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Harris v. Lee

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

March 14, 2019

MARIO HARRIS PETITIONER
v.
EARNEST LEE, ET AL. RESPONDENTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on the pro se petition of Mario Harris for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The State has responded to the petition, and the matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus 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, except when, in the case 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).

         Facts and Procedural Posture

         Mario Harris is in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and is currently housed at Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi. Mr. Harris was convicted of murder (Count I) and drive by shooting (Count II) in the Circuit Court of LeFlore County, Mississippi. He was sentenced to serve a term of life in Count I and thirty (30) years in Count II, to be served consecutively in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections as a habitual offender under Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-81. S.C.R., Vol. 1, pg. 51. This sentencing order was later amended to run the sentences concurrently with each other. S.C.R., Vol. 1, pg. 60.

         Mr. Harris appealed his convictions and sentences to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which assigned the case to the Mississippi Court of Appeals. In his appellate brief, he raised the following grounds for relief through counsel:

I. The trial court erred by allowing the introduction of gruesome photographs that were unnecessary and prejudicial against Harris.
II. The trial court erred in denying Harris' motion for a new trial because the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.
III. Whether there was cumulative error that deprived Appellant of his right to a fundamentally fair and impartial trial.

         The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed Harris' convictions and sentences. Harris v. State, 188 So.3d 601 (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (Cause No. 2014-KA-01398-COA).

         Mr. Harris filed an application in the Mississippi Supreme Court seeking permission to proceed with a motion for post-conviction collateral relief in the trial court. In his application, he raised the following grounds for relief pro se, as summarized by the court:

I. Fatally defective indictment for failure to comply with U.C.C.C.R. 7.06 because Harris should have been charged under drive by shooting statute, Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-109, with regard to the murder victim Cornelius Banks instead of being charged with murder under Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-19.
II. Ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to file a motion to dismiss for speedy trial violations. Also ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failure to address trial counsel's decision not to pursue the speedy trial claim.
III. Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failure to seek discretionary review.
IV. The testimony of Mr. Harris' accomplices was impermissible because:
(A) They were not informed that their testimony could be used against them or that they could choose not to testify;
(B) Tims was never severed and Johnson was severed the day of trial;
(C) Neither had pleaded guilty or been to trial prior to testifying; and
(D) Both had been given bail.
V. Prosecutorial misconduct for stating in closing that the accomplices would plead guilty and receive sentences for their part in the crimes.
VI. The trial judge erred in denying Harris' motion for directed verdict with regard to Count II.
VII. The conviction and sentence for murder are unconstitutional because he should have been convicted of second-degree murder, Miss. Code Ann. § 97- 3-19(1)(b), which was in effect as of sentencing but not at the time of the crime.
VIII. Jury instructions S-1, S-6A, D-8, and D-9 were improper.

         The Mississippi Supreme Court denied Harris' application, holding in relevant part:

In his application, Harris argues that he is entitled to post-conviction collateral relief because: (1) his indictment was improper; (2) his convictions were against the overwhelming weight of the evidence; (3) the testimony of his alleged accomplices was constitutionally infirm; (4) several jury instructions were defective; and (5) he received ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. After due consideration, the panel finds that (1) - (3) are barred by res judicata and/or lack an arguable basis. Regarding (4), the panel finds that Harris's claim is waived and/or barred by res judicata. As to (5), the panel finds that Harris fails to meet the requisite prongs of deficient performance and prejudice provided in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). Accordingly, the panel finds that this application should be denied.

Exhibit B.[1]

         Mr. Harris filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in this court under 28 U.S.C.A. §2254, raising the following grounds, as summarized by the court:

Ground One: The indictment was fatally defective because Harris was indicted under the wrong statute
Ground Two: Ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to raise a speedy trial issue and of appellate counsel for failure to challenge trial counsel's decision not to raise a speedy trial issue.
Ground Three: The testimony of Harris' accomplices was impermissible.
Ground Four: The trial judge erred in denying Harris' motion for directed verdict with regard to Count II.
Ground Five: Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failing to seek discretionary review.
Ground Six: Harris' conviction and sentence are unconstitutional because he was not convicted under the second degree murder statute.
Ground Seven: Jury instructions S-1, S-6A, D-8 and D-9 were improper.

         For the reasons set forth below, Mr. Harris is not entitled to habeas corpus relief based on these claims.

         Mr. Harris has exhausted his state court remedies as to the issues raised in the instant petition and that any further return to the state court on these issues would be futile. A summary of the evidence will clarify the issues in this case.

         Summary of ...


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