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Chiellini v. Wall

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 28, 2015

ROBERT CHIELLINI, Petitioner,
v.
ASHBEL T. WALL, et al., Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN J. McCONNELL, Jr., District Judge.

Petitioner Robert Chiellini seeks federal court review of his state court conviction and sentencing through a Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus. (ECF No. 1). The State of Rhode Island moves to dismiss Mr. Chiellini's Petition, asserting that the four grounds for relief contained therein were either properly rejected substantively by the Rhode Island Supreme Court or were procedurally defaulted because he failed to exhaust those claims in state court. (ECF No. 3). Mr. Chiellini counters that the state court's ruling violates his constitutional rights and seeks a stay and abeyance order on any unexhausted claims. (ECF No. 7). After reviewing the State's Motion to Dismiss and Mr. Chiellini's responsive briefing, the Court GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss.

FACTS[1] and TRAVEL

Mr. Chiellini was charged in the 1995 stabbing death of Nicole Benvie. At his trial, after the Court had charged the jury, the trial justice received a call from an attorney not involved in the case, who told him that a member of the jury contacted him the previous evening inquiring about the differences between first-degree and second-degree murder. The attorney did not respond to the juror's inquiry. "[T]he trial justice, in the presence of defense counsel and the prosecutor, called the juror into his chambers and questioned her on the record about her conversation with [the attorney] as well as her present state of mind." Chiellini, 762 A.2d at 452-53. Mr. Chiellini's attorney told the trial justice "he felt confident that the juror was not tainted by her conversation with [the attorney] and he therefore agreed to allow her to remain on the jury." Id. at 453. "After determining that both sides were satisfied with the court's examination of the juror and that counsel wished to continue with the trial, the trial justice and the attorneys returned to open court, where they convened again in the absence of the jury. At this time, obviously displeased upon learning what had occurred in the trial justice's chambers, defendant made a pro se request for a new jury.'" Id. "The trial justice assured [Mr.] Chiellini that if [the attorney] had actually spoken to the juror about the law that governed the case, then he might be inclined to pass the case and grant a new trial. But the trial justice said that the fact that [the attorney] refused to respond to the juror's inquiry quelled any of the court's concerns, and he denied Mr. Chiellini's [pro se] motion [for a new trial]." Id. The jury subsequently deliberated and returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder.

On his direct appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Mr. Chiellini challenged the denial of his motion for a mistrial based on the alleged juror misconduct. The Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected his challenge and affirmed the conviction. Id. at 455.

Mr. Chiellini subsequently filed an application for post-conviction relief in the state trial court pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 10-9.1-1.[2] State v. Chiellini , PM-2001-1761, Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, filed May 14, 2003. In that state post-conviction petition, he raised a single ground of ineffective assistance of counsel, claiming that his attorney had not properly notified him of the details of a plea bargain offer. Id. The post-conviction relief trial justice found that Mr. Chiellini had "utterly failed to show that errors of the lawyers who represented him in the underlying trial proceedings were so serious as to violate his constitutional right to counsel.'" State v. Chiellini , PM-2001-1761, Order Denying Post-Conviction Relief at 8, filed October 10, 2003 (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (R.I. 1984)).

Mr. Chiellini appealed the denial of his post-conviction petition to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The court rejected the appeal because it found that Mr. Chiellini had "failed to indicate the precise issues that he is challenging on appeal." Chiellini v. State, 95 A.3d 394, 396 (R.I. 2014). The court went on to find that there was "no basis in the record for concluding that the hearing justice clearly erred or overlooked or misconceived material evidence in denying the applicant's post-conviction relief application." Id. at 397.

Mr. Chiellini then filed the instant federal Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1). His Petition asserts four grounds: (1) the trial justice failed to question other jurors to determine if the conduct of the juror calling an outside attorney had tainted other members of the jury ( id. at 5); (2) his attorney failed to inform him of a possible plea bargain offer ( id. at 6); (3) another of his attorneys failed to effectuate another alleged plea deal ( id. at 8); and (4) the trial justice's instructions were prejudicial. (Id. at 10).

The State now moves to dismiss the Petition, arguing that Mr. Chiellini's first claim is barred because the trial justice's ruling was not "contrary to, or involv[ing] an unreasonable application of [] clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or based on "an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented." (ECF No. 3 at 5, quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)). The State argues that Mr. Chiellini's second issue should be rejected because it is not supported by the record and, as "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court, " it is presumed to be correct. ( Id., quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)). Finally, the State moves to dismiss Mr. Chiellini's remaining two grounds because he did not raise them in the state court and therefore they are unexhausted. (Id. at 6, citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A)).

Mr. Chiellini objects to the motion to dismiss, arguing that grounds on and two contain violations of established federal constitutional law. (ECF No. 7). As to the last two grounds, he asserts that they are unexhausted only because he was prevented from raising them in state court and asks this Court to enter a "stay and abeyance order, " presumably staying the exhausted claims until he can pursue the unexhausted ones in state court and obtain a final state court ruling.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court is aware of the limited review available to Mr. Chiellini. Both United States Supreme Court precedent, see, e.g., Cavazos v. Smith, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2 (2011), and the Congressional mandate contained in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 110 Stat. 1214, restrict federal court review of state court convictions and sentences. The AEDPA, as codified in § 2254(d)'s limited review, "reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ' not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332, n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment)). Where the State court adjudicates a claim on the merits, a federal court may grant habeas relief only if the state court's "adjudication of the claim" was either "contrary to, or involv[ing] an unreasonable application of [] clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or based on "an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). A state court's factual determinations are presumed to be correct, with the petitioner bearing "the burden of rebutting the presumption or correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

However, before a federal court can reach the merits of a habeas claim, the petitioner must satisfy "certain preliminary criteria." McCambridge v. Hall, 303 F.3d 24, 34 (1st Cir. 2002). Specifically, the petitioner "must have fairly presented his claims to the state courts and must have exhausted his state court remedies." Id. (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A)). Because Mr. Chiellini acknowledges that he did not raise two of his grounds in ...


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