Harris v. Stovall

Citation212 F.3d 940
Decision Date03 May 2000
Parties(6th Cir. 2000) DONALD HARRIS,CLARICE STOVALL, Argued:
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)

Page 940

212 F.3d 940 (6th Cir. 2000)
No. 98-2308
Argued: May 3, 2000
Decided and Filed: May 18, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 97-76301--Arthur J. Tarnow, District Judge.

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James Sterling Lawrence, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

Vincent J. Leone, Office OF The Attorney General, Habeas Corpus Division, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: Suhrheinrich and Cole, Circuit Judges; Quist, District Judge.*


Gordon J. Quist, District Judge.

This appeal of the denial of a habeas corpus application requires us to apply the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996) ("AEDPA"). Donald Harris, a Michigan state prisoner serving a mandatory life term for first-degree felony-murder, appeals from an order of the district court denying his application for habeas relief filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The victim was John Anthony, who was killed at gunpoint while working in his store in Detroit. Harris did not commit the crime alone. Two others, Stanley West and Frederick Wilkes, were tried together and convicted of the murder. Harris was tried later. In this appeal, Harris contends that he was denied due process of law when, as an indigent defendant, he was denied free transcripts

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of the earlier trial of West and Wilkes. Harris claims that the transcripts were necessary for effective impeachment of the state's witnesses, which would support his theory of innocence. The district court held that petitioner had adequate alternatives to the transcripts because copies of the preliminary examination transcripts from the prior trial had been filed. The district court also found that any error was harmless. The underlying habeas action was filed in early 1997, and the standards under the AEDPA apply. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336, 117 S. Ct. 2059, 2067 (1997); Harpster v. Ohio, 128 F.3d 322, 326 (6th Cir. 1997). Although the district court incorrectly applied the standards under the AEDPA, we affirm the result it reached.


This court applies de novo review to the decision of the district court in a habeas corpus proceeding. See, e.g., Harpster, 128 F.3d at 326; West v. Seabold, 73 F.3d 81, 84 (6th Cir. 1996). Federal habeas review of the state court's decision is governed by the standards established by the AEDPA. See Harpster, 128 F.3d at 326. Under the AEDPA, an application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication: "(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 of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

On April 18, 2000, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Williams v. Taylor, 120 S. Ct. 1495 (2000), setting forth the standard of review that a federal habeas court must apply under § 2254(d). The Court held that a decision of the state court is "contrary to" clearly established federal law "if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a questio n of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Id. at 1523. The Court further held that an "unreasonable application" occurs when "the state court identifies the correct legal principle from this Court's decision but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. A federal habeas court may not find a state adjudication to be "unreasonable" "simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Id. at 1522.

In this case, the district court referred to our holding in Harpster, which simply noted the differing interpretations of § 2254(d) developing in our sister circuits, but found that the standard under § 2254(d) had not been met. See Harpster, 128 F.3d at 326-27. Subsequently, in Nevers v. Killinger, 169 F.3d 352 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 2340 (1999), we found it appropriate to rely on the Fifth Circuit's "debatable among reasonable jurists" standard in Drinkard v. Johnson, 97 F.3d 751 (5th Cir. 1996), combined with the First Circuit's standard of "so offensive to existing precedent, so devoid of record support, or so arbitrary, as to indicate that it is outside the universe of plausible, credible outcomes," set forth in O'Brien v. Dubois, 145 F.3d 16 (1st Cir. 1998). See Nevers, 169 F.3d at 361-62. Later, we reaffirmed this approach in Maurino v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 638, 643-44 (6th Cir. Apr. 24, 2000). However, the Supreme Court in Williams found that the Fourth Circuit's test--that a state court's application of federal law was "unreasonable" only if the court had applied federal law in a manner that reasonable jurists would all agree was unreasonable--was erroneously subjective, as the inquiry

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should be objective. The Court expressly disavowed the Fifth Circuit's "reasonable jurist" standard set forth in Drinkard. In light of the Supreme Court's decision in Williams, we find that Nevers and Maurino no longer correctly state the law on the issue of the appropriate standard under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). We must therefore rely solely on the Supreme Court's decision in Williams for the appropriate standard under § 2254(d).


A. Lack of a state court decision articulating its reasoning

In this case, there appears to be no state court decision to evaluate under § 2254(d). The issue concerning provision of a free transcript was raised on appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which summarily issued an Order Granting [the Prosecutor's] Motion to Affirm on February 2, 1978. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on February 7, 1979. Thus, the issue is how to apply §...

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