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King v. Green

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

February 6, 2018

JUSTIN KING, Petitioner,
v.
TOM GREEN, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MONTANA, Respondents.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JEREMIAH C. LYNCH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on Petitioner Justin King's application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. King is a state prisoner proceeding pro se.

         King challenges a May 1, 2014, judgment of conviction for Assault with a Weapon imposed following a jury trial in the Fourth Judicial District, Missoula County, for which King received a fifteen-year prison sentence. (Doc. 1 at 2-3). He asserts five claims. On January 17, 2018, King was ordered to show cause as to why claims two through five should not be dismissed as procedurally defaulted. (Doc. 5). King timely responded. (Doc. 6).

         I. Analysis

         As set forth below, King cannot overcome the deference due to the Montana Supreme Court on his first claim. King's remaining four claims are procedurally defaulted without excuse. Accordingly, King's petition should be dismissed with prejudice.

         i. Claim 1

         In his first claim, King asserts the trial court abused its discretion when it provided the jury with contradictory instructions relative to the affirmative defense of justifiable use of force. (Doc. 1 at 4). This is the same claim King raised on direct appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. See State v. King, 2016 MT 323, 385 Mont. 483, 385 P.3d 561. There, King argued the instruction dealing with self-defense and a subsequent instruction regarding one's duty to retreat were contradictory and inconsistent.

         In addressing the merits of King's claim, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, holding that the instructions were not conflicting, but rather were properly given based upon the conflicting evidence presented during trial. King, 2016 MT 323 at ¶ 11. The Court noted Instruction 23 addressed a person's duty to retreat when one was not the initial aggressor, whereas Instruction 25(a) addressed a duty to retreat when one was the initial aggressor and provoked the use of force against himself. Id. at ¶ 12. Due to the conflicting testimony trial testimony, the lower court had a duty to provide both instructions and allow the jury to decide which factual account was credible; to do otherwise would have improperly invaded the province of the jury. Id.

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) applies to King's petition because it was filed after 1996. AEDPA substantially limits the power of federal courts to grant habeas relief to state prisoners. Hurles v. Ryan, 725 F.3d 768, 777 (9th Cir. 2014). The Supreme Court has made clear that AEDPA imposes a "highly deferential" standard of review that "demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)(per curiam)(internal citation omitted).

         Under AEDPA, a federal court may not grant a prisoner's petition on a claim that was decided on the merits in state court, unless the state court's adjudication of the 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); see also Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 89 (2011).

         " '[C]learly established Federal law'... is the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court [in its holdings] at the time the state court renders its decision." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-71 (2003). A state court's decision is contrary to clearly established federal law "if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases" or "confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [Supreme Court] precedent." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). A state court's factual findings are unreasonable if "reasonable minds reviewing the record" could not agree with them. Brumfield v. Cain,135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277 (2015)(citations omitted). "For relief to be granted, a state court ...


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