Harris v. Warden, Louisiana State Penitentiary, 96-31220

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation152 F.3d 430
Docket NumberNo. 96-31220,96-31220
PartiesArchie HARRIS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. WARDEN, LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date24 August 1998

Archie Harris, Angola, LA, pro se.

Charles Blaylock Adams, Jones & Adams, Coushatta, LA, Don M. Burkett, Burkett & Chevallier, Many, LA, for Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before GARWOOD, DUHE and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.

GARWOOD, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Archie Harris (Harris) appeals the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief as to his Louisiana attempted second degree murder conviction. Harris raises two issues: (1) an erroneous jury instruction deprived him of due process and (2) trial counsel's failure to object to the erroneous instruction and failure to correctly present the issue to the jury constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the district court's denial of relief.

Facts and Proceedings Below

Harris is currently serving a 45-year sentence at hard labor in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for the attempted second degree murder of Jackie Jackson (Jackson).

On October 3, 1984, Jackson accepted a ride from Harris, with whom she was acquainted. Together with Joseph Hunter, Jr. (Hunter), who was also a passenger in Harris's car, they went to a baseball park in Logansport, Louisiana, where they drank alcohol and smoked marihuana. Later, Jackson and Harris drove away alone, leaving Hunter at the ball park.

Jackson testified at trial that after they left the ball park, Harris demanded that she give him a ring that she was wearing. Upon her refusal, he hit her several times and demanded that she have sex with him, which she also refused. He then hit her some more, but eventually agreed to take her to her home in Longstreet, Louisiana. When they arrived at her home, Jackson attempted to leave the car, but Harris grabbed her and began stabbing her with a knife in the chest, face, neck, and abdomen. Jackson broke free and ran, but Harris grabbed her and placed her in the back seat of his car.

Harris drove off, but eventually ran out of gas. At that point, he ordered Jackson into the trunk of the car. Jackson initially refused, to which Harris responded, "well, I am going to have to finish you off right here." Fearing for her life, she got into the trunk and Harris walked off in search of gas.

Harris went to the home of David Mason (Mason) asking for gas. Mason agreed to help and returned to Harris's car with him. While attempting to start the car, Mason leaned into the car and heard a woman asking for help. He asked whether there was anyone in the car, and heard a woman's voice respond "Yes," and "He is trying to kill me." Mason posed the same question to Harris; Harris responded that he had a calf that he was planning on butchering in the car. Mason was unconvinced and called the police when he returned home.

Deputy Arbuckle (Arbuckle) of the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office recognized Harris from Mason's description of the car. Arbuckle stopped Harris and explained that there was a report that Harris might have someone in the trunk. Harris denied there was anyone in his trunk and added that he did not have a key to the trunk, but he offered to drive with Deputy Arbuckle to his sister's house, where he could secure a key. Deputy Arbuckle agreed. Not far down the road, Arbuckle observed Harris throw an object from his car; it was later discovered that that object was a knife. At this point, Arbuckle placed Harris in custody.

At around this time, Mason and his brother arrived at the scene and assisted with the arrest of Harris and rescue of Jackson. After Jackson was rescued she was transported to the hospital with several life-threatening wounds. The emergency room physician testified that her blood pressure was 40/0; she had no breathing sounds; she had sucking chest wounds; she had several life threatening stab wounds to her neck, chest, and abdomen. After Jackson's condition was stabilized, three physicians operated on her neck, heart, and abdomen. Jackson survived the stabs and the surgery, and she testified against Harris at trial. Harris did not testify.

Harris was tried for the attempted first degree murder of Jackie Jackson on the theory that he had the "specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm and [was] engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated kidnaping...." La.Rev.Stat. § 14:30A(1)(defining first degree murder). 1 In addition to attempted first degree murder, the jury was also instructed on attempted second degree murder, attempted manslaughter, and aggravated battery.

