United States District Court, D. Idaho
MICHAEL C. WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
RANDY E. BLADES, LAWRENCE G. WASDEN, and HENRY ATENCIO, Respondents.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill Chief Judge.
before the Court is a First Amended Petition for Writ of
Habeas Corpus filed by Idaho state prisoner Michael C.
Williams (“Petitioner” or
“Williams”), challenging Petitioner's state
court conviction. (Dkt. 15.) The Petition is now fully
briefed and ripe for adjudication. The Court takes judicial
notice of the records from Petitioner's state court
proceedings, which have been lodged by Respondent. (Dkt. 20.)
See Fed. R. Evid. 201(b); Dawson v.
Mahoney, 451 F.3d 550, 551 n.1 (9th Cir. 2006).
carefully reviewed the record in this matter, including the
state court record, the Court concludes that oral argument is
unnecessary. See D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d).
Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order (1)
dismissing all but one of Petitioner's claims as
noncognizable or procedurally defaulted and (2) denying the
remaining claim on the merits.
following facts are taken from the decision of the Idaho
Court of Appeals on appeal from the dismissal of
Petitioner's state post-conviction petition:
Williams and his brother, Doug, exited a bar to return home.
Upon exiting, Doug entered into a dispute with some other
men, while Williams opened his pickup door and sat down
inside. After learning of the dispute, one of the men, Chris
Adams, broke a beer bottle on the ground and began to walk
towards Williams. A verbal altercation ensued, and Williams
produced a gun and shot Adams three times in the chest,
Lodging D-6 at 1.) A jury found Petitioner guilty of
voluntary manslaughter, along with a deadly weapon sentencing
enhancement, but acquitted him of first- and second-degree
murder. (State's Lodging A-1 at 137-38.) Petitioner
received a unified sentence of 30 years in prison with 25
years fixed. (State's Lodging D-6 at 1-2.)
appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion
in sentencing Petitioner and in denying Petitioner's
motion for reduction of sentence under Idaho Criminal Rule
35. (State's Lodging B-1, B-3.) The Idaho Court of
Appeals affirmed, and the Idaho Supreme Court denied review.
(State's Lodging B-4, B-7.)
the conclusion of his direct appeal, Petitioner filed a
petition for state post-conviction relief. (State's
Lodging C-1 at 8-41.) The state district court summarily
dismissed all but one of Petitioner's claims.
(State's Lodging C-2 at 348-75.) Following an evidentiary
hearing, the court dismissed Petitioner's remaining
claim-that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by
failing to file a motion to suppress statements made by
Petitioner. (Id. at 420-26.)
appealed the dismissal of his post-conviction petition,
arguing only that trial counsel rendered ineffective
assistance by abandoning a self-defense theory,
that counsel's abandonment of the self-defense theory
also denied Petitioner his right to a jury and right to a
fair trial, and that the lower court did not address all of
the claims in the post-conviction petition, including a claim
that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in
violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
(State's Lodging D-1, D-3.) The Idaho Court of Appeals
affirmed. (State's Lodging D-6.) Petitioner sought review
in the Idaho Supreme Court, raising only the claim that
counsel was ineffective in abandoning a self-defense theory.
(State's Lodging D-8.) The Idaho Supreme Court denied the
petition for review. (State's Lodging D-9.)
then filed a second Rule 35 motion in the state district
court, asserting that his consecutive sentence for the
firearm enhancement was illegal. (State's Lodging E-2 at
8-10.) That motion was denied. (Id. at 37-43.)
Petitioner appealed, contending (a) that, under State v.
Caramillo, 116 Idaho 413, 775 P.2d 1255, (Idaho Ct. App.
1989), the sentencing judge improperly described the firearm
enhancement as a consecutive sentence, (b) that the fixed
portion of his sentence exceeded the statutory maximum under
Idaho law, (c) that his due process and equal protection
rights were violated, and (d) that he was entitled to counsel
and a telephonic hearing prior to denial of the Rule 35
motion. (State's Lodging F-1.) The Idaho Court of Appeals
affirmed, and the Idaho Supreme Court denied review.
(State's Lodging F-4, F-7.)
instant federal petition, Petitioner raises numerous
claims. Claim A asserts that the prosecution
violated Brady v. Maryland by failing to disclose a
ballistics report and “exculpatory witness
statements.” (Dkt. 15 at 4.) Claim B asserts numerous
sub-claims. First, Claim B asserts ineffective assistance of
trial counsel-under both Strickland v. Washington,
466 U.S. 668 (1984), and United States v. Cronic,
466 U.S. 648 (1984)-based on counsel's alleged
abandonment of a self-defense theory, including counsel's
failure to present evidence that the victim and his
companions were intoxicated. (Id. at 6-7.) Claim B
also asserts that Petitioner's sentence is
illegal-presumably as a violation of due process-because the
firearm enhancement purportedly extended the fixed portion of
Petitioner's sentence beyond the statutory maximum
penalty; Petitioner also asserts that the enhancement penalty
was improperly characterized by the sentencing judge as a
consecutive sentence. (Id. at 7.) Finally, Claim B
appears to contend that trial/sentencing and direct appeal
counsel may have rendered ineffective assistance in failing
to raise the due process argument regarding Petitioner's
sentence. (Id. at 5-8.)
Petitioner's Claim that the Firearm Sentencing
Enhancement Was Mischaracterized Is
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).
“[F]ederal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors
of state law, ” Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S.
