Oaks v. Pfister, 071417 FED7, 15-2924

Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Judge Panel:Before Easterbrook, Manion, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Party Name:Douglas Oaks, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Randy Pfister, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:July 14, 2017
Docket Nº:15-2924

Douglas Oaks, Petitioner-Appellant,


Randy Pfister, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 15-2924

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 14, 2017

          Argued April 6, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 14-4026 - James E. Shadid, Chief Judge.

          Before Easterbrook, Manion, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.


         In this habeas corpus case, state prisoner Douglas Oaks asks us to hold that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to choose his counsel. Because he procedurally defaulted that claim during his state court proceedings, we affirm the district court's denial of habeas relief without reaching the merits of his claim.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Because we resolve this case on procedural grounds, we describe its procedural history in some detail. In 1992, petitioner Douglas Oaks was indicted in Illinois for the murder of his girlfriend's three-year-old son. Oaks had no income or assets, but his family provided $2, 000 to retain an attorney. That attorney asked the state trial court for state funds for expert witnesses, including an investigator, a forensic pathologist, a mitigation expert, and a psychiatrist. The court denied the request, reasoning that if Oaks could retain a lawyer, he was not entitled to state-funded experts. The retained lawyer withdrew, asserting that the ruling made him unable to represent his client "in good conscience." The court appointed a public defender to represent Oaks. In his eventual federal habeas petition, the petition at issue in this appeal, Oaks argued that the court's ruling deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to choice of counsel. See United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140, 144 (2006) ("[A]n element of [the right to counsel] is the right of a defendant who does not require appointed counsel to choose who will represent him.") (citations omitted).

         Following a jury trial, Oaks was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and one count of aggravated battery of a child. He was sentenced to death. Oaks appealed his conviction and sentence directly to the Illinois Supreme Court, which vacated one of the convictions but otherwise affirmed, leaving the sentence in place. People v. Oaks, 662 N.E.2d 1328, 1356 (Ill. 1996). He sought and was denied rehearing in the Illinois Supreme Court, then sought and was denied a writ of certiorari from the United States Supreme Court. Oaks v. Illinois, 519 U.S. 873 (1996). Oaks did not raise the choice of counsel issue at any stage of his direct appeal.

         Oaks ...

To continue reading