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Miller v. Denmark

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

September 6, 2017




         This matter comes before the court on the pro se petition of Tarvarcus Miller for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The State has responded to the petition, and Mr. Miller has filed a Traverse. The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 will be denied.

         Habeas Corpus Relief Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254

         The writ of habeas corpus, a challenge to the legal authority under which a person may be detained, is ancient. Duker, The English Origins of the Writ of Habeas Corpus: A Peculiar Path to Fame, 53 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 983 (1978); Glass, Historical Aspects of Habeas Corpus, 9 St. John's L.Rev. 55 (1934). It is “perhaps the most important writ known to the constitutional law of England, ” Secretary of State for Home Affairs v. O'Brien, A.C. 603, 609 (1923), and it is equally significant in the United States. Article I, § 9, of the Constitution ensures that the right “of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion, public Safety may require it.” Habeas Corpus, 20 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Deskbook § 56. Its use by the federal courts was authorized in Section14 of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Habeas corpus principles developed over time in both English and American common law have since been codified:

The statutory provisions on habeas corpus appear as sections 2241 to 2255 of the 1948 Judicial Code. The recodification of that year set out important procedural limitations and additional procedural changes were added in 1966. The scope of the writ, insofar as the statutory language is concerned, remained essentially the same, however, until 1996, when Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, placing severe restrictions on the issuance of the writ for state prisoners and setting out special, new habeas corpus procedures for capital cases. The changes made by the 1996 legislation are the end product of decades of debate about habeas corpus.

Id. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal court may issue the writ when a person is held in violation of the federal Constitution or laws, permitting a federal court to order the discharge of any person held by a state in violation of the supreme law of the land. Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 311, 35 S.Ct. 582, 588, 59 L.Ed. 969 (1915).

         Procedural Posture

         The petitioner, Tarvarcus Miller, is in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and is currently housed at the Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He was convicted of one count of sale of a controlled substance in the Circuit Court of Lafayette County, Mississippi. On July 6, 2012, he was sentenced as a habitual offender to serve thirty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). See State Court Record (“SCR”), Vol. 1, p. 39.

         Miller appealed his conviction and sentence in the Mississippi Supreme Court. On appeal, he raised the following ground for relief, through counsel:

Issue 1. The trial court deprived Miller of his Sixth amendment right to cross examination and confrontation when it allowed Teresa Hickman, a person who neither analyzed the substance nor observed the analysis of the substance, to testify that State's exhibit 1 contained .6 grams of cocaine.

         He then raised the following additional grounds for relief pro se in his supplemental brief:

Issue 2. Insufficiency of the evidence.
Issue 3. Overwhelming weight of the evidence.
Issue 4. The trial court erred by denying defendant's jury instruction D-8.
Issue 5. The trial court erred by not granting the defense a continuance after undersigned informed the court that the defendant was under the influence of marijuana when I appeared for trial.
Issue 6. Jury Instructions which contained language relating to offenses other than sale of cocaine under the controlled substance statu[te]was plain error.

         On February 4, 2014, the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. Miller v. State, 144 So.3d 199 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014), reh'g denied, June 10, 2014, cert. denied, Aug. 7, 2014 (No. 2012-KA-01630-COA). According to the officials of the Mississippi Supreme Court Clerk's Office and the Lafayette County Circuit Clerk's Office, Miller has not filed a motion for post-conviction relief.

         In the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Doc. 1, Miller raises the following grounds for relief, pro se:

Ground One. Violation of the Confrontation Clause.
Ground Two. Sufficiency of the Evidence.
Ground Three. The DA [erred] during closing arguments. Violated defendant's due process rights under the 14th amendment.
Ground Four. Denial of Jury Instruction D-8.

         On November 19, 2014, the State filed a motion to dismiss the petition for failure to exhaust his state court remedies. Doc. 11. The State argued that the claim raised in Ground Three of Miller's petition had not yet been exhausted in the state courts because the Mississippi Court of Appeals interpreted Miller's argument as a challenge to the jury instructions. This court held that “Miller did, however, completely clarify the issue in his petition for writ of certiorari, which the Mississippi Supreme Court denied. As such, the court holds that Miller presented the issue to the Mississippi Supreme Court and has thus exhausted all grounds for relief, and the instant motion to dismiss is denied.” Doc. 15, p. 2.


         Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Agent Barry Magee set up a controlled purchase of cocaine using confidential informant Justin Harris. Harris met with officers who searched his person and vehicle immediately before the controlled buy. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 63. Harris's vehicle was equipped with a visual recording device, and Harris wore an audio recording device on his person. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 63 and 86. Harris then called Tarvarcus Miller to arrange a purchase of cocaine. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 78. Per Miller's instructions, Harris picked him up at an apartment complex and drove him to another apartment complex. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 78. Upon arrival at Cambridge Station Apartments, Miller got out of the car and went into an apartment while Harris waited in the car. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 78. Miller was in the apartment for ten to fifteen minutes before coming back with cocaine. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 78. Miller got in Harris' car and gave him the cocaine in exchange for the $60 buy money, which Agent Magee had supplied to Harris. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 78. Harris then dropped Miller off and drove to the post-buy location to give Agent Magee the drugs he obtained from Miller. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 79 and 81. The video of the transaction was played for the jury at trial. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 82. Forensic analyst Teresa Hickman testified that the substance submitted by Magee to the crime lab was 0.6 grams of cocaine. SCR, Vol. 2, p. 108.

         Grounds Reviewed on the Merits in State Court

         The Mississippi Supreme Court has already considered all the petitioner's grounds for relief on the merits and decided those issues against the him; hence, these claims are barred from habeas corpus review by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), unless they meet one of its two exceptions:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court ...

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