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Sweat v. Mulheron

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 16, 2019

ALREE B. SWEAT, III, Petitioner,
JAMES MULHERON, Warden, Respondent.



         Alree Sweat petitions for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Earlier in this case, Sweat elected to dismiss the claims he had not exhausted in the New Mexico courts. (Doc. 21). Before the Court now are the merits of Sweat's remaining constitutional challenges: (1) whether sufficient evidence supported Sweat's convictions for burglary of a vehicle; and (2) whether trial counsel was ineffective for (a) not investigating and filing a motion to suppress DNA results; (b) failing to raise the trial court's denial of a motion to consolidate in a docketing statement; and (c) waiving Sweat's speedy trial rights. (Doc. 19). Applying the deferential standard in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), the Court concludes that Sweat has not carried his burden to show the state court unreasonably applied federal law or determined the facts. Pursuant to an order of reference from United States District Judge Judith C. Herrera, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Doc. 9, the Court recommends that Sweat's petition for a writ of habeas corpus be DENIED.


         In late April 2013, Las Cruces saw a series of car burglaries. (Doc. 25-1, at 52). DNA collected from the scenes implicated Sweat some of the offenses. (Id.) As is relevant here, four of the burglaries occurred at a Motel 6 on April 28, 2013 and three at Buffalo Wild Wings on April 23, 2013. (Doc. 25-1, at 59-60). Of the four vehicles burglarized at the Motel 6, blood was recovered from a laundry basket in one car. (Id.). At the restaurant, blood was recovered from inside two vehicles. (Doc. 25-1, at 52). There were no eyewitnesses to the crimes. (Id.). On November 14, 2013, a grand jury indicted Sweat in three proceedings, charging separate counts for each vehicle involved. (Doc. 25-1, at 13).

         On February 5, 2015, Sweat moved to consolidate the cases. (Id.). The trial court consolidated two of the indictments.[1] (Doc. 25-1, at 18-19). A jury trial began on March 25, 2017 on the combined charges. (Doc. 25-1, at 1-5; 23). Over two days, an investigating detective testified as well as two DNA experts, one for the State of New Mexico and one Sweat retained. (Doc. 25-1, at 30- 32). The detective told jurors that blood was found in or on items removed from three of the seven vehicles and a warrant was obtained for Sweat's DNA. (Id.). The State's expert testified that the DNA from the vehicles matched Sweat's. (Id.). Sweat's expert balked at the number DNA samples collected as well as the chain of custody. (Id.) Sweat's expert raised the possibility of contamination resulting from the collection process. (Id.).

         After the State's presentation, the trial court directed a verdict on Counts 1-3 and 7 of the consolidated indictment. (Doc. 25-1, at 23-24). For those charges, the State did not offer DNA evidence linking Sweat to the subject vehicles. (Doc. 25-1, at 32). As to the remining counts, the jury returned a guilty verdict at the end of trial. (Doc. 25-1, at 2). Sweat was subsequently sentenced to a total of eleven years in prison and a year of parole.[2] (Doc. 25-1, at 1-5). As for Sweat's third case, which was not consolidated, the jury hung on the single count that survived a directed verdict. (Doc. 25-2, at 140-43). The State decided not to retry Sweat on that charge (Doc. 25-2, at 144).

         Sweat unsuccessfully appealed his convictions and applied for postconviction relief in the state courts. (Doc. 25-1, at 25-67). On November 17, 2016, Sweat filed the instant petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. 1). Thereafter, this Court determined that Sweat did not exhaust his state court remedies for some of his constitutional challenges as 28 U.S.C. § 2254 requires before a petitioner may seek federal habeas relief. (Doc. 19) Sweat ultimately elected to dismiss those claims. (Doc. 23).


         The AEDPA limits the Court's review of habeas-corpus petitions brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. As a matter of comity and to safeguard against only “extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ” the Court may grant relief only “if the state court's decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law” or the state court's decision “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented.” Smith v. Aldridge, 904 F.3d 874, 880 (10th Cir. 2018) (citations omitted). This hurdle is necessarily “dauting” in deference to the state courts. Byrd v. Workman, 645 F.3d 1159, 1172 (10th Cir. 2011). As to the first prong, the petitioner must show that the state court's decision applied “a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases [or] if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a [Supreme Court] decision and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the Court's] precedent.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000).

         The state court need not cite or even demonstrate awareness of Supreme Court precedent if the state court's reasoning and result do not contradict controlling decisions. See Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). To reach the level of an “unreasonable application, ” the petitioner must show more than an incorrect conclusion-the state court must have been objectively unreasonable in its decision, not a “subjective assessment” of the “views of the judges on the relevant state court (or, for that matter, the views of individual federal judges).” Hooks v. Workman, 606 F.3d 715, 751 (10th Cir. 2010). Under the second prong, the petitioner must show that “all reasonable minds reviewing the record would have to agree that the state court's determination of facts was incorrect.” Smith, 904 F.3d at 880. And the adverse decision must be based on that unreasonable determination of the facts. See id.


         Sweat asserts he was convicted in violation of his due-process rights and contrary to the Constitution's guarantee of effective assistance of counsel. The Court disagrees with both of Sweat's assertions.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

          Due process requires a conviction be based “upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which [the petitioner] is charged.” Parker v. Scott, 394 F.3d 1302, 1314 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970)). In assessing a conviction's sufficiency, the Court must decide “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). Under the AEDPA, sufficiency challenges benefit from a “twice-deferential standard” of review: (1) “[a] reviewing court may set aside the jury's verdict on the ground of insufficient evidence only if no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the jury”; ...

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