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Hoffman v. Lazaroff

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

March 26, 2018

Christopher Hoffman, Petitioner
v.
Alan J. Lazaroff, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JEFFREY J. HELMICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before me is the May 13, 2016 Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert recommending dismissal of Petitioner Christopher Hoffman's action seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 14). Also before me are the pro se Petitioner's objections. (Doc. No. 17). For the reasons stated below, I adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendation as set forth in the Report and Recommendation.

         I. Applicable Legal Standard

         A district court must conduct a de novo review of “any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to. The district judge may accept, reject or modify the recommended disposition, receive further evidence, or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also Norman v. Astrue, 694 F.Supp.2d 738, 740 (N.D. Ohio 2010). “De novo determination requires ‘fresh consideration' of a magistrate judge's recommendation, independent of the magistrate judge's conclusions.” 14 Moore's Federal Practice § 72.11[2][a] (3d ed. 2017). In conducting a de novo review, the court need not conduct a de novo hearing on the matter. Lifeng Chen v. New Trend Apparel, Inc., 8 F.Supp.3d 406, 416 (S.D.N.Y. 2014), citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980).

         II. The Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge's report began with a synopsis of the facts as articulated by the Ninth District Court of Appeals. State v. Hoffman, No. 26084, 2013 WL 1141033 (Ohio App. 2013); (Doc. No. 4-1 at pp. 1-10). In summary, on June 12, 2009, the jury found Petitioner not guilty as to aggravated murder (Count One), guilty of murder (Count Three), guilty of involuntary manslaughter (Count Five), and guilty of endangering children (Counts Seven and Nine). (Doc. Nos. 4-19 and 4-20). The Report then detailed the procedural history of the state trial court, the direct appeal, and the Supreme Court of Ohio. (Doc. No. 14 at pp. 5-8).

         In examining the Petition, the Magistrate Judge set forth four grounds for relief and then explained that the fourth ground for relief was severed[1] from this action so the case could proceed on the first three grounds for relief. (Doc. Nos. 10 and 12).

         The three grounds for relief are set forth as follows:

GROUND ONE: Where evidence of an unrelated[sic] crime is admitted in a murder trial and the admission of that evidence severely prejudices the defendant, the trial court deprived the Petitioner of due process when it denied the defendant's motion to sever counts. Depriving him of his rights gaurenteed[sic] by the U.S. and Ohio Constitions[sic].
Supporting facts: The trial court should have severed the child endangering charge contained in Count Nine, alleging that the Petitioner violated a duty of care, protection, or support at some unrelated prior occasion, from the charges in Counts One, Three, Five, and Seven, all of which relate to the events surrounding NH's death. By allowing the State to try Petitioner on the aggravated murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, and Count 7 child endangering charges at the same time as the distinct crime alleged in the third-degree felony child endangering charge in count 9, the trial court abused its discretion, considerably prejudiced Petitioner's defense and denied him a constitutionally fair trial. The child endangering charge in count 9 alleged that the Petitioner created “a substantial risk to the health or safety of the child, by violating a duty of care, protection, or support, “tending to prove that the rib injuries were of the same or similar character as the abuse alleged to have caused N.H.'s death, or that they were based on the same act or transaction or based on multiple acts or transactions connected together, nor was there any evidence that the rib fractures were a part of a criminal scheme or course of conduct.
GROUND TWO: The trial court violated the Petitioner's rights to due process and a fair trial when, in the absence of sufficient evidence, the trial court convicted him of murder in violation of his fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution and Sections 10 and 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.
Supporting Facts: The evidence was insufficient to sustain the Petitioner's conviction for murder. Before the State may obtain a conviction for any offense, it must prove every element of that offense beyond a reasonable doubt. A conviction based upon insufficient evidence must be overturned. When a verdict regarding a charge is not supported by sufficient evidence, the reviewing court must vacate the verdict and dismiss the charge. Child endangering becomes a second-degree felony upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant recklessly abused a child under the age of thirteen and the abuse results in serious physical harm. RC 2919.22(B)(1) and (E)(2)(d). Abuse signifies an act of violence, and indeed, during its closing argument, the State told the jury that the Petitioner's actions toward N.H. on December 10, 2007 were “purposeful, ” “reckless, ” and “violent.” However, the demonstrable evidence reveals that the piece of tissue removed from N.H.'s throat during the autopsy was very small approximately 2.35 inches by .98 inches by .5 inches. The evidence further confirms that there was a significant amount of vomit and drool still in his mouth. The evidence shows that this was a tragic accident. Accordingly, the jury's verdict regarding second degree felony endangering was not supported by sufficient evidence.
GROUND THREE: The Petitioner's conviction was entered against the manifest weight of the evidence, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Section 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.
Supporting Facts: The jury's verdict finding the petitioner guilty of felony murder was against the manifest weight of the evidence. The State did not present any credible evidence that the Petitioner had any knowledge, or that he disregarded a known risk, that using a small piece of tissue to wipe out N.H.'s mouth would be abusive and result in serious physical harm to N.H. Therefore, the jury's verdict on the second-degree child endangering charge was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Further, since the jury's ...

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