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David Barron v. andrew Pallito

November 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge


David Barron, a Vermont inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 4.) Barron is currently serving a state sentence of twenty years to life after having been convicted of sexual assault on a minor. His petition asserts a series of claims, including: that his confession was coerced; that he was questioned by law enforcement without receiving Miranda warnings and without his lawyer present; that his victim changed her story and thus was not credible; that his lawyer did not allow him to testify on his own behalf; and that he should not have been sentenced as a habitual offender because one of his previous offenses was no longer a crime under Vermont law.

Respondents have opposed the petition, arguing that Barron is trying to re-litigate issues that either have been addressed, or should have been raised, in the state courts. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Barron's petition sets forth a mix of exhausted and unexhausted claims, and requires further guidance from Barron as to whether he (1) wants to delete the unexhausted claims from his petition so that the Court may address his exhausted claims, or (2) argue for a stay and abeyance of his petition while he pursues his unexhausted claims in state court.

Factual and Procedural Background*fn1

On July 5, 2007, police responded to a domestic altercation between Barron and his wife. Barron was found to be in violation of his probation, was charged with disorderly conduct, and was taken into custody. During the transport to the sheriff's office, Barron voluntarily stated that his wife wanted him arrested so that she could carry out an affair with A.M., a fifteen-year-old girl living in their home. At the sheriff's office, he wrote an affidavit describing the altercation with this wife, and noted again that his wife was having a sexual relationship with A.M. He also claimed that his wife and A.M. had threatened to have him "locked up" if he revealed their relationship.

On July 11, 2007, a detective interviewed Barron to investigate the allegations about his wife. The investigation took place at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, where Barron was being held based upon his probation violation. The detective did not provide a Miranda warning, and no attorney was present. On July 16, 2007, the detective met with Barron's wife and with A.M. A.M. confirmed having had sexual relations with Barron's wife, but initially denied having relations with Barron himself. During a second interview, however, conducted on August 1, 2007, A.M. stated that she had had sexual contact with both Barron and his wife.

That same day, Barron telephoned the detective and left a message stating that he had more information. At that point, Barron had been released from prison and was living with his mother. The detective arranged a meeting for August 2, 2007 near Barron's mother's house.

Barron was waiting at the meeting place when the detective arrived, and voluntarily entered the detective's vehicle. The detective recorded the interview using a hidden recorder. Although the discussion began with Barron's problems with his wife, the detective directed the conversation toward Barron's claims about his wife's relationship with A.M. Barron admitted during this conversation that he had participated in "threesomes" with his wife and A.M., and had once had sexual intercourse with A.M.

Barron was subsequently charged with two counts of sexual assault on a minor under 13 V.S.A. § 3252(c), and was ultimately convicted by a jury. He was also found to be a habitual offender, as he had been convicted of three felonies prior to this latest offense. As noted above, Barron is currently serving a sentence of twenty years to life.

Barron appealed his conviction and sentence to the Vermont Supreme Court. In his appeal, he raised three arguments. First, in reference to his questioning on July 11, 2007 and August 2, 2007, he argued that he was subjected to interrogations while in custody and was not provided a Miranda warning. Second, he claimed that his right to counsel was violated during both interviews. Third, he claimed that the habitual offender statute should not have applied because one of his previous offenses--a sexual assault conviction under a state statute that had since been amended--was no longer a crime. See Barron, 16 A.3d at 623.

The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. In doing so, the court concluded that, with respect to the questioning on July 11, 2007, law enforcement had violated Barron's rights under Miranda, as well as his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The court further found, however, that these violations did not justify suppression of all later statements, concluding that "the connection between defendant's first interview and the statement twenty days later in the second interview is too attenuated to find the admission in the second interview to be the fruit of the poisonous tree." Id. at 629.

With regard to the August 2, 2007 questioning, the Vermont Supreme Court held that Miranda warnings were not required because the questioning was non-custodial, and that Barron's right to counsel had not been triggered because at the time of the interview he had not yet been charged with sexual assault. The court also rejected Barron's habitual offender argument, relying upon its own case law and a statutory "savings clause" to hold that a sentence issued prior to a statutory change did not require resentencing. Id. at 632.

Barron did not file for post-conviction relief in state court. He did, however, file a motion for sentence reconsideration under 13 V.S.A. § 7042. Section 7042 permits reduction of a sentence within ninety days after final judgment is entered. See 13 V.S.A. § 7042(a). In his motion for reconsideration, Barron argued that his sentence was unfair when compared to the sentence received by his co-defendant. (Doc. 7-1 at 1.) Superior Court Judge Kupersmith denied the motion, noting that "[t]his is Defendant's third conviction for sexual assault on a minor" and citing the court's duty to "protect the community." (Id. at 5-6.) There is no indication in the record that Barron appealed Judge Kupersmith's ruling.

Barron filed his pro se habeas corpus petition in this Court on May 8, 2012. The petition raises several arguments for relief, including an allegation that law enforcement tampered with evidence in order to conceal police coercion that led to Barron's confession. Specifically, Barron claims that one of the recordings of his conversations with law enforcement was edited so that there was no evidence of the detective's alleged threat to "bring [Barron] to jail leaving [his] mother without [Barron] to care for her." (Doc. 4 at 5.) Barron contends that his "conviction was [based] solely on that ...

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