailer was addressed at trial at some length. The defendant is unhappy at the facts the jury felt were proved. Other matters of `new evidence' were available at the time and could have been introduced or relied on by the defendant if it was in his best interest to do so ... As trial judge at the time I do not feel that any of the issues raised by [Norton] has merit deserving a new trial. [Norton] got a full fair trial with competent counsel.

In affirming the trial judge's decision, the MAC wrote that the "weight and import of [the] affidavits were for the trial court's discretion. [The trial judge] was not required to accept the statements as true even if they were undisputed. Thus, the judge could properly determine that these affidavits did not demonstrate any bad faith on the part of the prosecutor." Norton III, 728 N.E.2d at 972 (citations omitted). The MAC further explained that "[i]n light of the fact that much evidence at the trial was equally calculated to discredit the victim [Fuentes], the judge could properly regard the affidavits as largely cumulative in their basic effect. Undisclosed evidence that is cumulative does not normally require a judge to grant a new trial." Id. (citing Commonwealth v. Tucceri, 412 Mass. 401, 589 N.E.2d 1216 (1992)).

The district court held that "no state court remotely addressed" Norton's federal Brady claim. Norton V, 253 F.Supp.2d at 71. As a result, the district court applied de novo review. Id. at 72. We hold that applying de novo review was inappropriate as the MAC did address the Brady issue. The MAC, citing to Tucceri, 412 Mass. 401, 589 N.E.2d 1216, held that undisclosed evidence that is cumulative does not require a new trial. Norton III, 728 N.E.2d at 972. As we have previously held, "Tucceri states explicitly that it is articulating a state law standard that is more favorable to defendants than the Federal Constitutional [Brady] standard." McCambridge v. Hall, 303 F.3d 24, 35 (1st Cir.2002) (internal quotations and citation omitted). When, as here, there is a state case "that explicitly says that the state adheres to a standard that is more favorable to the defendants than the federal standard ... we will presume the federal law adjudication to be subsumed within the state law adjudication." Id. Since the MAC addressed the Brady issue, the district court should not have reviewed the case de novo.

B. The AEDPA Standards

Norton's claim must be analyzed under the AEDPA standards because the federal claim was adjudicated in the state court proceeding. AEDPA precludes a habeas court from granting relief, unless the state court holding "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or 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)(1)-(2). The Supreme Court has stated: "Under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court...

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