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Freeman v. Davenport

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 25, 2018

TERAE STEFUN FREEMAN, #290080, Petitioner,
v.
CARTER DAVENPORT, et al., Respondents.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          TERRY F. MOORER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Petitioner Terae Stefun Freeman (“Freeman”), an inmate of the Alabama Department of Corrections, filed this petition for habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his convictions and sentences in the Circuit Court for Houston County, Alabama, for two counts of first-degree robbery, one count of first-degree assault, and one count of second-degree assault. Doc. 1. The court recommends that the petition be denied and the case dismissed.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A jury found Freeman guilty in the robbery and assault of James Boswell and James Freeman. Docs. 8-1 at 90-93, 8-7 at 2. The trial court order him to pay fines and Victim's Compensation Assessments. It sentenced him to twenty years in prison for the robbery convictions and ten years in prison for the assault convictions, to be served consecutively, for a total of sixty years in prison. Docs 8-1 at 105-08, 8-7 at 1.

         A. Direct Appeal

         Freeman appealed, arguing “the trial court exceeded its discretion in limiting the closing arguments to 15 minutes for each party.” Docs. 8-5 at 5-24, 8-7 at 3. In particular, Freeman argued the case was complicated because one of the victims also had the last name Freeman, and both victims had the same first time. Doc. 8-7 at 3. In addition, he argued, the case was complicated because it involved two robberies and two assaults. Id. Finally, he argued the assault charges could confuse the jury because first-degree assault required “serious physical injury” and second-degree assault required only “physical injury, ” and the terms needed to be defined to the jury. Id.; see also Doc. 8-5 at 16-21.

         The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the issue raised on the ground that Freeman did not preserve it for appellate review by making a timely, specific objection and obtaining an adverse ruling on it. Doc. 8-7 at 3-5. Under the law in Alabama, it explained:

“‘To preserve an issue for appellate review, the issue must be timely raised and specifically presented to the trial court and an adverse ruling obtained. The purpose of requiring an issue to be preserved for review is to allow the trial court the first opportunity to correct any error.' Mitchell v. State, 913 So.2d 501, 505 (Ala.Crim.App.2005). ‘A motion for a new trial will not preserve for appellate review issues that arose during trial that were not objected to at the time they arose.' Glass v. State, 14 So.3d 188, 194 (Ala.Crim.App.2008).

Id. (quoting Cochran v. State, 111 So.3d 148, 153-54 (Ala.Crim.App.2012)). The Court of Criminal Appeals recounted several opportunities when Freeman's counsel could have, but did not, object to the time limit for closing arguments and obtain an adverse ruling on it.

         Initially, the trial court informed the parties they had only fifteen minutes for closing arguments. Id. at 3. Counsel did not object. Id. After the trial court handled an objection by the prosecution during the defense's closing, the trial court told defense counsel, “You've got a minute and thirty seconds [Defense Counsel].” Id. (alteration in original). Counsel did not object. Id.

         Defense counsel first objected at the end of his own closing argument, stating, “And I would object to not having additional time.” Id. Counsel did not, however, obtain a ruling on the objection or explain the grounds for the objection. Id. at 5.

         After the jury began deliberating, defense counsel objected for a second time to the fifteen-minute limit on closing arguments. Id. at 3. Counsel explained the time limit affected the defense more than the prosecution, especially because the four separate charges were serious, and counsel did not have enough time to cover the issues and evidence in fifteen minutes. Id. at 4. The trial court responded, “Your objection is noted.” Id. Again, counsel did not obtain an adverse ruling. Id. at 4-5. The Court of Criminal Appeals pointed out that Freeman's objection after the jury began deliberating was too late for the court to correct the error. Id. at 5. It also pointed out that although Freeman's counsel offered several reasons against the fifteen-minute limit when he objected after the jury began deliberating, counsel did not raise two of the three bases for the objection that Freeman raised in his appeal. Id. at 5.

         Finally, counsel argued in his posttrial motion that the trial “court abused or exceeded its discretion in limiting closing arguments to 15 minutes.” Id. at 4. The trial court denied the motion. Id. The Court of Criminal Appeals characterized this last objection as both “lacking specificity” and unpreserved because the issue “arose during trial but was not properly objected to at the time it arose.” Id. at 5.

         The Court of Criminal Appeals went on to state that “there is no indication that the trial court exceeded its discretion.” Id. It explained, “Freeman argues concerning what may have been confusing to the jury; however, he makes no argument as to what he might have argued to negate the jury's confusion or how more time would have been beneficial.” Id. The Court of Criminal appeals added that Freeman's arguments regarding time limits on his closing argument were not preserved for review, but trial courts do not have unlimited discretion in setting time restraints for arguments. Id. It listed certain circumstances where such limits might constitute an abuse of discretion that denies a defendant due process and the right to present the defendant's case to the jury. Id. at 5-6.

         The Court of Criminal Appeals denied rehearing. The Alabama Supreme Court denied further review. A certificate of judgment ...


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