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Pizzuto v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

November 28, 2016

RANDY BLADES, Warden, Idaho Maximum Security Institution, Respondent.


          B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge

         Petitioner Gerald Ross Pizzuto, Jr., is an Idaho state prisoner under a sentence of death. Before the Court is Pizzuto's Successive Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.[1] The Successive Petition asserts that Pizzuto is intellectually disabled and, therefore, that his execution is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. See Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).[2] The Court previously denied the Successive Petition after a four-day evidentiary hearing, concluding that Pizzuto was not entitled to habeas relief on his Atkins claim, either under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) or under de novo review.[3] (Dkt. 228.) The Court later denied Pizzuto's motion to alter or amend the judgment. (Dkt. 233.) Pizzuto appealed.

         On September 9, 2013, the Ninth Circuit affirmed this Court's decision, holding that, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), the Idaho Supreme Court's rejection of Pizzuto's Atkins claim was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly-established Supreme Court precedent, nor was it based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. Pizzuto v. Blades, 729 F.3d 1211, 1224 (9th Cir. 2013), op. withdrawn, 758 F.3d 1178 (9th Cir. 2014). Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 471 (cert. granted Oct 21, 2013). The Ninth Circuit then withdrew its opinion and deferred submission pending the Hall decision. (Dkt. 257.)

         In May 2014, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986 (2014). In Hall, the Court held, on review of an Atkins claim, that Florida's intellectual disability rule-which prohibited further exploration of a petitioner's Atkins claim if the petitioner's intelligence quotient “IQ” test score was above a hard cut-off of 70, without taking into consideration the Standard Error of Measurement (SEM)- violated the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 1994-95. That is, the Eighth Amendment requires that if an individual asserting an Atkins claim has an IQ test score within the SEM of a score of 70, that individual must be allowed the opportunity to present other evidence of intellectual disability.

         After Hall, the Ninth Circuit withdrew its previous opinion in this case, vacated this Court's decision on Pizzuto's Atkins claim, and remanded for consideration of the applicability, if any, of Hall to the Successive Petition. (Dkt. 261.)

         This Court ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing the following issues: “(1) whether Hall v. Florida applies retroactively to this case; (2) whether and to what extent Hall affects this Court's consideration of Petitioner's claim under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) or under de novo review; and (3) whether the previous evidentiary hearing held in this action is sufficient to resolve the issues in this case, whether a new evidentiary hearing is permissible and warranted, what additional evidence should be considered, and what that evidence would show.” (Dkt. 265 at 1-2.) The parties have filed their briefing, and the issue is now ripe for decision. (See Dkt. 268, 276, 279.)

         Having carefully reviewed the record, including the state court record, the Court concludes that the parties have adequately presented the facts and legal arguments in the briefs and record and that oral argument is unnecessary. See D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 9.2(h)(5) (“Motions and petitions shall be deemed submitted and shall be determined upon the pleadings, briefs, and record. The court, at its discretion, may order oral argument on any issue or claim.”). Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order concluding that the Supreme Court's decision in Hall v. Florida does not alter the Court's previous decision in this case.


         1. Habeas Corpus 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). Under § 2254(d), as amended by the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), federal habeas relief is further 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). Although 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), a state court need not “give reasons before its decision can be deemed to have been ‘adjudicated on the merits'” under § 2254(d). Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (2011).

         When a party contests the state court's legal conclusions, including application of the law to the facts, § 2254(d)(1) governs. 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 (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000). “Section 2254(d)(1) provides a remedy for instances in which a state court unreasonably applies [Supreme Court] precedent; it does not require state courts to extend that precedent or license federal courts to treat the failure to do so as error.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1706 (2014) (emphasis omitted).

         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. If there is any possibility that fair-minded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision, then relief is precluded by § 2254(d)(1). Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. The Supreme Court has emphasized that “even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. (internal citation omitted). To be entitled to habeas relief under § 2254(d)(1), “a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” White, 134 S.Ct. at 1702 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         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. 2000). 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).

         As to the facts, the United States Supreme Court has clarified “that review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 180 (2011). This means that evidence not presented to the state court may not be introduced on federal habeas review if a claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court and if the underlying factual determination of the state court was not unreasonable. See Murray v. Schriro, 745 F.3d 984, 999 (9th Cir. 2014).

         When a petitioner contests the reasonableness of the state court's factual determinations, the petitioner must show that the state court decision was based upon factual determinations that were “unreasonable . . . in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). A “state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has identified five types of unreasonable factual determinations that result from procedural flaws that occurred in state court proceedings: (1) when state courts fail to make a finding of fact; (2) when courts mistakenly make factual findings under the wrong legal standard; (3) when “the fact-finding process itself is defective, ” such as when a state court “makes evidentiary findings without holding a hearing”; (4) when courts “plainly misapprehend or misstate the record in making their findings, and the misapprehension goes to a material factual issue that is central to petitioner's claim”; or (5) when “the state court has before it, yet apparently ignores, evidence that supports petitioner's claim.” Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d. 992, 1000-01 (9th Cir. 2004). State court findings of fact are presumed to be correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         This strict deferential standard of § 2254(d) applies to habeas claims except in the following narrow circumstances: (1) where the state appellate court did not decide a properly-asserted federal claim; (2) where the state court's factual findings are unreasonable under § 2254(d)(2); or (3) where an adequate excuse for the procedural default of a claim exists. Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002). In those circumstances, the federal district court reviews the claim de novo and, as in the pre- AEDPA era, may draw from both United States Supreme Court and circuit precedent, limited only by the non-retroactivity rule of Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989).

         Under de novo review, if the factual findings of the state court are not unreasonable, the Court must apply the presumption of correctness found in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) to any facts found by the state courts. Pirtle, 313 F.3d at 1167. On the other hand, if a state court factual determination is unreasonable, the federal court is not limited by § 2254(e)(1). Rather, the federal district court may consider evidence outside the state court record, except to the extent that § 2254(e)(2) might apply. Murray, 745 F.3d at 1000.

         2. Standard of Law Regarding Claims of Intellectual Disability

         The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Const., amend. VIII. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court determined that the Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of individuals who were intellectually disabled at the time of their crime. Atkins, 536 U.S. at 321. That is, intellectually disabled criminals are “categorically excluded from execution.” Id. at 318.

         A capital habeas petitioner may show that he was intellectually disabled at the time of the crime-and therefore not subject ...

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