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Daniel v. Dowling

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

November 27, 2017

MANUEL DANIEL, JR., Petitioner,
JANET DOWLING, Respondent.



         Manuel Daniel, Jr., a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus challenging his state court conviction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (ECF No. 1) and United States District Judge Stephen P. Friot referred the matter to the undersigned magistrate judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Respondent filed a Response (ECF No. 9) and the state court records, (ECF No. 11), and Petitioner thereafter replied, (ECF No. 12). For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Court DENY the Petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In Jackson County District Court, Case No. CF-2012-94, the State charged Petitioner with the first degree murder of Melissa Debra Bost. (Original Record, Case No. CF-2012-94 (file-stamped May 24, 2012) at 1 (OR)).[1] The jury convicted Petitioner, and in accordance with its recommendation, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment. (OR 209, 294-96).

         Petitioner appealed to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), and that court affirmed the conviction. (ECF No. 9:Exs. 1, 3). Petitioner timely proceeded to this Court.[2]


         In his one habeas claim, Petitioner alleges he is actually innocent of first degree murder because the State presented insufficient evidence to support his conviction. (ECF No. 1:4-7). For two reasons, the Court should liberally construe Petitioner's argument as claiming insufficiency of the evidence, rather than asserting a free-standing actual innocence claim.

         First, the Supreme Court has not resolved “whether a prisoner may be entitled to habeas relief based on a freestanding claim of actual innocence.” McQuiggin v. Perkins, 569 U.S. 838, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 1931 (2013). So, interpreting Petitioner's allegation in this manner would likely result in dismissal. See, e.g., LaFevers v. Gibson, 238 F.3d 1263, 1265 n.4 (10th Cir. 2001) (“[A]n assertion of actual innocence, although operating as a potential pathway for reaching otherwise defaulted constitutional claims, does not, standing alone, support the granting of the writ of habeas corpus.”). Second, Petitioner does not allege there is any newly discovered evidence - a longstanding requirement to prove actual innocence. See, e.g., Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 324 (1995). Instead, he alleges that the State's evidence was insufficient because there was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime. (ECF No. 1:4-6). With this description, the undersigned interprets Petitioner's argument as seeking habeas relief based on insufficiency of the evidence and not as asserting a free-standing actual innocence claim.


         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) governs this Court's power to grant habeas corpus relief. “When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011). Where, as here, the state court has considered the claim on its merits, “this [C]ourt may grant a habeas petition only if the decision ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States' or ‘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.'” Hanson v. Sherrod, 797 F.3d 810, 824 (10th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted)). “It is the petitioner's burden to make this showing and it is a burden intentionally designed to be ‘difficult to meet.'” Owens v. Trammell, 792 F.3d 1234, 1242 (10th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Indeed, this standard “reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice system, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102-03.

         This Court first determines “whether the petitioner's claim is based on clearly established federal law, focusing exclusively on Supreme Court decisions.” Hanson, 797 F.3d at 824. Clearly established federal law consists of Supreme Court holdings in cases where the facts are similar to the facts in the petitioner's case. See House v. Hatch, 527 F.3d 1010, 1016 (10th Cir. 2008). If clearly established federal law exists, this Court then considers whether the state court decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of that clearly established federal law. See Owens, 792 F.3d at 1242.

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' clearly established federal law ‘if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than the Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.'” Id. (citations omitted). Notably, “‘[i]t is not enough that the state court decided an issue contrary to a lower federal court's conception of how the rule should be applied; the state court decision must be ‘diametrically different' and ‘mutually opposed' to the Supreme Court decision itself.'” Id. (citation omitted).

         The “‘unreasonable application' prong requires [the petitioner to prove] that the state court ‘identified the correct governing legal principle from Supreme Court decisions but unreasonably applied that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.'” Id. (citations and internal brackets omitted). On this point, “the relevant inquiry is not whether the state court's application of federal law was incorrect, but whether it was ‘objectively unreasonable.'” Id. (citations omitted). So, to qualify for habeas relief on this prong, the petitioner must show “‘there was no reasonable basis' for the state court's determination.” Id. at 1242-43 (citation omitted). “In other words, ‘so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision, ' habeas relief is unavailable.” Id. at 1243 (citation omitted); see also Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103 (“As a condition for obtaining federal habeas relief, . . . a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.”).

         IV. ...

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