Simpson v. Spencer

Decision Date18 May 2005
Docket NumberNo. CIV.02-10887-RCL.,CIV.02-10887-RCL.
Citation372 F.Supp.2d 140
PartiesDalton SIMPSON, Petitioner v. Luis SPENCER, Respondent
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Cathryn A. Neaves, Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA, for Superintendent Luis Spencer, Respondent.

Susanne G. Reardon, Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA, for Superintendent Luis Spencer, Respondent.


LINDSAY, District Judge.

Before the court is the petition of Dalton Simpson (the "petitioner") for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The petitioner is in the custody of the respondent, Luis Spencer, as a result of having been convicted of first-degree murder, unlawful possession of a firearm, and motor vehicle offenses. In a motion to dismiss, the respondent contends that the petition should be denied because the petitioner has not met the standard for the granting of habeas relief under § 2254(d)(1) namely that of showing that the state court's adjudication of the claims at issue was "contrary to" or "an unreasonable application of" federal law as established by the Supreme Court. For the reasons set forth below, I grant the motion to dismiss the petition.

I. Background
A. Factual Background of Underlying Conviction1

Following an angry confrontation with a motorist on Millet Street in the Dorchester section of Boston in the late afternoon or early evening of February 5, 1994, the petitioner, driving an automobile bearing a stolen registration plate, encountered a second motorist, Berisford Wayne Anderson ("Anderson") on Spencer Street, a one-way street also in Dorchester. The petitioner had driven at a high rate of speed and the wrong way onto Spencer Street. Anderson was an off-duty Boston police officer who had just pulled out of his driveway onto the street as the petitioner entered the street. The petitioner stopped his car in front of the vehicle driven by Anderson and got out. Anderson opened the driver's side of his vehicle and leaned out. The two men exchanged words briefly. The petitioner then lifted his hand and began shooting at Anderson, who returned fire. After a volley of shots, the petitioner returned to his car and sped away. Meanwhile, Anderson fell to the ground and expired from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Responding to a radio dispatch concerning the shooting, a Boston police officer encountered the petitioner in a driveway on Crowell Street and ordered him to stop. The petitioner stood by his car for a moment, started to place his hands on top of the vehicle, and then began to run. As he ran, he dropped his gun. The officer retrieved the gun and found it jammed. The officer continued to chase the petitioner and was joined by a second officer, who eventually apprehended the petitioner.

Two other officers transported the petitioner to a police station. During the trip to the station, the petitioner, agitated and claiming that he was in pain, began to kick the door and window of the police car. Once the two officers and the petitioner had arrived at the police station, the petitioner attempted to escape the prisoner bay. As he did so, he was restrained by one of the officers, who pulled on a chain attached to handcuffs that immobilized the petitioner's hands. As a result, the petitioner struck a wall and cut his head. He was transported to a hospital, accompanied by one of the arresting officers. While waiting for a doctor, the petitioner stated: "If I had a bullet, I'd shoot the cop that hurt my head."

At his trial, the petitioner claimed to have acted in self defense with respect to the killing of Anderson. He did not testify, however. His witnesses were a ballistics expert, and one of the emergency medical technicians ("EMT") who transported him to the hospital. The ballistics expert testified that he had examined the petitioner's firearm, which appeared to have been thrown and damaged. The expert stated that a gun like that of the petitioner might jam when it strikes the pavement. The EMT testified that he had treated the petitioner's head wound, and that the petitioner had claimed that he had been assaulted. He described the petitioner as having been extremely agitated and hysterical.

B. Procedural History of the Petitioner's Case in the State Courts

The petitioner was indicted on charges of the first-degree murder of Anderson, unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen license plate and operation of a motor vehicle so as to endanger the public. Before empaneling a jury, the trial judge denied the petitioner's motion to sever from the murder indictment the indictments for operation of a motor vehicle so as to endanger the public, possession of a stolen license plate, and unlawful possession of a firearm. On March 1, 1995, the petitioner was convicted on all four indictments. The trial judge then sentenced him to the mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on the conviction for first-degree murder and to a concurrent four-to-five-year prison term on the conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm. The judge placed the other two indictments on file.2

The petitioner filed both a notice of appeal from his conviction and a motion for a new trial, and when the motion for a new trial was denied by the trial judge, the petitioner also appealed that ruling. The Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") consolidated the direct appeal with the appeal from the denial of the motion for a new trial. On the consolidated appeal, the petitioner argued that the trial judge (1) erred in denying the petitioner's motion to sever the indictments and to transfer venue, (2) improperly admitted irrelevant and prejudicial evidence, (3) erroneously denied a discovery request of the petitioner and thus his access to certain exculpatory evidence, and (4) erred in instructing the jury on several issues. The petitioner also claimed that the prosecutor made improper statements in her opening statement and closing argument. He argued that each of the claimed trial errors and all of them combined violated his due process right to a fair trial. He also argued that the SJC should exercise its extraordinary powers, under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, § 33E, to order a new trial or to reduce his murder conviction to a lesser degree of guilt. On July 13, 2001, the SJC affirmed the convictions and the order denying the motion for new trial, and declined to exercise its power to order a new trial under § 33E. Commonwealth v. Simpson, 434 Mass. 570, 750 N.E.2d 977 (2001).

C. The Present Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

On May 10, 2002, the petitioner filed the present petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that (1) he was denied due process, a fair trial, and effective assistance of counsel by the admission at trial of his statement that, if he had a bullet, he would have shot one of the police officers involved in his apprehension; (2) the trial judge's jury instructions contained substantial errors; (3) the trial was infected with numerous evidentiary errors; (4) prosecutorial misconduct denied him due process of law and a fair trial; (5) he was improperly denied discovery; (6) the prosecutor failed to preserve exculpatory evidence; (7) his due process rights were violated because the court failed to sever his indictments; and (8) cumulative trial errors denied him a fair trial and due process of law. On July 31, 2002, the respondent answered the petition, and on October 7, 2002, he filed a motion to dismiss the petition on the ground that it contained unexhausted claims. The motion was granted and the petition was dismissed on December 2, 2002. On December 19, 2002, the petitioner filed a motion to vacate the judgment dismissing his petition and a motion to amend the petition. On February 11, 2003, I granted his motion and ordered the case stayed until the petitioner had exhausted his state court remedies. On November 17, 2003, the petitioner moved for reconsideration of the petition, after limiting his claims to those as to which he had exhausted the remedies available to him in state courts. As so limited, the petition is now before the court as to claims 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 identified above.

II. Discussion

A. The Applicable Legal Standards

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a federal court may not grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus "with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless" the state court decision (1) "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) "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); McCambridge v. Hall, 303 F.3d 24, 34 (1st Cir.2002).3 For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), "clearly established law as determined by [the Supreme] Court `refers to holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state court decision.'" Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 124 S.Ct. 2140, 2147, 158 L.Ed.2d 938 (2004) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000)). Additionally, "the AEDPA amendments to [§] 2254 exalt the role that a state court's decision plays in a habeas proceeding by specifically directing the habeas court to make the state court decision the cynosure of federal review.... Only if that decision deviates from the paradigm described in [§] 2254(d) can a habeas court grant relief." O'Brien v. Dubois, 145 F.3d 16, 20 (1st Cir.1998), overruled on other grounds by McCambridge, 303 F.3d at 37. The standard for evaluating the state court's decision is "highly deferential," with "the presumption that state courts know and follow the law" and the requirement that the decisions of the ...

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