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Miller v. Knowles

September 26, 2008

DONALD ROY MILLER, PETITIONER,
v.
MIKE KNOWLES,*FN1 WARDEN (A), RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner Donald Roy Miller, a state prisoner appearing pro se, has filed this application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Miller is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation incarcerated at the California Medical Facility, Vacaville, California.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On November 6, 2001, a jury in the Placer County Superior Court convicted Miller of maintaining a place for the sale or use of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, failure to register as a drug offender, two counts of possession of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana, three counts of furnishing methamphetamine to a minor, four counts of furnishing marijuana to a minor over the age of 14, four counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor, and soliciting a minor to use or sell methamphetamine. Miller was sentenced to a determinate state prison term of seventeen years, eight months.

Miller, represented by counsel, timely appealed his conviction and sentence to the California Court of Appeal, which affirmed his conviction in an unpublished written decision on October 31, 2003,*fn2 denied rehearing November 26, 2003. The California Supreme Court summarily denied Miller's petition for review without opinion on January 28, 2004. Miller timely filed his petition for habeas relief in this Court on November 2, 2004.

II. GROUNDS PRESENTED/DEFENSES

In his second amended petition Miller raises two grounds: (1) the trial court improperly defined the word "furnishing" in response to a question from the jury and (2) insufficiency of the evidence to support specific counts. Respondent concedes that Miller has exhausted his state court remedies as to these grounds.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because Miller filed his petition after April 24, 1996, it is governed by the standard of review set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA").

Consequently, this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the California Court of Appeal was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" at the time the state court renders its decision or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn3 The Supreme Court has explained that "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.*fn4 Thus, where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, "it cannot be said that the state court 'unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.'"*fn5 When a claim falls under the "unreasonable application" prong, a state court's application of the Supreme Court precedent must be "objectively unreasonable, "not just incorrect."*fn6 The Supreme Court has made clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is a substantially higher threshold than simply believing the state court determination was incorrect.*fn7 Finally, in a federal habeas proceeding, the standard under which this Court must assess the prejudicial impact of constitutional error in a state-court criminal trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.*fn8

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court,*fn9 which in this case was that of the California Court of Appeal. In addition, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn10

To the extent that Miller raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding. It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the States possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law.*fn11 A federal court must accept that state courts correctly applied state laws.*fn12 A petitioner may not transform a state-law issue into a federal one by simply asserting a violation of due process.*fn13 A federal court may not issue a habeas writ based upon a perceived error of state law unless the error is sufficiently egregious to amount to a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn14

IV. DISCUSSION

Ground 1: Improper Instruction

In rejecting his challenge on direct appeal, the California Court of Appeal extensively discussed the propriety of the supplemental instruction defining "furnishing" and "furnish" given by the trial court.*fn15

The decision of the Supreme Court in In re Winship,*fn16 clearly established that "the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged." As a consequence, a jury instruction is constitutionally defective if it "ha[s] the effect of relieving the State of the burden of proof enunciated in Winship."*fn17 It is also clearly established that due process and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution require that a jury be correctly instructed as to every element of the crime with which a defendant is charged and convicted.*fn18 Although the sufficiency of the review by this Court is grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, it must undertake its inquiry by reference to the elements of the crime as set forth in state law,*fn19 and the Court accepts, as it must, the California court's identification of the elements of the offense.*fn20

In this case, the precise issue presented to the California Court of Appeal was whether an essential element of the crimes, "furnishing," was properly defined. The California Court of Appeal found that "furnishing" and "furnish" were properly defined by the trial court under California law. This Court is bound by that determination. Nor does the definition approved by the Court of Appeal effectively relieve the State of the burden of proof on the element as required by Winship. Consequently, this Court cannot say that the decision of the California Court of Appeal was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn21 Nor can this Court find that the Court of Appeal unreasonably applied the correct legal principle to the facts of the Miller's case, i.e., the state court decision was more than incorrect or erroneous, its application of clearly established law was objectively unreasonable.*fn22 Miller is not entitled to relief under his first ground.

Ground 2: Insufficiency of the Evidence

In rejecting his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence on direct appeal, the California Court of Appeal extensively discussed the sufficiency of the evidence in its written opinion.*fn23 As stated by the Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia,*fn24 the constitutional standard for sufficiency of the evidence is 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." This court must, therefore, determine whether the decision of the California Court of Appeals on the merits unreasonably applied Jackson.

Miller misperceives the role of a federal court in a habeas proceeding challenging a state- court conviction. This Court is precluded from either re-weighing the evidence or assessing the credibility of witnesses. Under Jackson, the role of this Court is to simply determine whether there is any evidence, if accepted as credible by the jury, sufficient to sustain conviction. That such evidence exists is clearly established by the record in this case. Miller bears the burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that the factual findings of the jury were erroneous; a burden Miller has failed to carry.

As noted above, it is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the States possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law.*fn25 Consequently, as with the propriety of an instruction, although the sufficiency of the evidence review by this Court is grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, it must undertake its inquiry by reference to the elements of the crime as set forth in state law.*fn26 This Court must also be ever mindful of the deference owed to the trier of fact and the sharply limited nature of constitutional sufficiency review.*fn27

In this case, the California Court of Appeal found that there was sufficient evidence under California law as interpreted and applied by the Court of Appeal. This Court cannot say that the decision of the California Court of Appeal was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn28 Nor can this Court find that the Court of Appeal unreasonably applied the correct legal principle to the facts of the Miller's case, i.e., the state court decision was more than incorrect or erroneous, its application of clearly established law was objectively unreasonable.*fn29 Miller is not entitled to relief under his second ground.

V. CONCLUSION AND ORDER

Accordingly, because Miller is not entitled to relief under ...


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