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Holland v. Allbaugh

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

June 6, 2016

JASON NATHANIEL HOLLAND, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
JOE ALLBAUGH, Interim Director, [*] Respondent-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA (D.C. NO. 4:11-CV-00277-GKF-FHM)

          Keeley L. Miller, Assistant Attorney General (E. Scott Pruitt, Attorney General, and Jay Schniederjan, Assistant Attorney General, on the briefs) Office of the Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Respondent-Appellant.

          Barry L. Derryberry, Research and Writing Specialist (Julia L. O'Connell, Federal Public Defender, and Chance Cammack, Research and Writing Specialist, with him on the brief) Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Oklahoma, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Petitioner-Appellee.

          Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, BALDOCK, and HARTZ, Circuit Judges.

          TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

         Jason Holland and his brother were accused of robbing a driver of her purse on a rural Oklahoma highway, and then unlawfully entering a home after their getaway car had a flat tire. At a joint trial, the state court allowed, as relevant here, two pieces of evidence to be introduced: (1) one of the victims' statements that she saw Holland had Nazi tattoos on his arm, and (2) the other victim's statement that she heard Holland's brother confess to the robbery by saying "I did it. I did it. We don't associate with black guys." This evidence was admitted without objection and both brothers were convicted of the crimes.

         After his convictions became final on state direct review, Holland brought in federal court a petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court granted relief on two grounds: (1) the introduction of the above evidence at trial deprived Holland of a fundamentally fair trial, and (2) Holland's trial counsel's failure to object to the evidence deprived him of constitutionally effective assistance of counsel.

         Applying the deferential standard of review contained in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) to the holding of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), we conclude that the OCCA did not unreasonably apply Supreme Court law in finding that the evidence did not substantially affect the outcome of the trial.

         We therefore REVERSE the district court's grant of habeas relief.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         While driving into Miami, Oklahoma, on South 550 Road, Mona Lester saw a car make a partial U-turn and come to a stop near her vehicle. The driver, later identified as Holland, got out of his vehicle and approached Ms. Lester's passenger door. Ms. Lester lowered the passenger window a few inches and asked if Holland needed anything. Holland responded, "Yeah, I need that purse." Holland grabbed the purse, returned to his car, and drove west away from the scene. Ms. Lester initially chased Holland's vehicle westward. During the chase she managed to note Holland's license plate number and spot a second man sit up in the back seat of the vehicle.

         About thirty minutes later, a second encounter occurred. Carrie Stotts heard a noise coming from the road in front of her home and saw a vehicle approaching her driveway. She later identified the car as Holland's. The vehicle had a flat tire. The vehicle pulled into Ms. Stotts's driveway and two men left the car. The second man was later identified as Holland's brother and co-defendant, Jeremy Holland.[1] Ms. Stotts testified that the brother was driving at this time. Holland asked for tools to change the tire, and to use Ms. Stotts's cell phone. After Holland used the phone, Ms. Stotts re-entered her home through the side door, locking it behind her. She later testified she locked the door because she "was kind of scared and afraid . . . they didn't have any shirts on, and they-one of them had visible Nazi tattoos." App., Vol. I at 279. Even so, Ms. Stotts soon found the two men had come in through the front door into her living room. In response to her telling them to leave, one of the men said, "We'll get you."

         Ms. Stotts called the police, who quickly located and apprehended Holland and his brother at her house. Ms. Lester was brought to the scene and identified Holland as the man who had robbed her. When asked if she could identify Holland's brother, Ms. Lester later testified: "I thought it was a black guy in the back seat of the car. All I seen was the bald head and that's what I thought. And I said but there was a black guy. And that's when [Holland's brother] said, 'I did it, I did it. We don't associate with black guys.'" Id. at 259–62. Holland's counsel did not object to any of this testimony. The jury convicted Holland of robbery and unlawful entry.

         B. Procedural Background

         After his conviction and sentence, Holland filed a direct appeal to the OCCA, alleging eight propositions of error. The OCCA denied relief in a summary opinion. As relevant here, the OCCA found the testimony concerning the tattoos and the brother's statement ("We don't associate with black guys.") "properly admissible as part of the res gestae of the offenses." Id. at 217. As to the confession, the OCCA found that while "error occurred when the trial court omitted to give a limiting instruction upon the jury's use of the Co-Defendant's statement ['I did it. I did it.'], " no prejudice had resulted from the error. Id. at 220. Reviewing under the standard established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984), the OCCA denied the ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

         Holland then filed a petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the Northern District of Oklahoma. The district court granted relief on two grounds. First, the court concluded that the introduction at trial of the co-defendant's statement, "I did it, I did it. We don't associate with black guys, " and Ms. Stotts's testimony regarding Holland's Nazi tattoos deprived Holland of a fundamentally fair trial in violation of due process because the evidence was both prejudicial and irrelevant. The court also found counsel's failure to object to these statements constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, both because the evidence was inflammatory and because the confession violated Holland's Confrontation Clause rights.

         Applying the deferential AEDPA standard, the district court found the introduction of the two statements resulted in a "fundamentally unfair trial in violation of" Holland's due process rights and his right to effective counsel. App., Vol. II at 45. The district court found the OCCA's denial of relief "contrary to, or an unreasonable application of" clearly established Supreme Court law because the introduction of the evidence prejudiced Holland by "impacting the jury's sentencing recommendation." Id. at 46. The court also found that counsel's failure to object constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, and the OCCA's finding of no prejudice was "contrary to, or an unreasonable application of" the Supreme Court's decision in Strickland.

         II. Analysis

         The government contends that the district court should not have granted habeas relief. It argues that the OCCA did not misapply federal due process or Sixth Amendment law in upholding Holland's convictions. We agree. We start with the well-settled provisions of AEDPA, which govern our ...


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