694 F.3d 691 (6th Cir. 2012), 09-6171, Miller v. Colson

Docket Nº:09-6171.
Citation:694 F.3d 691
Opinion Judge:JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:David E. MILLER, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Roland COLSON, Respondent-Appellee.
Attorney:Stephen M. Kissinger, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant. Jennifer L. Smith, Office of the Tennessee Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee. Stephen M. Kissinger, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant. Jenn...
Judge Panel:Before: SILER, GIBBONS, and WHITE, Circuit Judges. GIBBONS, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which SILER, J., joined, and WHITE, J., joined in part. WHITE, J. (pp. 701-05), delivered a separate opinion dissenting from sections IV and V of the majority opinion. HELENE N. WHITE, Circuit J...
Case Date:September 13, 2012
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 691

694 F.3d 691 (6th Cir. 2012)

David E. MILLER, Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

Roland COLSON, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 09-6171.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

September 13, 2012

         Argued: April 27, 2011.

Page 692

         ARGUED:

         Stephen M. Kissinger, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

         Jennifer L. Smith, Office of the Tennessee Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

         Stephen M. Kissinger, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

         Jennifer L. Smith, Office of the Tennessee Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: SILER, GIBBONS, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.

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         GIBBONS, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which SILER, J., joined, and WHITE, J., joined in part. WHITE, J. (pp. 701-05), delivered a separate opinion dissenting from sections IV and V of the majority opinion.

         OPINION

          JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.

         David Miller appeals the district court's dismissal of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Miller was convicted of first-degree murder in 1982 and sentenced to death, a sentence that was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court. He now claims that the state improperly denied him assistance from an independent medical expert, in violation of his clearly established constitutional right under Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985). Miller also claims that the district court erred in finding that improper jury instructions given by the state court amounted to harmless error. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the decision of the district court.

         I.

         On May 20, 1981, Lee Standifer, a twenty-three-year-old woman diagnosed with diffused brain damage and mild retardation, was murdered in Knoxville, Tennessee. State v. Miller (Miller I), 674 S.W.2d 279, 280 (Tenn.1984). A medical examiner testified that Standifer had been stabbed repeatedly all over her body with both a large knife and a fireplace poker; some stab wounds were so deep (including two that pierced the ribcage) that the examiner speculated a hammer-like object had been used to drive in the knife. Id. at 281. The evidence suggested that a large rope was used to bind the victim's body after the murder and drag it into a wooded area. An examination also showed that Standifer had engaged in sexual intercourse shortly before her death.

         The evidence at trial established the following course of events. Miller and Standifer had arranged to go on a date the night of May 20, and the two of them eventually took a cab to the house of Benjamin Thomas, where Miller was staying. Id. at 280. Later that evening, Thomas returned to his home and found Miller hosing the basement floor; he also found streaks of blood inside the house. Id. The next day, Thomas discovered Standifer's body in his backyard, as well as a blue t-shirt belonging to Miller stained with blood of the same type as Standifer's. Miller, who had left Knoxville, was apprehended in Columbus, Ohio, and transported back to Knoxville. Id. After waiving his Miranda rights, he admitted to hitting Standifer with his fist and then dragging her outside Thomas's house after she was non-responsive and not breathing. Id. at 281-82.

         Miller was indicted for Standifer's murder on August 3, 1981. On October 19, 1981, Miller's counsel requested a psychiatric examination in order to investigate Miller's competency to stand trial. The trial court granted the motion and ordered that Miller be examined by qualified staff members at the Helen Ross McNabb Mental Health Center. The order explicitly provided the staff with two inquiries:

The medical authorities ... shall furnish the Court with a report of their findings and will advise the Court of their opinion as to whether the defendant is mentally ill to the extent that he cannot sufficiently understand the nature and object of the proceedings going on against him, and cannot advise with counsel in a rational manner.... Additionally, the medical authorities will make a determination as to whether the defendant was

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mentally competent and understood the nature and consequences of his act on or about May 21, 1981, and will report said findings to the Court.

