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Briscoe v. Norman

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 22, 2014

JAMES J. BRISCOE, Petitioner,
v.
JEFF NORMAN, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JEAN C. HAMILTON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Missouri State prisoner James J. Briscoe's ("Briscoe") pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus ("Petition") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. The matter has been fully briefed and is ready for disposition.

On October 27, 2006, a jury in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Missouri convicted Briscoe of eight counts of first-degree statutory sodomy and four counts of first degree child molestation. Briscoe was then sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence. Briscoe then filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. The Circuit Court denied the motion without an evidentiary hearing, and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling.

Briscoe is currently incarcerated at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charelston, Missouri. He filed this Petition on June 27, 2011. The Petition raises seven grounds for relief:

(1) That the trial court erred in excluding evidence of three instances of the victim lying;
(2) That the trial court erred in overruling Briscoe's objection to the prosecutor's closing argument that the jury should "send a message" to the community by finding Briscoe guilty;
(3) That the trial court plainly erred in failing to instruct the jury to disregard the prosecutor's closing argument that the victim and others needed to be protected from Briscoe;
(4) That "the post-conviction motion court's denial of an evidentiary hearing was in error because" trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the prosecutor's comments in closing argument "that impermissibly personalized the argument to the jury";
(5) That Briscoe received ineffective assistance of counsel, in that trial counsel failed to call Tamara Cooper or Natasha Cooper who "would have testified to bias or impeached the credibility of the complaining witness";
(6) That Briscoe received ineffective assistance of counsel, in that trial counsel failed to call Wood "who would have testified that he witnessed [Briscoe] attempt to dispose of pornography in order to rid himself of such activity"; and
(7) That Briscoe received ineffective assistance of counsel, in that trial counsel failed to object to the prosecutor's questions in voir dire that "focused on whether the jury would convict the [Briscoe] based on the testimony of only one witness when the State introduced the testimony of several witnesses at trial, and therefore the question in voir dire was irrelevant, immaterial, and misleading."

(Amended Petition, ECF No. 7).

I. Ground 1

In Ground 1 of his Petition, Briscoe asserts that the trial court committed constitutional error in excluding three prior instances in which the victim, whose testimony was essential to the prosecution's case, told lies to her mother. (Amended Petition, ECF No. 7, at 45-48). Briscoe wished to introduce these specific instances of prior conduct to attack the victim's credibility. Id. Briscoe raised this claim, including the constitutional components, [1] on direct appeal. The Missouri Court of Appeals set out the generally applicable legal principles as follows:

The Sixth Amendment right of an accused to confront witnesses against him also includes the right to cross-examine those witnesses. Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315 (1974). The Confrontation Clause is applicable to the states via incorporation by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 403 (1965). Thus, this claim of error relating to [Briscoe's] cross-examination of [the victim] is constitutional in nature, and we will review [Briscoe's] constitutional claims in conjunction with those preserved throughout the record.
Trial courts have broad discretion to admit or exclude evidence, following the general standards of admissibility. State v. Walkup, 220 S.W.3d 748, 756-67 (Mo. banc 2007) [ sic ]. Moreover, trial courts have broad discretion in deciding the permissible scope of cross-examination. State v. Silvey, 894 S.W.2d 662, 670 (Mo. banc 1995). An abuse of discretion exists when the trial court's decision is clearly against the logic of the circumstances before the court and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration. State v. Christeson, 50 S.W.3d 251, 261 (Mo. banc 2001). If reasonable persons can disagree about the propriety of the trial court's decision, the trial court did not abuse its discretion. State v. Raines, 118 S.W.3d 205, 209 (Mo. App. W.D. 2003).

(Direct Appeal Opinion, ECF No. 19, Exh. E, at 14). The Court of Appeals went onto apply these constitutional and state law principles in tandem. The two factors it found to be most important in determining the propriety of the trial court's exclusion of evidence were the relevance of the evidence and the age of the victim. As to relevance, the Court of Appeals found:

