United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
JOHN J. McCONNELL, Jr., District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the State's motion to dismiss which alleges that Donald Young has not exhausted his claims, as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). Although the Court believes that respondent has misconstrued the nature of Mr. Young's claims, there are nonetheless at least two bases upon which it is required to dismiss the instant petition. It therefore does so.
This petition was filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Mr. Young is a state court prisoner serving sentences imposed on a number of convictions, described below and entered in Rhode Island Case No. P1/2009 - 3676AG. The judgments of conviction were affirmed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court on November 7, 2013. See State v. Young, 78 A.3d 787 (R.I. 2013). Mr. Young filed his petition within the one-year durational limitation prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).
Mr. Young was convicted of seven offenses after trial in the Rhode Island Superior Court for Providence County: murder; conspiracy to murder; discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, resulting in death; assault with a dangerous weapon; conspiracy to assault with intent to murder; discharging a firearm during a crime of violence; and possession of a firearm without a license. He was sentenced in the aggregate to two consecutive life terms, followed by forty years to be served consecutively, plus two 10-year concurrent terms. The offenses grew out of a July 12, 2009, shooting on Trask Street in Providence, in which Mr. Young allegedly walked up to a white Buick and fired at the two men sitting in the vehicle; Kasean Benton was killed and Dukuly Torell Soko was wounded. The prosecution alleged that Mr. Young and the two associates accompanying him belonged to a gang (Comstock) that rivaled the gang (YNIC) with which Mr. Benton and Mr. Soko were affiliated.
At trial, the state introduced evidence of the gangland memberships and animosity, the previous homicide of a member of Comstock, Darren Regans,  and evidence that Mr. Young had previously stabbed Mr. Soko back in 2007.
Mr. Young raised three evidentiary challenges and a double jeopardy claim in his direct appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He contended that in spite of a lack of probative value and an unduly prejudicial impact, the trial court allowed evidence of gang affiliation and the unsolved murder of Regans (both of which ostensibly provided a motive for the shooting), and evidence of the stabbing of Mr. Soko (even though Mr. Soko merely assumed from Mr. Young's presence at the altercation that it was he who had stabbed him).
The Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected all three evidentiary challenges on the grounds that none of them were sufficiently preserved for appellate review, either because of a complete lack of objection or an insufficiently argued objection. State v. Young, supra at 792-94. Although each had been initially raised by motion in limine, the trial judge had deferred ruling on the motions; then, at the time the evidence was offered the defense either made no objection or objected without stating any basis. Both cause a procedural default under settled Rhode Island law. Id.  Nonetheless, the Rhode Island Supreme Court opined in a series of footnotes that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in admitting any of the challenged evidence and made it clear that even had trial counsel preserved the issues for appeal, the arguments would be unavailing. Id., at n. 7, 8, and 9.
The 2254 Petition
Mr. Young's claims for relief are predicated on what he terms the unfair admission into evidence of testimony concerning the three topics above: gangland affiliation, the Regans murder, and blaming him for the Soko stabbing. His initial Petition (ECF 1) cast his three grounds for relief as claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, contending that his trial lawyer's failure to object to or otherwise preserve for appeal the introduction of the three topics of evidence described above satisfied the standard of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).
On October 30, 2014, this Court issued a Text Order requiring Mr. Young to show cause why his petition should not be dismissed for failure to exhaust the ineffective assistance of counsel claims by pursuing a post-conviction relief application in the state courts. In response to that Order, Mr. Young filed an Amended § 2254 Petition on December 2, 2014 (ECF 7).
In the Amended Petition, Mr. Young simply re-cast his three claims, alleging that some unspecified [constitutional] violation had occurred by the "prejudicial allowance" of the challenged testimony. When required to state the "supporting facts" for his claims, Mr. Young repetitively asserted, "counsel was ineffective' for [failing to object, incompletely objecting, or failing to preserve]" the issue for appeal.
It appears to this Court that the inclusion of verbiage reciting ineffective assistance of counsel has become Mr. Young's mantra in an attempt to defeat the contention that he has waived the evidentiary claims, a procedural default precluding habeas corpus relief. Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 88-89 (1977) (rejecting "deliberate bypass" standard for finding waiver).
The State has filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8) that seems responsive to the initial Petition and oblivious to the Amended Petition. It alleges that Mr. Young has grounded his claim for relief in contentions of ineffective assistance of counsel and that these claims are unexhausted. See Respondent's Memorandum in Support of Its Motion to Dismiss Petition (ECF 8). In his Reply (ECF 10), Mr. ...