         Dr. George Gee, a psychiatrist at Helen Ross McNabb, prepared a letter in November 1981, which was presented to the court and shared with the government and defense counsel. The letter stated that Miller's affect and thought processes were normal, and Gee concluded that he did not believe Miller was insane at the time of the offense. Miller v. Bell, 655 F.Supp.2d 838, 847 (E.D.Tenn.2009).1

         On December 11, 1981, Miller filed a " motion for appointment of psychiatric expert," requesting that the trial court appoint a psychiatrist at the State's expense to assist in the preparation of Miller's defense. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Miller was not entitled to a second medical expert in addition to the assistance that Dr. Gee could offer him. Miller's trial was subsequently scheduled for March 1982.

         At trial, Miller's counsel argued that the circumstances of the crime were so irrational that one could infer that Miller was insane; counsel, however, introduced no expert to support the defense and instead tried to demonstrate insanity through lay testimony. The prosecution, aiming to prove Miller's sanity, called Gee to the stand and questioned him about the conclusions he drew based on his examinations. On direct examination, Gee testified that he believed Miller was sane at the time of the offense and did not suffer from a mental disease or defect. During the defense's cross-examination, Gee acknowledged that Miller disclosed during the June interview that he had previously " heard some voices, someone call[ing] his name." Gee, however, testified that Miller told him in June that these voices had stopped three months before (and therefore prior to the murder); Gee also explained that he did not consider these voices evidence of a " psychotic hallucination." 2

         The jury convicted Miller of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. Miller appealed his conviction on multiple grounds, including the district court's refusal to provide him with an independent psychiatrist for trial. In May 1984, the Tennessee Supreme Court remanded Miller's case for resentencing on the grounds that the State had impermissibly introduced evidence of two prior arrests for rape during the sentencing phase, since Miller had never been convicted of either allegation. Miller I, 674 S.W.2d at 284. The court, however, affirmed Miller's conviction. Id.

          Upon remand, Miller renewed his motion for a new trial, claiming that he was entitled to the psychiatric assistance previously requested under the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in

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Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985). Ake, according to Miller, " addressed the exact issue on psychiatric assistance which Mr. Miller had presented" to the trial court and on his first direct appeal. As a result, Miller claimed his conviction was predicated on a denial of his due process rights. Miller also filed a state habeas corpus petition making the same argument about Ake. The trial court denied both motions without explanation. A second jury sentenced Miller to death.

         On a second direct appeal, Miller asked the courts " to reconsider two issues involved in the guilt-innocent phase of the first trial, to wit, the trial judge's instruction allegedly shifting the burden of proof in violation of Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 [99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39] (1979) [,] and denial of appointment of a psychiatrist to aid defendant, allegedly in violation of Ake [.] " State v. Miller (Miller II), 771 S.W.2d 401, 402-03 (Tenn.1989) (internal citations omitted). The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected Miller's appeals, concluding that " [a]ll of the issues relevant to the guilt or innocence of defendant ... were dealt with in this Court's opinion released in 1984." Id. at 403. The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that " the guilt-innocent issues were foreclosed when the 1984 opinion sustaining defendant's conviction of first degree murder became final, except such issues as are permissible in a post-conviction proceeding." Id. The court then affirmed the second death sentence. Id. at 405.

         In May 2002, Miller filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court rejected all of Miller's claims and denied the petition. Miller now appeals that denial.

         II.

          We review de novo a district court's denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Tolliver v. Sheets, 594 F.3d 900, 915 (6th Cir.2010). Because Miller filed his petition after April 24, 1996, it is subject to the requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (" AEDPA" ). Carter v. Mitchell, 443 F.3d 517, 524 (6th Cir.2006). Under AEDPA, a writ may not be granted unless the state court's adjudication of the claim: (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). " A state court renders an adjudication ‘ contrary to’ federal law when it ‘ arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court...

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