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Satterwhite v. Wright

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

April 23, 2019

MARILYN B. NATASHA SATTERWHITE, Petitioner,
v.
DEIDRA WRIGHT, Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          P. BRADLEY MURRAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Marilyn B. Natasha Satterwhite, a state prisoner presently in the custody of the respondent, has petitioned this Court for federal habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 4). This matter has been referred to the undersigned for the entry of a report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and General Local Rule 72(a)(2)(R). Satterwhite challenges her convictions for first-degree sodomy, pursuant to Alabama Code § 13A-6-63(a)(3), and first-degree sexual abuse of a child under 12 years old, pursuant to Alabama Code § 13A-6-69.1. (Doc. 8-1 at pp. 130-133). Having carefully reviewed the record, Satterwhite's petition, Respondent's answer, Satterwhite's reply, and all exhibits filed in this matter, the undersigned finds that there are sufficient facts and information upon which the issues under consideration may be properly resolved. Therefore, no evidentiary hearing is required. Based upon the undersigned's review, it is recommended that the instant petition be denied for the reasons set forth below.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Satterwhite was convicted by a jury of first-degree sodomy, pursuant to Alabama Code § 13A-6-63(a)(3), and first-degree sexual abuse of a child under 12 years old, pursuant to Alabama Code § 13A-6-69.1, on June 23, 2014 in the Circuit Court of Escambia County, Alabama, and was sentenced to concurrent life sentences on August 13, 2014. (Doc. 8-1 at pp. 159-60). During the course of the trial, Satterwhite moved for a judgment of acquittal as to all counts at the close of the State's case in chief, which was denied by the trial judge. (Doc. 8-4 at pp. 126-53). Satterwhite did not raise or mention any constitutional violation during the presentation of her motion for acquittal. (Id.). At the close of the defendant's case and at the close of all of the evidence, Satterwhite again moved for a judgment of acquittal as to all counts and again did not mention or argue any constitutional violation. (Doc. 8-5 at pp. 23-25; 41). The trial court granted the motion for acquittal as to counts one and two. (Id. at p.84). Counts three and four were presented to the jury for determination, and the jury found Satterwhite guilty of sodomy first degree and guilty of sexual abuse of a child under 12. (Id. at p. 150). After the verdict was returned, Satterwhite moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the grounds that 1) the evidence did not support a finding that all of the alleged acts occurred in Escambia County, Alabama and, therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction and 2) the evidence did not support a finding that all of the alleged acts occurred and, therefore, pursuant to the generic evidence standard under which the State elected to proceed, the evidence did not support the verdict. (Id. at pp. 152). The trial court denied the motion finding that its charges on these two matters were in compliance with Alabama law. (Id.). Satterwhite did not raise or mention any constitutional violation during the presentation of her motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

         Satterwhite appealed her conviction to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, asserting the following claims: 1) the trial court committed reversible error in failing to dismiss all charges due to the state's failure to establish the court's jurisdiction over said charges; 2) the trial court committed reversible error in denying appellant's motions for acquittal and motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict; 3) the trial court committed reversible error in instructing the jury it could return with different verdicts utilizing generic evidence; and 4) there was insufficient evidence to sustain the guilty verdicts. (Doc. 8-6 at p. 3). Satterwhite did not raise or mention any constitutional violation in the brief she filed in support of her appeal to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. (Id. at pp. 1-54). Rather, she only argued state law claims; specifically, that the evidence was insufficient to prove jurisdiction beyond a reasonable doubt and to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all of the acts alleged actually occurred. (Id.). The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions in an unpublished memorandum opinion. See M.B.N.S. v. State, CR-13-1788, 222 So.2d 383 (table) (Ala. Cr. App. Dec. 18, 2015) (mem. op.) (Doc. 8-8). The Court of Criminal Appeals held that Satterwhite had waived each of these issues because she failed to comply with Rule 28(a)(10) of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure. (Id.). Rule 28(a)(10) requires appellants to support their arguments with citations to specific cases (not just “general propositions of law”), statutes, other authorities, and parts of the record relied upon. (Id. at p. 3). In addition, the appellate court found that evidence submitted to the jury supported its jurisdictional determination, as well as its findings on both the sodomy and sexual assault convictions, and, therefore, affirmed for that reason as well. (Id. at pp. 3-9).

         Satterwhite filed an application for rehearing on January 12, 2016, in which she asserted the same claims as in her original brief on appeal and again failed to raise, argue, or mention any constitutional violation or any federal law issue. (Doc. 8-9). Her application for rehearing was overruled on January 22, 2016. (Doc. 8-10). She filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Alabama Supreme Court on February 5, 2016, asserting that the decision of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals “contravene[d] long standing Alabama Case Law.” (Doc. 8-11 at p. 4). In her petition, she made the same arguments as previously made with regard to the jurisdiction issue; however, as to the “generic evidence” issue; that is, whether the trial court's finding that a prima facie case had not been made as to counts one and two (soliciting an individual to engage in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual) dictated an acquittal on counts three (sodomy) and four (sexual abuse) because the state proceeded with generic evidence, she presented additional argument. (Doc. 8-11). Satterwhite argued that, under her interpretation of the Alabama cases discussing generic evidence, if the State proceeded with generic evidence as to one count, it had to prove all of the allegations supporting all four counts of the indictment had occurred. (Id. at pp. 8-12). The State argued, and the trial court and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, that the State only had to prove that all allegations had occurred as to each count separately, not collectively. (Id.).

