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Davis v. Greer

decided: April 8, 1982.

RICHARD DALE DAVIS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
JAMES GREER, WARDEN, MENARD CORRECTIONAL CENTER, MENARD, ILLINOIS; GAYLE FRANZEN, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; AND TYRONE C. FAHNER, ATTORNEY GENERAL, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division. No. 80 C 3182 -- J. Waldo Ackerman, Judge.

Before Sprecher and Bauer, Circuit Judges, and Bonsal, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Bauer

Petitioner-appellant Richard Dale Davis was tried by a jury in state trial court and found guilty of robbery and felony murder. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. The Supreme Court of Illinois denied leave to appeal. After exhausting all available state post-conviction remedies, Davis filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. The district court denied Davis' petition in an unpublished order. We affirm.

I

On January 4, 1973, Davis and Raymond Fisher left a tavern together at approximately 1:00 a.m. They rode aimlessly around in Davis' car until the car hit something and stalled. Davis left the car to go for gasoline. When he could not find any gasoline nearby, Davis returned to the car, and he and Fisher walked across a nearby field to get assistance.

Fisher wandered across the field away from Davis, then reapproached Davis and accused him of having stolen his money. Fisher jumped Davis from behind, and both men fell to the ground. In trying to free himself from Fisher's grasp, Davis, who was wearing steeltoed boots, kicked Fisher in the head. The blow broke Fisher's jaw and knocked him unconscious. Davis left Fisher in the field, and Fisher died from exposure. Fisher's body and his empty wallet were found the next day.

Davis testified in his own behalf at trial and admitted that he kicked Fisher and left him in the field. He denied, however, that he robbed Fisher. At the instructions conference Davis' counsel tendered a voluntary manslaughter instruction to the court, but the court refused to give the instruction. The court gave felony-murder and involuntary manslaughter instructions.

Davis' habeas petition alleges that the trial court's failure to give the voluntary manslaughter instruction deprived him of due process. The district court held that it lacked jurisdiction to decide Davis' claim. In the alternative, the district court held that the trial court's failure to give the tendered voluntary manslaughter instruction did not deprive Davis of due process because Davis failed to introduce evidence to support a voluntary manslaughter verdict.

A

The circuit courts of appeal are divided on the issue of whether federal courts have jurisdiction to review a state court's refusal to give a tendered lesser included offense instruction. The Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits hold that "failure of a state court to instruct on a lesser offense fails to present a federal constitutional question and will not be considered in a federal habeas corpus proceeding." James v. Reese, 546 F.2d 325, 327 (9th Cir. 1976) (citation omitted). Accord, Cooper v. Campbell, 597 F.2d 628, 631 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 852, 100 S. Ct. 106, 62 L. Ed. 2d 69 (1979), citing DeBerry v. Wolff, 513 F.2d 1336, 1338 (8th Cir. 1975); Bonner v. Henderson, 517 F.2d 135, 136 (5th Cir. 1975) (per curiam). The Third and Sixth Circuits, on the other hand, hold that federal courts have jurisdiction to review the state court's refusal if the failure to give the instruction deprived the defendant of due process. Brewer v. Overberg, 624 F.2d 51, 52 (6th Cir. 1980) (per curiam), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1085, 101 S. Ct. 873, 66 L. Ed. 2d 810 (1981); Bishop v. Mazurkiewicz, 634 F.2d 724, 725 (3d Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 452 U.S. 917, 101 S. Ct. 3053, 69 L. Ed. 2d 421 (1981); United States ex rel. Smith v. Montanye, 505 F.2d 1355, 1359 (2d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 856, 96 S. Ct. 106, 46 L. Ed. 2d 81 (1975).*fn1

We are aware of only three habeas corpus cases in this Circuit in which the petitioner claimed that he was denied due process by the state trial court's failure to give a requested instruction. Pharr v. Israel, 629 F.2d 1278 (7th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1088, 101 S. Ct. 880, 66 L. Ed. 2d 815 (1981); United States ex rel. Peery v. Sielaff, 615 F.2d 402 (7th Cir. 1979) (per curiam), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 940, 100 S. Ct. 2163, 64 L. Ed. 2d 794 reh. denied, 448 U.S. 912, 101 S. Ct. 29, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1174 (1980); United States ex rel. Waters v. Bensinger, 507 F.2d 103 (7th Cir. 1974). Only United States ex rel. Peery v. Sielaff involved a challenge to the state court's failure to give a tendered lesser included offense instruction. In all three cases, we decided the merits of the petitioners' claims without discussing the jurisdictional issue.

The federal courts have jurisdiction to grant a writ of habeas corpus ordering the release of a petitioner whose detention is unconstitutional. 28 U.S.C. § 2254; Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 312, 83 S. Ct. 745, 756, 9 L. Ed. 2d 770 (1963). It is well established that an error occurring at trial that deprived the petitioner of due process is a sufficient ground for granting a petition. For example, a federal court must grant a writ of habeas corpus if the trial court deprived the petitioner of due process by giving an erroneous instruction or by failing to give a necessary instruction. E.g., Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 97 S. Ct. 1730, 52 L. Ed. 2d 203 (1977); Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S. Ct. 1881, 44 L. Ed. 2d 508 (1975); Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 94 S. Ct. 396, 38 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1973). In such a case, the relevant inquiry is "whether the ailing instruction by itself so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violates due process." Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 147, 94 S. Ct. 396, 400, 38 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1973), quoted with approval in Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 154, 97 S. Ct. 1730, 1736, 52 L. Ed. 2d 203 (1977).

Of course, if the petitioner's sole claim is that the jury instructions failed to comply with state law, the petition does not state a cognizable federal claim. Pharr v. Israel, 629 F.2d 1278, 1281 (7th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1088, 100 S. Ct. 2163, 64 L. Ed. 2d 794 (1981); United States ex rel. Waters v. Bensinger, 507 F.2d 103, 105 (7th Cir. 1974). In order to state a cognizable habeas corpus claim, the petition must allege that the court's instructions deprived the petitioner of a constitutionally protected right. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

Davis claims that the trial court's failure to give the tendered voluntary manslaughter instruction denied him due process. This allegation states a cognizable habeas corpus claim. We have jurisdiction, ...


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