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Ahmad v. Redman

January 27, 1986


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (C.A. No. 84-0294) Held C.A.V. pending disposition by the Supreme Court in Miller v. Fenton, 54 U.S.L.W. 4022 (U.S. Dec. 3, 1985)

Author: Adams

Before ADAMS, GIBBONS and WEIS, Circuit Judges


ADAMS, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a district court's order denying a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner was convicted in state court of murder, conspiracy, and robbery. The district court found that the petitioner had not validly waived his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966), that statements obtained from him through custodial interrogation were therefore improperly admitted at his trial, but that the admission of the statements was harmless error and thus did not require a new trial. We believe that the district court applied an incorrect standard of review in considering the finding by the state court that the petitioner had validly waived his Miranda rights. Because the state courts' factual findings are fairly supported by the record and the state courts applied the correct legal standards, we may not overturn their determination that petitioner knowingly and intelligently waived his rights. Accordingly, we will affirm the order denying petitioner's request for habeas corpus relief.


Sheik Abdel Rahim Ahmad (previously known and hereinafter referred to as Clarence Hooks) was convicted in 1976 in Delaware Superior Court of first degree murder, conspiracy, and robbery for his involvement in the 1975 hold-up of a liquor store, during which a store clerk was killed. Hooks was not present in the liquor store at the time of the robbery or homicide, but was charged under the Delaware felony murder statute, 11 Del. Code Ann. § 271 (1979), and under a conspiracy theory for his participation in the planning and cover-up of the crimes.

Shortly after his arrest. Hooks was interrogated by a Delaware State police officer in the jail cell where he was being held. At the outset of the interrogation, the officer informed Hooks of his Miranda rights, but when the officer asked Hooks whether he understood his rights, the defendant's only reply was a laconic Arabic phrase -- "as salaam alaikum." Hooks gave the same response to further questions. The officer then told Hooks that he did to understand his replies, but was going to tell Hooks what the police "knew" about his role in the robbery and murder. The officer told Hooks that it was known that he had a blue car, that Hooks had driven four men to Delaware in it on the day of the crimes, and that those men had robbed a liquor store. App. at 213. After relating this information, the officer asked Hooks whether it was accurate. Hooks proceeded to answer the officer's questions in English. Several of his responses were inculpatory, placing him near the scene of the crime at the time of its commission.

Before trial, Hooks moved to suppress the statements he had made to the police officer on the ground that they were obtained in violation of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona. His motion was denied. The evidence against Hooks at trial consisted largely of the testimony of a codefendant, Gregory Payne, who had agreed to testify for the state as part of a plea arrangement. Payne's testimony was corroborated in part by a number of witnesses, including the Childresses, a couple in whose home the robbers had taken refuge after the crime. The prosecution also introduced the inculpatory statements made by Hooks during his interrogation by the police officer. Hooks was convicted on all three charges.

Hooks was sentenced to death on the murder charge, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment without benefit of parole when the Delaware Supreme Court held that the death sentence was unconstitutional as applied to him. See State v. Spence, 367 A.2d 983 (Del. 1976). On the appeal of his conviction, Hooks again argued that the incriminating admissions introduced against him at his trial had been obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. The Delaware Supreme Court rejected this claim and affirmed the conviction. See Hooks v. State, 416 A.2d 189 (Del. 1980).

On July 8, 1980, Hooks filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court for the District of Delaware, alleging a number of violations of his constitutional rights. Once more he asserted that the statements made by him during his interrogation by the police officer had been obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. The district court rejected all of petitioner's constitutional claims except the Miranda claim. See United States ex rel. Abubake v. Redman, 521 F. Supp. 963 (D. Del. 1981). It found that, although Hooks had been informed of his Miranda rights and understood them, and although his statements had been made voluntarily, he had neither explicitly nor implicitly waived his Miranda rights. It therefore concluded that the statements by Hooks were improperly admitted at his trial. However, because the district court found that this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under the standards set forth in Harrington v. California, 395 U.S. 250, 23 L. Ed. 2d 284, 89 S. Ct. 1726 (1969), and Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 17 L. Ed. 2d 705, 87 S. Ct. 824 (1967), it denied the petition for habeas relief.

The district court did recognize that it was obligated under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1982) to defer to the Delaware courts' factual findings on the issue of waiver if they were fairly supported by the record. See Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 66 L. Ed. 2d 722, 101 S. Ct. 764 (1981). However, it concluded that the record contained insufficient evidence to support a finding that Hooks' "decision to make incriminating statements was the result of a knowing and intelligent waiver." 521 F. Supp. at 977. It therefore proceeded to analyze the waiver issue on a plenary basis and to conclude that Hooks did not effectively waive his rights.

Hooks appealed the district court's decision to this Court. While that appeal was pending, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 71 L. Ed. 2d 379, 102 S. Ct. 1198 (1982), holding that a federal court must dismiss habeas corpus petitions that contain both exhausted and unexhausted claims. On October 4, 1982, the Court of Appeals therefore vacated the district court's decision with instructions to dismiss the petition to allow Hooks either to exhaust his unexhausted claims in the Delaware courts or to delete them. See Abubake v. Redman, 696 F.2d 980 (3d Cir. 1982) (mem.).

On May 25, 1984, Hooks filed a second petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which is the subject of this appeal. In it, he asserted only the claim based on the alleged violation of his Miranda rights. The district court's decision dismissing Hooks' petition incorporated the facts, reasoning, and conclusion set forth in its 1981 opinion. See United States ex rel. Ahmad v. Redman, 599 F. Supp. 802 (D. Del. 1984). References to the district court's disposition of the petition are therefore to its opinion of 1981.

Hooks' appeal from the district court's 1984 order denying habeas relief was held in abeyance by this Court pending the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 54 U.S.L.W. 4022, 88 L. Ed. 2d 405, 106 S. Ct. 445 (U.S. 1985), and to allow the parties to submit supplemental briefs in light of that opinion.

We now conclude that the district court applied an erroneous legal standard in determining whether Hooks validly waived his Miranda rights. Deferring to the state courts' findings of fact as we must under § 2254(d), and applying the correct legal standard, we conclude that Hooks knowingly and intelligently waived his rights under Miranda. The district court's order denying the petition for habeas relief was therefore proper.


Section 2254(d) provides that the factual findings of state courts must be presumed correct by a federal habeas courts must be presumed correct by a federal habeas court if they are fairly supported by the record.*fn1 However, determinations on mixed questions of law and fact or on purely legal issues are not subject to the presumption. See Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 105 S. Ct. 844, 853-55, 83 L. Ed. 2d 841 (1985); Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2070, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984); Holland v. Attorney General, 777 F.2d 150 (3d Cir. 1985). When reviewing conclusions reached by a state court on mixed or legal issues, a federal habeas tribunal's standard of review is plenary. Wainwright, 105 S. Ct. at 854 n.8; Holland, supra. The statutory presumption of correctness does attach, however, to the subsidiary findings of historical fact which are relevant to the resolution of ...

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