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Miller v. Houston

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

May 5, 2014

ROBERT E. MILLER, Petitioner,
v.
ROBERT HOUSTON, Director, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

LAURIE SMITH CAMP, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Petitioner Robert Miller's ("Petitioner" or "Miller") Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. (Filing No. 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that a grant of a writ of habeas corpus is not warranted on any of the issues set forth in Miller's habeas corpus petition.

Liberally construed, Miller argues that he is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus based on the following claims:

Claim One: Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments because his trial counsel (1) failed to advise the court of conflicts of interest, (2) coerced and "bullied" Petitioner to plead guilty to the charges against him, and (3) refused to investigate relevant facts and evidence.

Claim Two: Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments because his appellate counsel failed to assign trial counsel's ineffectiveness as error on appeal.

( Id. )

I. BACKGROUND

A. Conviction

The State of Nebraska ("State") charged Miller by information in the District Court of Thayer County, Nebraska ("state district court"), with terroristic threats, false imprisonment, possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and unlawful discharge of a weapon. (Filing No. 4-1 at CM/ECF p. 15.) As part of a plea agreement, the State amended the original information to charge Miller only with the crimes of possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person and unlawful discharge of a weapon. ( Id. at CM/ECF pp. 19-21.) On January 6, 2011, Miller pled guilty to the amended information. ( Id. ) On April 7, 2011, the state district court sentenced Miller to a period of not less than 10 nor more than 15 years' imprisonment. ( Id. at CM/ECF p. 25.)

B. Direct Appeal

Miller filed a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence. Miller was represented by trial counsel on appeal. ( Id. at CM/ECF p. 1.) On direct appeal, Miller argued that he received an excessive sentence, and that the state failed to provide a factual basis for the crime of unlawful discharge of a firearm. ( Id. at CM/ECF pp. 32-49.)

On November 30, 2011, the Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed Miller's conviction and sentence by sustaining the State's motion for summary affirmance. (Filing No. 4-4 at CM/ECF p. 8.) Miller did not file a petition for further review in the Nebraska Supreme Court. ( See id. )

C. Post-Conviction Motion

Miller filed a motion for post-conviction relief in the state district court on January 19, 2012. (Filing No. 4-2 at CM/ECF pp. 94-101.) Miller argued that his attorney had been ineffective during the trial and appellate court proceedings. He argued that his attorney failed to interview witnesses on Miller's behalf, advise Miller of possible defenses, and advise Miller of his right to be served a copy of the amended information. Miller also argued that his attorney had acted as a prosecutor in one of Miller's prior felony convictions, which created a conflict of interest. Finally, Miller argued that his attorney had not filed a timely direct appeal. ( Id. ) On February 21, 2012, the state district court denied Miller's post-conviction motion in all respects except for his claim that counsel had failed to file Miller's direct appeal on time. (Filing No. 4-3 at CM/ECF pp. 22-27.) Miller did not appeal the state district court's February 21, 2012, order. The state district court denied Miller's post-conviction motion in its entirety on May 10, 2012. ( Id. at CM/ECF p. 37.)

D. Habeas Corpus Petition

Miller filed his habeas corpus petition in this court on June 28, 2013. (Filing No. 1.) In response to the petition, Respondent filed an answer, a brief in support of the answer, and the relevant state court records. (Filing Nos. 4, 5, 7, and 8.) Thereafter, Miller filed a brief, an affidavit, and a document entitled "Points and Authorities in Support of Petitioner's Response" in support of his petition. (Filing Nos. 11, 14, and 15.) The court deems this matter fully submitted.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Standard Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)

When a state court has adjudicated a habeas petitioner's claim on the merits, there is a very limited and extremely deferential standard of review both as to the law and the facts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Section 2254(d)(1) states that a federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus if the state court's decision "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. § 2254(d)(1). As explained by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), a state court acts contrary to clearly established federal law if it applies a legal rule that contradicts the Supreme Court's prior holdings or if it reaches a different result from one of that Court's cases despite confronting indistinguishable facts. 529 U.S. at 405-406. Further, "it is not enough for [the court] to conclude that, in [its] independent judgment, [it] would have applied federal law differently from the state court; the state court's application must have been objectively unreasonable." Rousan v. Roper, 436 F.3d 951, 956 (8th Cir. 2006).

With regard to the deference owed to factual findings of a state court's decision, Section 2254(d)(2) states that a federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus if a state court proceeding "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). Additionally, a federal court must presume that a factual determination made by the state court is correct, unless the petitioner "rebut[s] the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

As the Supreme Court noted, "[i]f this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011). The deference due state court decisions "preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with [Supreme Court] precedents." Id. In short, "[i]t bears repeating that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable." Id. However, this high degree of deference only applies where a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by the state court. See Brown v. Luebbers, 371 F.3d 458, 460 (8th Cir. 2004), ("[A]s the language of the statute makes clear, there is a condition precedent that must be satisfied before we can apply the deferential AEDPA standard to [the petitioner's] claim. The claim must have been adjudicated on the merits' in state court.").

The Eighth Circuit clarified what it means for a claim to be adjudicated on the merits, finding that:

AEDPA's requirement that a petitioner's claim be adjudicated on the merits by a state court is not an entitlement to a well-articulated or even a correct decision by a state court.... Accordingly, the postconviction trial court's discussion of counsel's performance-combined with its express determination that the ineffective-assistance claim as a whole lacked merit-plainly suffices as an adjudication on the merits under AEDPA.

Worthington v. Roper, 631 F.3d 487, 496-97 (8th Cir. 2011), (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The court also determined that a federal court reviewing a habeas claim under AEDPA must "look through" the state court opinions and "apply AEDPA review to the last reasoned decision' of the state courts." Id. at 497. A district court should do "so regardless of whether the affirmance was reasoned as to some issues or was a summary denial of all claims." Id. The Supreme Court agrees, stating:

There is no text in the statute requiring a statement of reasons. The statute refers only to a "decision, " which resulted from an "adjudication." As every Court of Appeals to consider the issue has recognized, determining whether a state court's decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court's reasoning.

Harrington, 131 S.Ct. ...


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