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Cronin v. Commissioner of Prob.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 7, 2015

STEPHEN CRONIN, Petitioner, Appellant,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF PROBATION, Respondent, Appellee

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. F. Dennis Saylor IV, U.S. District Judge.

Affirmed.

Edward Crane, with whom Law Office of Kevin Crane was onbrief, for appellant.

Todd M. Blume, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Bureau, with whom Martha Coakley, Attorney General, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Barron, Selya and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 48

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

In Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610, 96 S.Ct. 2240, 49 L.Ed.2d 91 (1976), the United States Supreme Court proscribed the prosecution's use of a defendant's post-Miranda silence in a criminal case. See id. at 619. This state habeas case implicates that proscription. After careful consideration, we conclude that even if the Massachusetts Appeals Court (MAC) misapplied the Doyle rule -- a matter on which we take no view -- any comment on the petitioner's silence was harmless when considered in the context of the trial as a whole. Consequently, we affirm the district court's denial of habeas relief.

I. BACKGROUND

We briefly rehearse the factual and procedural background. In May of 2009, petitioner-appellant Stephen Cronin was charged in a Massachusetts state court with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, third offense, and negligent operation of a motor vehicle. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, § 24(1)(a)(1), (2)(a). At trial, Officer David Jordan testified that he witnessed a van veer into a motel parking lot in Braintree, drive across a traffic island, and twice stop abruptly before parking haphazardly. Officer Jordan approached the van on foot, keeping in view the driver (whom he identified as the petitioner). Officer Brian Eng, who was called to the scene to provide backup, testified that the petitioner stated that he was coming from Jamaica Plain and had consumed a few cocktails. Following a failed field sobriety test, the

Page 49

petitioner was arrested. At some point during the booking process, the petitioner was given written Miranda warnings, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), and invoked his right to remain silent.

The petitioner testified to a starkly different version of the relevant events. He claimed that he had not been driving the van; rather, Michelle Sires (his quondam roommate) drove the van back to the motel after running an errand. The petitioner had been drinking beer at the motel for most of the day and became involved with the police, he said, only when he went to the van that Sires had parked to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from the glove compartment. Officer Jordan confronted the petitioner just as he exited the driver's side door, cigarettes in hand. The petitioner further testified that he told the officers that he was not the driver.

After eliciting this testimony, defense counsel asked: " Did you ever tell [the officer] that your friend Michelle was actually the driver of the van?" The petitioner replied in the negative. When defense counsel asked " Why didn't you do that?" the petitioner responded, " Because she had a couple of warrants on her."

The prosecutor's cross-examination began as follows:

Q: Good afternoon. So you never told the officers anything about what you're telling us today?
A: What's that?
Q: About ...

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