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Oliver v. Wengler

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 21, 2013

RICKIE D. OLIVER, Petitioner,
TIM WENGLER, Warden, Idaho Correctional Center, Respondent.


EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Petitioner Rickie D. Oliver's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. 1). Respondent filed an Answer and Brief in Support of Dismissal (Dkt. 10). Petitioner did not file a reply. The Court takes judicial notice of the records from Petitioner's state court proceedings, lodged by Respondent on August 15, 2013. ( See Dkt. 9.)

Having carefully reviewed the record, including the state court record, the Court finds that the parties have adequately presented the facts and legal arguments in the briefs and record and that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Therefore, the Court shall decide this matter on the written motions, briefs and record without oral argument. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order denying the Petition and dismissing this case.


Petitioner sold cocaine to an undercover police detective on three separate occasions. His defense at trial was entrapment; he claimed that the detective and a confidential informant ("CI") induced him to sell the cocaine. Petitioner was convicted by a jury of three counts of trafficking in cocaine, in violation of Idaho Code §§ 37-2732B(a)(2) and 18-204. (State's Lodging B-5.) He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 15 years imprisonment with 5 years fixed on Count 1, 17 years imprisonment with 5 years fixed on Count 2, and 25 years with 12 years fixed on Count 3. (State's Lodging A-1 at 82-83.)

Petitioner filed a direct appeal. The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished decision. The court rejected Petitioner's claim that the state improperly exercised a peremptory challenge to excuse an African-American man from the jury panel. (State's Lodging B-5 at 4-6.) And although the court agreed with Petitioner that a detective's testimony that Petitioner did not seem to have any "mental disorders" when he sold the detective the drugs was admitted in violation of the Idaho Rules of Evidence, the court concluded that this error was harmless. ( Id. at 6-8.) The Idaho Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for review. (State's Lodging B-8.)

Petitioner then filed a timely petition for state postconviction relief. He argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue a defense of sentencing entrapment.[1] (State's Lodging C-1 at 8-9.) The state district court summarily dismissed the petition. ( Id. at 224-232.) The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that counsel's performance was not deficient because sentencing entrapment is not a recognized defense in Idaho and because the choice of defense was a strategic decision. (State's Lodging D-6 at 2-7.) Petitioner filed a petition for review and a petition for rehearing, both of which were denied by the Idaho Supreme Court. (States' Lodging D-10 & D-11.)

Petitioner filed his federal habeas Petition on February 29, 2012, and asserts three claims. In Claim A, Petitioner asserts that because sentencing entrapment was "the only legitimate affirmative defense available, " his trial counsel should have presented that defense, rather than a traditional entrapment defense. (Pet. at 4.) Claim B is really two separate claims. In Claim B(1), Petitioner argues that the prosecutor improperly excluded from the jury the only African-American venire person. ( Id. ) Claim B(2) asserts that the undercover detective's testimony regarding Petitioner's mental state violated his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.[2] ( Id. ) Because the Fifth and Sixth Amendment do not provide grounds for relief from an evidentiary error such as the wrongful admission of expert testimony, the Court construes Claim B(2) as asserting that the detective's testimony violated Petitioner's Fourteenth Amendment due process right to a fair trial.


1. Standard of Law

Federal habeas corpus relief may be granted on claims adjudicated on the merits in a state court judgment when the federal court determines that the petitioner "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal habeas court reviews the state court's "last reasoned decision" in determining whether a petitioner is entitled to relief. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 804 (1991).

Under § 2254(d), as amended by the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), federal habeas relief is generally limited to instances where the state court's adjudication of the petitioner's claim

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

When a party contests the state court's legal conclusions, including application of the law to the facts, § 2254(d)(1) governs. Section 2254(d)(1) has two clauses, each with independent meaning. That section consists of two alternative tests: the "contrary to" test and the "unreasonable application" test.

Under the first test, a state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law "if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] [has] done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002).

Under the second test, to satisfy the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1) the petitioner must show that the state court-although identifying "the correct governing legal rule" from Supreme Court precedent-nonetheless "unreasonably applie[d] it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000). A federal court cannot grant habeas relief simply because it concludes in its independent judgment that the decision is incorrect or wrong; rather, the state court's application of federal law must be objectively unreasonable to warrant relief. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Bell, 535 U.S. at 694.

Though the source of clearly established federal law must come from the holdings of the United States Supreme Court, circuit precedent may be persuasive authority for determining whether a state court decision is an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. Duhaime v. Ducharme, 200 F.3d 597, 600-01 (9th Cir. 1999). However, circuit law may not be used "to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that th[e] Court has not announced." Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450 (2013).

When a petitioner contests the reasonableness of the state court's factual determinations, a federal court must undertake a § 2254(d)(2) analysis. To be eligible for relief under § 2254(d)(2), the petitioner must show that the state court decision was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." The United States Supreme Court has admonished that a "state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the ...

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