283 F.3d 190 (4th Cir. 2002), 01-16, Hartman v. Lee

Docket Nº:01-16
Citation:283 F.3d 190
Party Name:EDWARD ERNEST HARTMAN, Petitioner-Appellant, v. R. C. LEE, Warden, Central Prison, Raleigh, North Carolina, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:March 05, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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283 F.3d 190 (4th Cir. 2002)

EDWARD ERNEST HARTMAN, Petitioner-Appellant,


R. C. LEE, Warden, Central Prison, Raleigh, North Carolina, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 01-16

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 5, 2002

Argued: January 25, 2002

Corrected March 27, 2002

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. Malcolm J. Howard, District Judge. (CA-99-701-5-H-HC)

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, and WILKINS and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Wilkins wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge Wilkinson and Judge Michael joined.

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COUNSEL ARGUED: Benjamin Dowling-Sendor, OFFICE OF THE APPELLATE DEFENDER, Durham, North Carolina, for Appellant. Gerald Patrick Murphy, Special Deputy Attorney General, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Heather Wells, EDWIN L. WEST, III, P.L.L.C., Wilmington, North Carolina, for Appellant. Roy Cooper, Attorney General of North Carolina, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.


WILKINS, Circuit Judge:

Edward Ernest Hartman appeals an order of the district court denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.1 See 28 U.S.C.A. S 2254 (West 1994 & Supp. 2001). Hartman primarily contends that his constitutional right to adequate notice of the Page 192

charges against him was violated by the use of a short-form indictment.2 Because at least one judge of the panel has concluded that Hartman "has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right," 28 U.S.C.A. S 2253(c)(2) (West Supp. 2001), we grant Hartman's application for a certificate of appealability, see 4th Cir. R. 22(a). We conclude, however, that the rejection of this claim by the North Carolina Supreme Court was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as decided by the Supreme Court. Accordingly, we affirm.



Until 1893, murder was an uncodified, common law crime in North Carolina. Beginning in 1887, North Carolina employed a "short-form" indictment for charges of murder. Currently codified at N.C. Gen. Stat. 15-144 (1999), the indictment statute provides that an indictment for murder is sufficient if, as is relevant here, it states "that the accused person feloniously, willfully, and of his malice aforethought, did kill and murder" the victim.

In 1893, North Carolina followed the lead of other states and codified its murder statute; in so doing, it separated the offense of murder into two degrees. As presently codified, the murder statute provides:

A murder which shall be perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of [enumerated felonies] shall be deemed to be murder in the first degree . . . . All other kinds of murder . . . shall be deemed murder in the second degree . . . .

N.C. Gen. Stat. S 14-17 (1999). When it thus codified the murder statute, the North Carolina legislature explicitly preserved the short-form indictment dictated by S 15-144:

"[N]othing herein contained shall be construed to require any alteration or modification of the existing form of indictment for murder, but the jury before whom the offender is tried shall determine in their verdict whether the crime is murder in the first or second degree."

State v. Kirksey, 42 S.E.2d 613, 615 (N.C. 1947) (quoting Act of 1893, ch. 85, S 3).

Thus, under North Carolina law, all murders are alleged in shortform indictments pursuant to S 15-144; the jury is required to determine the degree of murder (first or second) when it deliberates regarding the defendant's guilt. See State v. Watkins, 194 S.E.2d 800, 808 (N.C. 1973).


On June 3, 1993, Hartman shot Herman Smith, Sr. at close range in the back of the Page 193

head. Hartman had been living with Smith and believed him to be wealthy; robbery was the apparent motive for the murder. Hartman was subsequently arrested and confessed to the crime.

Consistent with N.C. Gen. Stat. S 15-144, Hartman was charged in a short-form indictment. The heading of the indictment identified the charged crime as "murder," listed Hartman as the defendant, and set forth the date of the crime. J.A. 158. The body of the indictment provided:

The jurors for the State upon their oath present that on or about the date of ofense [sic] shown and in the county named above the defendant named above unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did of malice aforethought kill and murder Herman Larry Smith, Sr. This being in violation of G.S. 14-17.

Id. At a motions hearing on May 4, 1994, the State made clear to Hartman that it sought to convict him of first degree murder on a theory of premeditation and that, in the event of such a conviction, it intended to seek the death penalty based on at least one aggravating factor, namely that the murder was committed during the course of a robbery.

Prior to trial, Hartman moved to dismiss the indictment on the basis that it failed to allege all of the necessary elements of first degree murder. The trial court denied the motion on the basis of previous decisions regarding the issue. Following a jury trial, Hartman was convicted of first degree murder; after the penalty phase, the jury sentenced him to death.

On direct appeal, Hartman again challenged the constitutionality of North Carolina's short-form indictment. The North Carolina Supreme Court summarily rejected this argument. See State v. Hartman, 476 S.E.2d 328, 347 (N.C. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1201 (1997).

After pursuing state post-conviction review, Hartman filed this federal habeas action on October 14, 1999. As is relevant here, Hartman contended that "[t]he indictment . . . was insufficient to charge the offense of first-degree murder by the two theories of premeditation and deliberation and by felony murder because the indictment failed to allege all the essential elements of first-degree murder by these theories." J.A. 8. The district court rejected this argument, and Hartman now appeals.



Because the North Carolina Supreme Court adjudicated Hartman's challenge to the short-form indictment on the merits, we must determine whether "the adjudication of the claim . . . resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C.A. S 2254(d)(1). The Supreme Court has concluded that a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established Supreme Court precedent when "the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or . . . the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). A state court decision rests on an "unreasonable application" of clearly established Supreme Court precedent when "the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id.

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When, as here, the state court does not articulate the rationale for its decision, our review is no less deferential than it is when we review a detailed state court analysis of a petitioner's claim. See Bell v. Jarvis, 236 F.3d 149, 158, 163 (4th Cir. 2000) (en banc), cert. denied, 122 S.Ct. 74 (2001). However, the procedure differs slightly:

We must conduct an independent review of the record and the applicable law to determine whether the result reached by the state court "contravenes or unreasonably applies clearly established federal law." Id. at 163 (internal quotation marks omitted).


With these principles in mind, we turn to an analysis of Hartman's claim. Hartman's assertion that the North Carolina short-form indictment for murder violates the Constitution rests upon two premises: First, that the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require that a state charging document include all elements of the charged offense; and second, that as a matter of state law, first degree and second degree murder are separate offenses comprising different essential elements. Hartman maintains that the decision of the state court was contrary to the first premise because, in light of the second premise, the state court could uphold the constitutionality of the short-form indictment only by concluding that due process does not, in fact, require that all elements of an offense be alleged in the charging document. As explained below, we conclude that even if Hartman is correct with respect to his first premise, his argument founders on the second premise, because under North Carolina law, first and second degree murder are not distinct crimes, but rather are simply variations of the common law crime of murder.

Elementary principles of due process require that an accused be informed of the specific charge against him. See Cole v. Arkansas, 333 U.S. 196, 201 (1948); see also In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 273 (1948) ("A person's right to reasonable notice of a charge against him, and an opportunity to be heard in his defense . . . are basic in our system of jurisprudence . . . ."). This requirement is also imposed by the Sixth Amendment, which provides, in relevant part, that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation." U.S. Const. amend VI. In this regard, the Due Process Clause and the Sixth Amendment provide essentially the same protection to defendants. See Fawcett v. Bablitch, 962 F.2d 617, 618 (7th Cir. 1992).

Hartman maintains that the...

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