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Wolfin v. Lewis

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

May 23, 2018

THOMAS G. WOLFIN, JR., Petitioner,
v.
JASON LEWIS, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RODNEY W. SIPPEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before me upon the petition of Missouri state prisoner Thomas Wolfin for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. After carefully considering his pro se petition, respondent's brief, and petitioner's multiple supplemental filings, I will deny the petition for the reasons set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Trial

         Wolfin was convicted on February 26, 2014, of first-degree domestic assault, third-degree assault of a law-enforcement officer, and resisting arrest in the 24th Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri, St. Genevieve County. (Doc. 16, Ex. 1 at 274). He was sentenced as a prior and persistent offender on May 20, 2014, to prison terms of twenty years for domestic assault and concurrent one-year sentences for the other two convictions. (Id. at 296-297).

         B. Direct Appeal

         Petitioner raised two grounds in his direct appeal. (Doc. 16, Ex. 2). First, he argued that the prosecution failed to prove first-degree domestic assault because the victim (“HB”) sustained only “physical injury” rather than “serious physical injury” as required by statute. (Id. at 17). Second, petitioner argued that the trial court plainly erred in excluding additional evidence surrounding his divorce from HB, because it precluded petitioner from presenting his defense that the allegation of domestic assault was a fabrication intended to obtain favorable divorce settlement terms. (Id. at 19).

         The Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on both grounds. (Doc. 16, Ex. 6). The court held that the prosecution's burden of proof on first-degree domestic assault was not to show that the victim actually sustained “serious physical injury, ” but rather that petitioner attempted to cause such injury. (Id. at 4). After reviewing the evidence presented at trial, including that “Wolfin told H.B. [throughout the assault] that he was going to kill her[, ]” the court held that:

Evidence that Wolfin repeatedly head-butted H.B., choked [her], and slammed [her] into the floor is consistent with an intent to create a substantial risk of death, serious disfigurement, or impairment. Any of these individual acts could qualify as a substantial step toward causing [her] serious physical injury. Evidence of these cumulative acts unquestionably [does so.]

(Id. at 5) (emphasis added). The court also declined to exercise its discretion to review Wolfin's second point for plain error, because Wolfin failed to raise this claim during his trial. (Id. at 6). The court found that petitioner was, in fact, able to present his defense theory to the jury in the form of evidence that H.B. filed for divorce, sought maintenance, and sought an award of property. (Id. at 7). The court concluded that the trial court's determination that “any evidence or argument as to the fairness of the divorce settlement was irrelevant and likely to confuse the jury” was a reasonable exercise of its broad discretion. (Id.)

         C. Post-Conviction Review

         Petitioner subsequently returned to the trial court for post-conviction review. His initial pro se motion for an evidentiary hearing (Doc. 16, Ex. 7 at 13) was substantially amended by appointed counsel (Id. at 27). His amended motion presented two claims. First, he argued that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel when counsel did not introduce HB's hospital records as evidence challenging the severity of her injuries. (Id. at 28). Second, he argued that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel when counsel did not have him evaluated for his competency to stand trial. (Id. at 30).

         The trial court denied both claims. (Id. at 61). The court cited the Court of Appeals' holding that the severity of HB's injuries was irrelevant; rather, “the State was required [to show only] that the [petitioner] attempt to kill or cause serious physical injury. The evidence abundantly established such proof, both by [petitioner's] repeated conduct and by [his] statements at the time of the assault, as overheard by the victim's daughter.” (Id. at 62). The court further held that based on the information available to trial counsel at the time, as evidenced by the trial transcript, petitioner clearly understood the proceedings and was competent to assist in his own defense. (Id. at 63).

         D. Appeal of Post-Conviction Review

         Petitioner subsequently returned to the Court of Appeals, claiming that the trial court clearly erred in denying his post-conviction review motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on both grounds. (Doc. 16, Ex. 10). The Court of Appeals substantially reiterated its previous holding on petitioner's first argument: “Given the abundant evidence showing [petitioner's] attempts to cause serious physical injury, he fails to establish that there is a reasonable probability that the result of the proceedings would have been different if the medical evidence [that serious physical injury was not actually sustained] had been admitted.” (Id. at 8).

         In denying petitioner's second point, the court noted that “‘[when] communication problems are caused by the defendant's desire to control the defense, as opposed to mental impairments, and there is no indication that the defendant is generally incapable of cooperating with counsel, the defendant does not demonstrate that he is incompetent to stand trial.'” (Id. at 8 (quoting Davis v. State, 486 S.W.3d 898, 911-12 (Mo. banc 2016) (internal citation omitted))). The court further observed that “[nothing] in the record was sufficient to indicate to [trial counsel] that [petitioner] possessed a questionable mental condition such that she had a duty to have [him] evaluated. Therefore, that [she] did not have [him] evaluated was not ineffective assistance of counsel.” (Id. at 10).

         E. Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus

         Now, Wolfin's pro se petition appears to raise nine grounds for relief, as follows:

         First, that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because state-appointed public defenders “are defending the state.” (Doc. 1 at 6).

         Second, that the prosecuting attorney engaged in a conspiracy to fabricate the charges. (Id. at 6).

         Third, that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel when counsel did not call additional (unnamed) witnesses and make additional objections. (Id. at 14).

         Fourth, that he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel when counsel allegedly accepted a bribe from the prosecuting attorney and did not call additional witnesses as requested by petitioner. (Id. at 23).

         Fifth, that the Missouri Department of Corrections refused to provide allegedly-exculpatory photos sent to Wolfin by family members while he was incarcerated during his appeal. (Id. at 25).

         Sixth, that his ex-wife and her daughter are mentally disabled. (Id. at 28).

         Seventh, [1] that each successive defense counsel refused to bring accusations of prejudice against the prosecuting ...


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