         In her petition to the Alabama Supreme Court, Satterwhite argued, for the first time, that “[t]he limited cases regarding generic evidence, and their questionable interpretations, unduly impairs a defendant's due process right to fair notice of the charges against her, and a reasonable opportunity to defend against those charges. A definitive ruling pertaining to generic evidence is needed to insure the safeguards of due process.” (Id. at p. 12). On April 15, 2016, the Alabama Supreme Court denied the writ with no opinion and entered a certificate of judgment. (Doc. 8-12).

         Satterwhite sought review in the United States Supreme Court, asserting the first three issues she had presented to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court. (Doc. 8-13). In her petition, she alleged that the constitutional rights involved were the “Sixth Amendment Confrontation Right and Right to a Fair and Impartial Trial, [sic] and Fourteenth Amendment Right of Due Process and the Equal Protection of the Law.” (Id. at p. 8). The only explanation of how these rights were allegedly violated was the following statement in the Conclusion section of Satterwhite's brief: “The limited cases regarding generic evidence, and their questionable interpretations, unduly impairs a defendant's due process right to fair notice of the charges against her, and a reasonable opportunity to defend against those charges. A definitive ruling pertaining to generic evidence is needed to insure defendants are afforded the safeguards of the Sixth Amendment right of confrontation and to a fair and impartial trial, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and the equal protection of the law.” (Id. at p. 24). Even though Satterwhite was represented by counsel during all of these proceedings, she did not cite a single case, federal or otherwise, that supported her position that a constitutional violation had occurred. On November 14, 2016, the United States Supreme Court denied her petition for a writ of certiorari. (Doc. 8-14).

         Satterwhite has not filed a Rule 32 petition in the state court. (Doc. 4 at p. 4). On July 3, 2017, Satterwhite filed the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. (Doc. 1). This Court ordered her to amend the petition to correct certain deficiencies, and she filed an amended petition on July 27, 2017. (Doc. 4). Satterwhite asserts that she is being held in prison “in violation of her Constitutional rights” based upon the following claims: 1) the trial court reversibly erred by failing to dismiss all charges because the State failed to establish that the trial court had jurisdiction over the charges; 2) the trial court reversibly erred by denying her motions for acquittal and motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict; 3) the trial court reversibly erred when it instructed the jury that it could return different verdicts on the two remaining counts even though the State was proceeding under generic evidence; and 4) there was insufficient evidence to sustain the guilty verdicts. (Id. at p. 4). Respondent filed her answer to the petition arguing that Satterwhite's petition is due to be denied. (Doc. 8). Satterwhite filed a response to the answer. (Doc. 10). As noted above, the Court finds that it can resolve the issues presented here without an evidentiary hearing, see supra at p.1. Therefore, this matter is now ripe for decision.

         II. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         “[I]t is only noncompliance with federal law that renders a State's criminal judgment susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts. The habeas statute unambiguously provides that a federal court may issue the writ to a state prisoner ‘only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or law or treaties of the United States.'” Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a)). The Supreme Court has “repeatedly held that ‘federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.'” Id. (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). “A state's interpretation of its own laws or rules provides no basis for federal habeas corpus relief, since no question of a constitutional nature is involved.” McCullough v. Singletary, 967 F.2d 530, 545 (11th Cir. 1992), quoted in Alston v. Dep't of Corr., Fla., 610 F.3d 1318, 1326 (11th Cir. 2010).

         “A habeas petitioner is required to initially present his federal claims to the state courts, and to exhaust all of the procedures available in the state court system, before seeking relief in federal court.” James v. Culliver, Civ. A. No. CV-10-S-2929-S, 2014 WL 4926178, at *5 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 30, 2014) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); Medellin v. Dretke, 544 U.S. 660, 666 (2005) (holding that a petitioner “can seek federal habeas relief only on claims that have been exhausted in state court”)). The petitioner must “fairly presen[t] federal claims to the state courts in order to give the State the opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). To satisfy this requirement, state courts “must … be alerted to the fact that the prisoners are asserting claims under the United States Constitution.” Id. at 365-66. For example, “[i]f a habeas petitioner wishes to claim that an evidentiary ruling at a state court trial denied him the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, he must say so, not only in federal court, but in state court.” Id. at 366. The petitioner must also present “his or her claims through one ‘complete round of the State's established appellate review process.'” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 92 (2006) (quoting O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999)). “Federal courts are not forums in which to relitigate state trials.” Smith v. Newsome, 876 F.2d 1461, 1463 (11th Cir. 1989) (quoting Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 887 (1983)).

         In addition to the bar created by a failure to exhaust state court remedies, a prisoner's claims can also be barred from federal court review by the doctrine of procedural default. A petitioner will be deemed to have procedurally defaulted a claim if the petitioner “fails to initially present a federal claim to the state courts at the time, and in the manner, dictated by the state's procedural rules, ” and the state court thus decides “that the claim is not entitled to review on its merits.” James, 2014 WL 4926178, at *6. “Generally speaking, if the last state court to examine a claim states, clearly and explicitly, that the claim is barred because the petitioner failed to follow state procedural rules, and that procedural bar provides an adequate and independent state ground for denying relief, then federal review of the claim also is precluded by the procedural default doctrine.” Id. (emphasis in original).

         If the petitioner's claim has been properly brought before the State courts and adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings, a writ may issue only if the adjudication “(1) resulted in a decision that 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) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.'” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also Jones v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr.,644 F.3d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 2011) (stating that “under AEDPA, a federal court may not grant habeas relief on a claim that has been considered and rejected by a state court unless it is shown that the state court's decision was ‘contrary to' federal law then clearly established in the holdings of the United States ...


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