United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
JOHN W. CHAMBERS, Petitioner,
STATE OF MONTANA, Respondent.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES
Johnston United States Magistrate Judge.
case comes before the Court on John W. Chamber's Petition
for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
(Doc. 1.) Chambers is a state prisoner proceeding pro se.
28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition
states that he was convicted following a guilty plea and
sentence in Montana's Tenth Judicial District, Fergus
County. (Doc. 1 at 3.) Chambers claims that his current
custody is unlawful because the charges against him were not
initiated by a grand jury, nor was he provided a preliminary
hearing. Chambers believes the "indictment by
information" process utilized by the State of Montana
resulted in the state district court's loss of
jurisdiction and, thus, a structural defect in the underlying
criminal proceedings. Id. at 3-4. Chambers believes
the process utilized violated Montana law as evidenced by
legislative history of Mont. Code Ann. § 46-11-201 and
the intent of the Delegates "who framed Article II,
Section 20" of the Montana Constitution. Id. at
4-5. Chambers further contends his counsel performed
deficiently under the Sixth Amendment by allowing the
purportedly unlawful state proceedings to continue,
id. at 4-5, and that both the prosecutor and state
district court engaged in misconduct by utilizing this faulty
charging procedure. Id. at 5-6.
it appears that Chambers' claims are both time-barred and
procedurally defaulted, it is more efficient to address them
on the merits. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2); Lambrix v.
Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 524-25 (1997).
initial matter, even if Chambers had been charged in
violation of state law, "only noncompliance with
federal law.. .renders a State's criminal judgment
susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts."
Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010)(per
curiam)(emphasis in original). "[F]ederal habeas corpus
relief does not lie for errors of state law." Lewis
v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990). To the extent that
Chambers is alleging violation of state law, he does not
allege a basis upon which federal relief may be granted.
there was no violation of state law. The Montana Supreme
Court is the highest authority in the land- superior to even
the United States Supreme Court- on the content and meaning
of Montana law. See e.g., Estelle v. McGuire, 502
U.S. 62, 67-68 (l99l)("Today we reemphasize that it is
not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state
court determinations on state law questions.");
Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476, 483
(l993)("There is no doubt that we are bound by a state
court's construction of a state statute."). The
Montana Supreme Court held the use of an information in the
charging process does not violate state law. See e.g.,
Kenfield v. State, 2016 MT 197, ¶ 21, 384 Mont.
322, 377 P.3d 1207.
Montana's specific constitutional and statutory
provisions define a district court's jurisdiction and
delineate the four procedural vehicles available to commence
a state prosecution. Indeed one of these vehicles is an
indictment by a grand jury, but the procedure is not
exclusive. Mont. Const, art. II, § 20(1) and art. VII,
§4(1); Mont. Code Ann. §§ 3-5-301(1),
-3O2(1)(a), and 46-11-lOl(1)-(4). "The district court
has original jurisdiction in all criminal cases amounting to
felony..." Mont. Const, art. VII, § 4(1).
argument relative to Montana's criminal charging process
and the state district court's purported lack of
jurisdiction is frivolous. Likewise, any allegation that
counsel was ineffective for failing to raise an objection
based on the Montana Constitution is meritless. E.g.,
Juan H. v. Allen, 408 F.3d 1262, 1273
(9th Cir. 2OO5)(counsel cannot be ineffective for
failing to raise a meritless objection).
extent that Chambers alleges a violation of federal law,
there was no such violation. Montana's statutes governing
pretrial proceedings in criminal cases parallel federal law.
A person who is arrested is entitled to an initial appearance
to be advised of the charge and his rights and for a decision
as to release. Probable cause is not an issue in an initial
appearance. See Mont. Code Ann. §§
46-7-101(1); Fed. R. Crim. P. 5(d), 58(b)(2). A preliminary
examination (or, in federal law, a preliminary hearing) is
designed to determine whether a charge is supported by
probable cause. A preliminary examination or hearing is
required when a person faces a charge that cannot be tried in
a state justice court or a federal magistrate judge's
court, but it is not required if an information is filed or
an indictment is returned. Both an information and an
indictment indicate probable cause has already been found to
support the charge, so a preliminary examination or hearing
is moot. See Mont. Code Ann. §§
46-10-105(2)-(4), -203; Fed. R. Crim. P. 5.l(a)(2)-(5), (e);
United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 342-46
extent that Chambers attempts to argue federal law is
violated when state law does not entitle defendants to
indictment by grand jury, he is also mistaken. The United
States Supreme Court has recognized for over one hundred
years that a State may choose to charge a defendant by
information. See, Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S.
516, 538 (1884). Moreover, The Fifth Amendment Grand Jury
Clause, which guarantees indictment by grand jury in federal
prosecutions, was not incorporated by the Fourteenth
Amendment to apply to the states. See, Branzburg v.
Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 687-88 n. 25 (1972) (noting that
"indictment by grand jury is not part of the due process
of law guaranteed to state criminal defendants by the
Fourteenth Amendment"); see also, Rose v.
Mitchell, 443 U.S. 545, 557 n. 7 (1979); Gerstein v.
Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 118-119 (1975); Alexander v.
Louisiana, 405 U.S. 625, 633 (1972); Beck v.
Washington, 369 U.S. 541, 545 (1962); Gaines v.
Washington, 227 U.S. 81, 86 (1928). Chambers was not
entitled to an indictment by a grand jury.
allegations in Chambers' petition are frivolous. The
petition should be denied because all claims advanced are
conclusively lacking in merit. See, Rule 4, Rules Governing
§ 2254 Cases.