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United States v. Greer

decided: December 10, 1981.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, EX REL. JAMES W. GREEN, PETITIONER-APPELLANT.
v.
JAMES GREER, ET AL., RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 80 C 4184 -- Thomas R. McMillen, Judge .

Before Swygert, Senior Circuit Judge, and Sprecher and Bauer, Circuit Judges.

Author: Sprecher

Green filed a pro se habeas corpus petition in the district court, alleging that the evidence adduced in his state court murder trial was insufficient to support his conviction. The issue before us is whether the district court erred in dismissing Green's petition without first ordering and examining the trial record. We hold that an examination of the record is not required where, as here, the petitioner fails to identify any incompleteness or inaccuracies in the facts before the district court.

I

Green was convicted in Illinois state court of the murder of a service station night watchman. The evidence supporting this conviction was largely circumstantial. The victim apparently was killed during a robbery of station funds, which were kept in a distributor cap box, locked in a desk drawer, in a locked storage room. A station jeep, locked inside the station with its keys in the ashtray, had been used to break into the storage room. Green, who was a former employee of the station, knew where both the station funds and the keys to the jeep were kept. A search of his car uncovered the distributor cap box containing the station's money. Green's account of how he gained possession of the money changed during the course of questioning by police. He initially admitted being at the station, but claimed the desk drawer was open when he arrived. He later admitted forcing the drawer open. At all times, however, he insisted that he was innocent of murder. Upon his conviction, Green was sentenced to twenty to forty years imprisonment.

II

Green appealed his murder conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court, arguing that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The state appellate court, after an examination of the record, affirmed the trial court verdict in an opinion which included a lengthy summary of the evidence in the case. People v. Green, 62 Ill.App.3d 420, 19 Ill.Dec. 604, 379 N.E.2d 119 (1978).

Green then filed a habeas corpus petition with the district court.*fn1 Green's petition reviewed the evidence presented at trial and concluded that "the evidence does not so fairly establish my guilt of murder that no reasonable hypothesis of innocence exists." The state moved for summary judgment or dismissal and submitted a memorandum of law in support of its motion. This memorandum contained a factual summary of the evidence adduced at trial and included an offer to obtain a trial court record if the district judge so required. Green filed a response which, essentially, challenged some inferences that the state drew from the facts at trial, and which also moved for summary judgment or dismissal. The district court determined that an examination of the trial record was unnecessary since Green did not dispute the factual findings of the state appellate court, but rather claimed that these findings were inadequate to support his conviction. The court then granted the state's motion and dismissed the petition.

III

A

The district court found that an examination of the record was unnecessary because "(petitioner) does not contest the findings made by the Appellate Court on his appeal, but merely argues in his petition that it (sic ) does not satisfy the requirements of Jackson v. Virginia." The district court had before it four documents summarizing the evidence adduced at trial: the state appellate court's opinion, Green's habeas corpus petition, the state's motion to dismiss, and Green's response to that motion. Green's petition provided a summary of the evidence that was virtually identical to the state appellate court's summary, and concluded that "the evidence does not so fairly establish my guilt of murder that no reasonable hypothesis of innocence exists."*fn2

From this, the district court correctly determined that Green did not allege any inaccuracies or incompleteness in the factual summaries before the court, but rather was raising the question of whether the circumstantial evidence was sufficient as a matter of law to uphold the guilty verdict. There was thus no need to examine the trial record, and the court properly made its ruling based on the uncontradicted fact summaries that it had before it.*fn3

Our decision here finds support in Blenski v. LaFollette, 581 F.2d 126 (7th Cir. 1978). There a habeas corpus petitioner alleged that there had been insufficient evidence to support his state court conviction and moved for the production of the state court transcripts. The district judge denied the motion, and this court upheld the district court. Although the district court found that the petitioner had not in fact alleged insufficiency of evidence in his petition, but rather had claimed that inferences which should have been drawn from the evidence were not drawn by the state appellate court,*fn4 we noted that even if the petitioner's habeas corpus claim had been characterized as one alleging insufficiency of evidence, examination of the trial transcript would have been unnecessary since "(t)he petitioner's pleadings and briefs do not contradict but actually confirm the state court factual summary." Id. at 128.

Similarly, in this case Green in no way challenged the accuracy or completeness of the facts as summarized by the state appellate court, but only whether the conclusions drawn from those facts were permissible.*fn5 The papers which he filed, like those in Blenski, served to "confirm the state court factual ...


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