Kyzar v. Ryan, No. 12-17564 (Bucklo (N.D. Ill.) with Berzon and Rawlinson, CJJ) ---
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of an Arizona state prisoner's § 2254 petition, holding that he had exhausted his sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim through pro se filings but that the state courts didn't unreasonably deny it pursuant to Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979).
The petitioner was convicted of conspiracy to commit a dangerous assault in connection with the death of a guard at the prison where he was already serving a sentence for another crime. The petitioner furnished a knife to a fellow prisoner, who used it to kill a guard with whom he'd had a disagreement. He was convicted at a jury trial in Maricopa County Superior Court and sentenced to 21 years in prison.
After his direct appeal concluded, the Arizona Supreme Court issued its decision in Evanchyk v. Stewart, 47 P.3d 1114 (Ariz. 2002), which explicated the legal requirements for conspiracy to commit murder under Arizona law. In pro se postconviction proceedings, the petitioner argued that the evidence presented at his trial was insufficient to convict him of conspiracy to commit assault under Evanchyk. (His pro se filings in state court cited neither In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970), nor Jackson.) The Arizona state courts rejected this claim on the merits.
In federal habeas proceedings, the district court initially rejected it too. But the state apparently neglected to submit the transcript of the trial along with its answer, so in a previous appeal (in which the state did supply the transcript) the Ninth Circuit remanded the case to allow the district court to assess the sufficiency claim against the transcript in the first instance. The district court rejected the claim again, and also denied a certificate of appealability. The Ninth Circuit certified it for appeal and appointed counsel. (The petitioner had been pro se in federal court until this second appeal.)
The Ninth Circuit held that the petitioner's pro se filings in the superior court and the Arizona Court of Appeals fairly presented a federal sufficiency claim. Because federal sufficiency claims "necessarily turn on how crimes are defined under state law," his citation to Evanchyk and another decision of the Arizona Supreme Court that discussed a federal sufficiency claim fairly presented the claim under Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27 (2004). And although the petitioner also presented his claim to the Arizona Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit didn't examine that filing in light of Swoopes v. Sublett, 196 F.3d 1008 (9th Cir. 1999) (per curiam).
On the merits, the Ninth Circuit held that the state courts didn't unreasonably deny the sufficiency claim. The court applied the AEDPA limitation on relief as described in Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770 (2011), because the state courts didn't discuss the merits of the claim; they instead denied the claim because Evanchyk was about conspiracy to commit murder whereas the petitioner here was convicted of conspiracy to commit a dangerous assault. Because the jury heard evidence that the petitioner knew that he was supplying a knife that would later be used to attack a guard, it wasn't unreasonable for the state courts to deny the sufficiency claim.
The decision is here: