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Fields v. Howard

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 13, 2018

BRUCE HOWARD, Respondent.


          Ronald A. White United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner, a former state prisoner, is challenging his conviction in Carter County District Court Case No. CF-2012-514B for Second Degree Burglary, After Former Conviction of Two or More Felonies. Pursuant to the Court's previous Opinion and Order, Petitioner has advised that he is seeking relief for his exhausted habeas claims in the petition: (1) Confrontation Clause violation, (2) insufficient evidence, and (3) prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments (Dkt. 11).

         Respondent concedes that Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies for the purpose of federal habeas corpus review (Dkt. 16). The following records have been submitted to the court for consideration in this matter:

A. Petitioner's direct appeal brief.
B. The State's brief in Petitioner's direct appeal.
C. Summary Opinion affirming Petitioner's judgment and sentence. Fields v. State, No. F-2013-561 (Okla. Crim. App. June 3, 2014).
D. Transcripts
E. State court record.

         Standard of Review

         Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, federal habeas corpus relief is proper only when the state court adjudication of a 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 of the United States; 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 proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).


         Petitioner was charged, in concert with Kristin Hope Allen, with the November 13, 2012, second degree burglary of Robert Burkhart's house in Ardmore, Oklahoma (O.R. 1). A “second page” alleged the burglary was committed after Petitioner's eight prior felony convictions (O.R. 2-3). Petitioner was convicted by a jury and sentenced to imprisonment for six years (O.R. 53, 60, 74).

         Confrontation Clause

         Petitioner alleges in Ground One of the petition that his rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated when the trial court improperly allowed Ardmore Police Officer Larry Payne to testify on redirect about co-defendant Kristin Allen's comments about Petitioner. Respondent asserts any Confrontation Clause violation was harmless.

         Petitioner raised this claim on direct appeal, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (“OCCA”) found the testimony was error, but any error was harmless:

We reject Field's claim that he is entitled to relief because of the trial court's admission of his non-testifying co-defendant's statement from her police interview. See Hanson v. State, 206 P.3d 1020, 1025 (Okla. Crim. App. 2009). The statement was the kind of “testimonial hearsay” that the Crawford Court held violated the Confrontation Clause. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 68 (2004) (“testimonial” hearsay included statements made during police interrogations). Because the prosecution did not show that the witness was unavailable and that Fields had a prior opportunity to cross-examine her, the statement was inadmissible. See Id. (testimonial hearsay is inadmissible unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness).
The error, however, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. See Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967); see also Marshall v. State, 232 P.3d 467, 476 (Okla. Crim. App. 2010) (“violations of the Confrontation Clause are subject to harmless error analysis”). There was substantial evidence of Fields' guilt without the statement, and the prejudicial effect of the hearsay statement was minimal. See Harmon v. State, 248 P.3d 918, 933 (Okla. Crim. App. 2011) (“[w]here the weight of the properly admitted evidence is overwhelming and the prejudicial effect of the inadmissible evidence is insignificant in comparison, the error may be viewed as harmless.”). Because we are convinced the error did not contribute to the verdict, error in the admission of the hearsay statement of the co-defendant was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. This claim is denied.

Fields v. State, No. F-2013-561, slip op. at 2-3 (Okla. Crim. App. June 3, 2014) (Dkt. 16-3).

         The Supreme Court has held that “in § 2254 proceedings a court must assess the prejudicial impact of constitutional error in a state-court criminal trial under the ‘substantial and injurious effect' standard” from Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637-38 (1993). Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 121 (2007). Confrontation Clause errors are subject to harmless error analysis, Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 684 (1986), and habeas relief is warranted only if the error was not harmless, Moore v. Marr, 254 F.3d 1235, 1246 (10th Cir. 2001).

When a federal court considers a Confrontation Clause violation in a habeas proceeding, the relevant harmless error analysis is whether, assuming that the damaging potential of cross-examination were fully realized, a reviewing court might nonetheless say that the error had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.

Littlejohn v. Trammell, 704 F.3d 817, 844-45 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Jones v. Gibson, 206 F.3d 946, 957 (10th Cir. 2000)). Habeas courts conduct harmless error review de novo, and must consider factors such as the “importance of the witness' testimony to the prosecution's case, whether the testimony was cumulative, the presence or absence of evidence corroborating or contradicting the testimony of the witness on material points, the extent of cross-examination otherwise permitted, and . . . the overall strength of the prosecution's case.” Id. (quoting Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. at 684).

         Petitioner complains of the following trial testimony by Officer Payne, the State's rebuttal witness:

Q. [Defense Counsel] You haven't uncovered anything in your investigation to reveal that [Petitioner] was intending to go ...

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