In considering the relevance factors discussed in [ State v. Long, 140 S.W.3d 27 (Mo. 2004) ( en banc )], we conclude that the trial court here did not err in precluding evidence of [the victim's] alleged prior instances of lying about an X-box, spraying a dog with hairspray, or a dog bite. When reviewing the offer of proof made by [Briscoe], we note that none of the three alleged lies were related to [Briscoe] or could be viewed as demonstrating any bias by [the victim] against [Briscoe]. Additionally, none of the three alleged lies were similar in nature to the sexual abuse allegations made by [the victim] at trial, and none of the three lies were alleged to have occurred in a close proximity of time to [the victim's] allegations of sexual abuse. In fact, [Briscoe's] offer of proof lacked any reference to the period of time within which the alleged lies occurred. These three specific lies had limited probative value in this case as [Briscoe] retained the opportunity to cross-examine [the victim] concerning the accuracy of her observations and memory of [Briscoe's] actions in relation to the allegations of sexual abuse, and he had a full opportunity to explore possible inconsistencies with her testimony. Significantly, the danger of prejudice to [the victim] was high as the collateral issues could have opened the door to allow [Briscoe] to question [the victim] about specific prior bad acts. As we weigh the probative value of the three alleged instances of lying on the issue of [the victim's] credibility against the potential prejudice to [the victim] we conclude that the balancing of these competing interests supports the exclusion of evidence of the alleged lies. The decision to exclude such evidence was well within the trial court's discretion to admit or exclude evidence and to limit the scope of cross-examination.

Here, the proffered instances of lies told by [the victim] excluded by the trial court did not include prior false allegations against [Briscoe] or any other person, but rather, were at most relatively inconsequential instances where a child gave untrue information to avoid perceived negative consequences. These isolated acts were offered by [Briscoe] for the purpose of showing [the victim's] credibility, or propensity to lie. We acknowledge that [Briscoe] sought to introduce evidence of [the victim's] lies through cross-examination and not extrinsic evidence as was the case in Long. However, a trial court does not violate the Confrontation Clause by prohibiting a defendant from cross-examining a witness where the sole purpose of the cross examination is to prove [] the witness's tendency to lie, based on a pattern of past lies. Raines, 118 S.W.3d at 213. Moreover, a trial court does not abuse its discretion when excluding offers of impeachment on immaterial or collateral matters. State v. Taylor, 944 S.W.2d 925, 935 (Mo. banc) 1997.

Id. at 16-17. The Court of Appeals then went on to address the issue of the victim's age as follows:

A primary function of cross-examination is to impeach the credibility of a witness to reveal bias, prejudice, or ulterior motives as they relate to the issues or personalities in the case at hand. Baker, 859 S.W.2d at 809. The right to cross-examine, however, is not without limits. Id. Crossexamination is subject to the broad discretion of the trial court to preclude repetitive and unduly harassing interrogations, and to limit attacks on general credibility and attempts to elicit irrelevant, collateral, or stale matters.' Russell, 625 S.W.2d at 141. A court need not permit attack on a juvenile's general credibility or unrestrained cross-examination using the juvenile's acts of misconduct. Id. at 142 (finding that the U.S. Supreme Court does not hold that a state court must permit the general credibility of a juvenile to be attacked by a record of a juvenile adjudication or by unrestrained cross-examination concerning such adjudication or acts of misconduct.'); Baker, 859 S.W.2d at 809. It is with this guidance that we consider the exclusion of evidence of [the victim's] alleged lies.
In light of [the victim's] age, we consider a number of factors in reviewing admissibility of the evidence proffered by [Briscoe]. First, like the juveniles in Baker, [the victim] was a juvenile victim of a crime and was unlikely to be motivated to testify falsely in an expectation of leniency or to divert suspicion from herself. See Baker, 859 S.W.2d at 810. Second, like the juveniles in Baker, [the victim] did not have any proceedings pending against her in juvenile court that would motivate her to testify falsely. Id. Here, [the victim's] alleged lies, while perhaps disappointing, are hardly actions subject to juvenile adjudication. While lying may be viewed by some as behavior commonplace in juveniles, [Briscoe] has offered no correlation between his offer of proof of the three alleged lies and [the victim's] credibility regarding her allegations of sexual abuse. The alleged juvenile lies proffered are too dissimilar to support [Briscoe's] credibility regarding her allegations of sexual abuse. The alleged juvenile lies proffered are too dissimilar to support [Briscoe's] claim for admission into evidence.
Even beyond Baker, we note that the proffered incidents of her lies occurred prior to the trial. The information sought from [the victim] was desired solely for the purpose of attacking her credibility on collateral matters of relative insignificance, having no relationship to either [Briscoe] or the allegations of sexual abuse with which [Briscoe] was charged. Additionally, to the extent [the victim's] juvenile behavior had any relevance to her credibility as a witness, [Briscoe's] cross-examination of [the victim's] sister... presented the jury with general evidence of such without offering evidence of specific bad acts. Defense counsel asked [the victim's sister] whether [the victim] ever got into trouble for not telling the truth, and [the sister] testified, I'm sure she probably did.' This evidence put the issue of [the victim's] credibility before the jury as sufficiently as the three instances of alleged ...

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