764, 780 (1990).
assertion, in Claim B, that the trial court “erred when
characterizing the sentence for the deadly weapon enhancement
as ‘consecutive' to the voluntary manslaughter
sentence” (Dkt. 15 at 7), appears to be based-as it was
in state court (see State's Lodging D-1, D-6 at
2)-on a claim that Idaho law treats such enhancements as part
of one continuous sentence, rather than as a separate
consecutive sentence. This claim relies on a state law
principle set forth in State v. Caramillo, which
held that “[i]t is well established in [Idaho] case law
that, regardless of the terminology employed, a firearm
enhancement is part of a single sentence.” 775 P.2d at
1256. The state court of appeals rejected this state-law
claim, noting that Caramillo did not afford
Petitioner relief because his sentence was substantively
legal, despite the sentencing court's use of inaccurate
terminology. (State's Lodging D-6 at 2-3.)
Petitioner's claim that the firearm enhancement was
mischaracterized as a consecutive sentence relies only on
state law, that claim is subject to dismissal as
of Petitioner's Other Claims, with the Exception of His
Self-Defense Ineffectiveness Claim under
Strickland v. Washington, Are Subject to Dismissal
as Procedurally Defaulted
Procedural Default Standards of Law
habeas petitioner must exhaust his or her remedies in the
state courts before a federal court can grant relief on
constitutional claims. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel,
526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). To do so, the petitioner must
invoke one complete round of the state's established
appellate review process, fairly presenting all
constitutional claims to the state courts so that they have a
full and fair opportunity to correct alleged constitutional
errors at each level of appellate review. Id. at
845. In a state that has the possibility of discretionary
review in the highest appellate court, like Idaho, the
petitioner must have presented all of his federal claims at
least in a petition seeking review before that court.
Id. at 847. “Fair presentation” requires
a petitioner to describe both the operative facts and the
legal theories upon which the federal claim is based.
Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 162-63 (1996).
mere similarity between a federal claim and a state law
claim, without more, does not satisfy the requirement of fair
presentation. See Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364,
365-66 (1995) (per curiam). General references in state court
to “broad constitutional principles, such as due
process, equal protection, [or] the right to a fair trial,
” are likewise insufficient. See Hiivala v.
Wood, 195 F.3d 1098, 1106 (9th Cir. 1999). The law is
clear that, for proper exhaustion, a petitioner must bring
his federal claim before the state court by
“explicitly” citing the federal legal basis for
his claim. Lyons v. Crawford, 232 F.3d 666, 669 (9th
Cir. 2000), as amended, 247 F.3d 904 (9th Cir.
habeas petitioner has not fairly presented a constitutional
claim to the highest state court, and it is clear that the
state court would now refuse to consider it because of the
state's procedural rules, the claim is said to be
procedurally defaulted. Gray, 518 U.S. at 161-62.
Procedurally defaulted claims include those within the
following circumstances: (1) when a petitioner has completely
failed to raise a claim before the Idaho courts; (2) when a
petitioner has raised a claim, but has failed to fully and
fairly present it as a federal claim to the Idaho
courts; and (3) when the Idaho courts have rejected a claim
on an adequate and independent state procedural ground.
Id.; Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 32
(2004); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750
qualify as an adequate procedural ground, a state rule must
be firmly established and regularly followed.”
Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. 307, 316 (2011) (internal
quotation marks omitted). That is, the state procedural bar
must be one that is “‘clear, consistently
applied, and well-established at the time of the
petitioner's purported default.” Martinez v.
Klauser, 266 F.3d 1091, 1093-94 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Wells v. Maass, 28 F.3d 1005, 1010 (9th Cir. 1994)).
A state procedural bar can be considered adequate even if it
is a discretionary rule, even though “the appropriate
exercise of discretion may permit consideration of a federal
claim in some cases but not others.” Beard v.
Kindler, 558 U.S. 53, 61 (2009). A state rule's
“use of an imprecise standard . . . is no justification
for depriving a rule's language of any meaning.”
Walker, 562 U.S. at 318 (internal quotation marks
and alteration omitted).
procedural bar is “independent” of federal law if
it does not rest on, and if it is not interwoven with,
federal grounds. Bennett v. Mueller, 322 F.3d 573,
581 (9th Cir. 2003). A rule will not be deemed independent of
federal law “if the state has made application of the
procedural bar depend on an antecedent ruling on federal law
such as the determination of whether federal constitutional
error has been committed.” Id. (internal
quotation marks and alteration omitted); see also Ake v.
Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 75 (1985) (stating that
“when resolution of the state procedural law question
depends on a federal constitutional ruling, the state-law
prong of the court's holding is not independent of
federal law, and our jurisdiction is not precluded, ”
and holding that a state waiver rule was not independent
because, “[b]efore applying the waiver doctrine to a
constitutional question, the state court must rule, either
explicitly or implicitly, on the merits of the constitutional
Analysis of Procedural Default
most straightforward manner in which to resolve the
exhaustion and procedural default status of Petitioner's
federal claims is to review which claims were raised and
addressed on the merits in the state court appellate
proceedings. On direct appeal, Petitioner argued only that
the trial court abused its discretion, under state law, in
sentencing Petitioner and in denying Petitioner's first
Rule 35 motion. (State's Lodging B-1, B-3.) Neither is a
federal claim cognizable in this Court. See 28
U.S.C. § 2254(a); Lewis, 497 U.S. at 780. Thus,
Petitioner did not properly exhaust any federal claim on
initially raised several arguments on appeal from the
dismissal of his state post-conviction petition. However, in
the petition for review to the Idaho Supreme Court,
Petitioner raised only the claim that his trial counsel was
ineffective for abandoning a self-defense theory.
(State's Lodging D-1, D-3, D-8.) Thus, he did not fairly
present his other claims. See O'Sullivan v.
Boerckel, 526 U.S. at 847 (holding that, to fairly
present a claim, petitioners must include that claim in ...