The jury found Harris guilty of attempted first degree murder, and the trial court imposed a sentence of 45 years at hard labor. On direct appeal, however, the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, reversed that conviction on the grounds that Harris was not engaged in an aggravated kidnaping since he never made a ransom demand, which is an essential element of aggravated kidnaping in Louisiana. See State v. Harris, 480 So.2d 943 (La.App. 2d Cir.1985). The Louisiana Court of Appeals found that attempted second degree murder was a lesser included offense of attempted first degree murder. The court also found that the jury's verdict of guilty of attempted first degree murder carried with it an implicit finding that the defendant acted with the specific intent to kill. Id. at 944. Because Harris possessed the requisite intent and engaged in an act in furtherance of that intent, the court adjudged Harris guilty of second degree murder and remanded the case for resentencing.

On remand, the district court resentenced Harris to 45 years at hard labor. Later, Harris filed an application for post-conviction relief (PCR) in the state district court. The district court denied the application, and the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, affirmed this denial. See State v. Harris, 643 So.2d 779 (La.App. 2d Cir.1994). The Louisiana Supreme Court denied review of Harris's case. See State v. Harris, 650 So.2d 251 (La.1995).

After exhausting his state remedies, Harris turned to the federal courts for relief. On August 29, 1995, Harris filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. On June 21, 1996, the magistrate judge filed a Report and Recommendation suggesting that the writ be denied. Despite, Harris's objections to the Report and Recommendation, the district court adopted the magistrate's report and dismissed the petition with prejudice.

On appeal, Harris has raised two issues: (1) the erroneous jury instruction deprived him of due process and (2) trial counsel's failure to object to the erroneous instruction and failure to correctly present the issue to the jury constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.


The basis of this appeal is an erroneous jury instruction 2 that purportedly allowed the jury to convict Harris on a lesser state of mind than is required under Louisiana law. In order to be guilty of attempted murder, a defendant must have the specific intent to kill; the mere intent to inflict great bodily harm, while sufficient to support either a first or second degree murder conviction, 3 is insufficient to convict a defendant of attempted murder (first or second degree). Both Harris and the State agree that the instruction was erroneous; they disagree, however, as to the effect of this error. Assuming, arguendo, that the given instruction is constitutionally deficient for failing to specifically instruct that Harris needed to have the "specific intent to kill," we must determine whether this error, either of itself or in connection with Harris' claim counsel was ineffective in regard thereto, was such as to require setting aside Harris's conviction on federal habeas.

I. Standard of Review
A. Structural Error

At one time lower courts generally held that federal constitutional errors could never be harmless, and required reversal no matter how trivial the defect. See 5 Am.Jur.2d. Appellate Review § 723. Then, in 1967, the Supreme Court held that some constitutional errors could be so insignificant that they could be deemed harmless. See id. (citing Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967)). Today, most constitutional errors are susceptible to harmless error analysis, and harmless error is the norm rather than the exception. See id. In fact, there is a strong presumption that constitutional errors are subject to harmless error analysis. See Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 106 S.Ct. 3101, 3106, 92 L.Ed.2d 460 (1986).

Despite this widespread application of harmless error analysis, there are still some constitutional violations that require reversal regardless of their harm. These errors have been labeled "structural" because they involve structural defects in the criminal trial mechanism that infect the entire trial process. 4

Structural errors stand in contrast to "trial errors"--errors that occur during the presentation of the case to the jury that are susceptible to harmless error analysis because the error may be quantitatively assessed in the context of the other evidence presented at trial. 5

Although courts have attempted to define "structural error," the exact meaning is vague. Courts have stated that structural errors affect the framework of the trial, rather than just the trial process. As such, the error renders the trial an unreliable mechanism for the determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the consequences of the error are necessarily unquantifiable and indeterminable. See United States v. Wiles, 102 F.3d 1043, 1056 (10th Cir.1996).

For instance, a court cannot determine whether Gideon's lack of counsel actually harmed him--he may have put on a better defense and brought forth more...

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