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Joseph Stock v. Gaetz, 7th Cir. No. 09-2560, 09/03/2010

7th circuit decision

Habeas – Limits on Cros-Examination

State court limitation on impeachment of a witness — so as to exclude that portion of a pre-trial conversation containing the defendant’s “self-serving,” thus inadmissible hearsay, statement — wasn’t an unreasonable application of controlling caselaw.

Determination of whether “state interests, including those reflected in the state’s evidentiary rules, may need to bend in order to ensure that defendants have the right to confront the witnesses against them … calls for a case-specific inquiry into a number of competing priorities.” Only unreasonable limits violate confrontation. “Before any later court can decide whether a limitation imposed by the trial court was reasonable or unreasonable, it must look at the potential testimony and the bases for exclusion.”

To begin with, we note that this was impeachment testimony. We can assume that Stock would have benefit- ted from being able to introduce out-of-court denials without subjecting himself to cross-examination, but excluding this obvious hearsay does not implicate the Confrontation Clause. … Impeachment is certainly a proper purpose, but the purported value of these statements is undercut by their ambiguity. For whatever reason, Najera and Stock spoke elliptically throughout their conversation …. For all we know, Najera was playing his part in a charade Stock was creating or affirming Stock’s cover story (rather than the truth).

Like our Lindh decisions, this is a case where the AEDPA standards have bite. As we have emphasized throughout, the only question before us is whether the state appellate court’s application of clearly established federal law lies “well outside the boundaries of permis- sible differences of opinion.” Hardaway v. Young, 302 F.3d 757, 762 (7th Cir. 2002). Given the vagueness of the conversation, we answer that question in the negative— reasonable minds could differ on whether the trial court unconstitutionally infringed Stock’s right to con- front Najera, and thus the state appellate court did not act unreasonably in upholding Stock’s conviction.

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