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Garth v. Griffith

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

September 26, 2017

PAUL C. GARTH, Petitioner,



         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Paul C. Garth's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. [Doc. 1.] Respondent Cindy Griffith (Respondent) filed a response. [Doc. 6.] Garth filed a Reply Brief. [Docs. 13, 14.] For the reasons set forth below, the Petition will be denied.

         I. Background

         The state appellate court found the following facts[1]. In 2009, Garth was living with S.E., as her boyfriend. S.E. broke off their relationship after Garth wrote “I love you” on a bullet and gave it to her. On December 17, 2009, Garth sent S.E. a text message stating, “We over I will get my boxes and leave your keys.” Garth went to S.E.'s house that evening and argued into the night. At approximately 2:00 a.m., the next morning, December 18, 2009, Garth went to the basement and retrieved a can of gasoline. Garth poured the gasoline on S.E., stating that if he couldn't have her, no one could. S.E. tried to run away, but Garth struck a lighter and set her on fire.

         S.E. rolled on the floor to put out the fire. Garth got a bathroom rug to help put out the fire and said he was sorry and didn't think it would light. However, Garth did not call for assistance and did not render any first aid. S.E. begged Garth to take her to the hospital. Garth refused because he was afraid of going to jail. S.E. finally persuaded Garth to take her to the hospital by promising that she would tell the hospital personnel that she injured herself and that Garth did not do it. Garth took S.E. to the hospital, where S.E. stated that she tried to kill herself by pouring gasoline on herself and lighting it because her grandmother had just died. S.E. then went into shock and lost consciousness. S.E. suffered burns on her hands, arms, back, torso, neck, and face. She received skin grafts on her hand.

         The next day, December 19, 2009, Garth called S.E.'s ex-mother-in-law, E.E., and told her that they had been messing with a gas can on the stove and S.E. lit a cigarette and “blew herself up.” S.E. has an electric stove. S.E.'s son, C.E., heard about it and called Garth, asking him what happened. Garth told C.E. that S.E. poured kerosene on herself and lit herself on fire. C.E. asked Garth why he did not call 911 or notify family members, to which Garth responded that he had been trying to extinguish the fire and had burnt his hands. S.E.'s brother, W.J., visited S.E. at the hospital and was informed by hospital staff that S.E. had said she had done this to herself. W.J. did not believe that S.E. would do this to herself. S.E. had tubes down her throat and was unable to speak, but W.J. asked her to blink her eyes twice if somebody had done this to her and she blinked twice. W.J. then asked her to blink once if Garth had done this to her and she blinked once. Hospital personnel called the police.

         At S.E.'s house, Officer Patrick Hill observed a large burn mark on the dining room carpet, burn marks on the bathroom cabinet and floor, burned clothing in the kitchen trash can, a burned bathroom rug at the bottom of the basement steps, and a gasoline can in the basement.

         On December 22, 2009, after the tubes were removed from S.E.'s throat, she told Officer Hill that Garth had tried to kill her by setting her on fire. S.E. then went into cardiac arrest but survived. On January 5, 2010, S.E. was discharged from the hospital, but was still being treated regularly for her injuries at the time of the trial in November 2010. The State of Missouri charged Garth with first-degree domestic assault. Before trial, Garth decided to proceed pro se and represent himself at trial. After the State presented its case, during trial, Garth requested that counsel be provided for him. The trial court denied his request. At the conclusion of the trial, a jury found Garth guilty as charged in the indictment. The trial court sentenced Garth to life in prison.

         II. Standard of Review

         “The writ of habeas corpus stands as a safeguard against imprisonment of those held in violation of the law. Judges must be vigilant and independent in reviewing petitions for the writ, a commitment that entails substantial judicial resources.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 91 (2011). “In general, if a convicted state criminal defendant can show a federal habeas court that his conviction rests upon a violation of the Federal Constitution, he may well obtain a writ of habeas corpus that requires a new trial, a new sentence, or release.” Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911, 1917 (2013). The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (AEDPA) applies to all petitions for habeas relief filed by state prisoners after this statute's effective date of April 24, 1996. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326-29 (1997).

         In conducting habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings (1) resulted in a decision that is “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented at the State court proceedings.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed to be correct unless the petitioner successfully rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), the phrase “clearly established federal law refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state court decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). “In other words, clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) is the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision.” Id. To obtain habeas relief, a habeas petitioner must be able to point to the Supreme Court precedent which he thinks the state courts acted contrary to or unreasonably applied. Buchheit v. Norris, 459 F.3d 849, 853 (8th Cir. 2006).

         A state court's decision is “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court precedent “if the state court either ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases' or ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the] precedent.'” Penry v. Garth, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000)). A state court decision is an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case. Id. (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407-408). “A federal habeas court making the unreasonable application inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively reasonable.” Penry, 532 U.S. at 793. “A state court decision involves ‘an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings, ' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record.” Evanstad v. Carlson, 470 F.3d 777, 782 (8th Cir. 2006). A “readiness to attribute error is inconsistent with the presumption that state courts know and follow the law.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). AEDPA's highly deferential standard demands that state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt. Id.

         III. Discussion

         Garth presents four claims for review. In his first two claims, Garth asserts that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the trial court allowed him to represent himself at trial and by allowing W.J. to testify that S.E. told him through eye blinks that Garth had set her on fire. In his third claim, Garth asserts that trial court erred in allowing Dr. David Seltzer to testify that he medically treated Garth and admitted Garth's medical records. Garth asserts that the admission of his medical records and testimony of Dr. Seltzer violated the physician-patient privilege. In his fourth claim, Garth states that he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel who failed to raise the issue that the trial court violated his right to a speedy trial.

         A. Defaulted Claims- I, II, and III

         The Respondent asserts that all of Garth's claims are procedurally defaulted. Garth did not preserve claims I, II, and III for appellate review. The Missouri Court of Appeals found that Garth did not properly preserve these claims for review and reviewed them for plain error. “A federal habeas court cannot reach an otherwise unpreserved and procedurally defaulted claim merely because a reviewing state court analyzed that claim for plain error.” Clark v. Bertsch, 780 F.3d 873, 874 (8th Cir. 2015) (citing Hayes v. Lockhart, 766 F.2d 1247, 1253 (8th Cir. 1985)).

         A state prisoner seeking federal habeas relief must first exhaust the remedies available in the courts of the state, thereby affording those courts the first opportunity to address and correct alleged violations of the prisoner's federal rights. Walker v. Martin,562 U.S. 307, 315 (2011). This court is barred from reviewing Garth's claims if the state court finds that his claims are defaulted under state law, even if the state court reviewed his claims under plain error review. Hayes, 766 F.2d at 1252-53. The burden of justifying federal habeas relief for state prisoners is greater than the plain error ...

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