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Abdullah v. Ramirez

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 24, 2018

AL RAMIREZ, Respondent.


          B. Lynn Winmill, Judge

         Pending before the Court in this capital habeas corpus matter are Petitioner's Motion to Stay and Motion for Access to Grand Jury Transcript. (Dkts. 3, 7.) The motions are fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. Having reviewed the record and considered the argument of the parties, the Court enters the following Order.


         Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder and other related crimes arising from an incident of arson at Petitioner's residence, all in a state criminal action in the Fourth Judicial District Court in Ada County, Idaho. Petitioner's sentence of death on the murder charge was imposed on March 4, 2005. Ten years later, on March 2, 2015, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences and affirmed dismissal of his post-conviction action. Counting the currently-pending successive post-conviction case, Petitioner's case has been pending in state court for thirteen years.

         Petitioner's first federal habeas corpus filings in this Court were on August 25, 2015. He was permitted to file his federal habeas corpus petition at any time within the statutory one-year time frame. He filed his Petition on February 24, 2017. Petitioner now requests that this Court stay this two-and-a-half-year-old action until his successive post-conviction petition is adjudicated, through the level of the Idaho Supreme Court, if necessary. (Dkt. 3.) The case is currently in state district court.

         Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus is the first new capital habeas case filed in the District of Idaho for many years. During those years, the Court has changed many of its procedures to keep up with the evolution of habeas procedural rules. For example, recent case law allows habeas petitioners the opportunity to have de novo evidentiary hearings in federal court on procedurally-defaulted claims, whereas petitioners who properly exhausted their claims in state court are denied that opportunity. Cf. Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), with Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011). Habeas corpus procedure is as confusing as it is complex. Not surprisingly, the United States Supreme Court has suggested that the merits of non-defaulted claims should be heard ahead of other claims where difficult procedural hurdles must be cleared before the merits of those other claims can be addressed. See Dretke v. Haley, 541 U.S. 386, 393-94 (2004) (“[A] federal court faced with allegations of actual innocence, whether of the sentence or of the crime charged, must first address all non-defaulted claims for comparable relief and other grounds for cause to excuse the procedural default.”) (emphasis added). Accordingly, this Court has, in some habeas corpus cases, required merits-based claims to be briefed and adjudicated ahead of complex procedural issues that would require evidentiary development.

         On another procedural front, in an effort to treat petitioners equitably in the face of habeas procedural rules requiring both complete exhaustion of claims and the filing of the federal petition within one year of finality of the state court judgment, the federal courts have crafted what has become, but was not intended to be, a tangled web of procedural exceptions involving the question of stays-the current issue in Petitioner's case. As a matter of comity, a federal court will not entertain a habeas corpus petition unless the petitioner has exhausted the available state judicial remedies on every ground presented in a petition. Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518-22 (1982). The habeas statute explicitly provides that a habeas petition brought by a person in state custody “shall not be granted unless it appears that … the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A).

         However, after Rose v. Lundy, Congress's imposition of a one-year statute of limitations and a successive-petitions bar in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) made federal courts scramble to carve out procedural paths to provide habeas petitioners with every opportunity to both exhaust their state court remedies and file their petitions on time. The stay is one of these procedural paths.

         In Ryan v. Gonzales, the United States Supreme Court considered the very difficult issue of whether two petitioners' incompetence warranted an indefinite stay of their habeas corpus actions. 568 U.S. 57 (2013). There, the Court reasoned:

Neither petitioner disputes that “[d]istrict courts ... ordinarily have authority to issue stays, where such a stay would be a proper exercise of discretion.” Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 276, 125 S.Ct. 1528, 161 L.Ed.2d 440 (2005) (citation omitted); see also Enelow v. New York Life Ins. Co., 293 U.S. 379, 382, 55 S.Ct. 310, 79 L.Ed. 440 (1935) (explaining that a district court may stay a case “pending before it by virtue of its inherent power to control the progress of the cause so as to maintain the orderly processes of justice”). Similarly, both petitioners agree that “AEDPA does not deprive district courts of [this] authority.” Rhines, supra, at 276, 125 S.Ct. 1528. Petitioners and respondents disagree, however, about the types of situations in which a stay would be appropriate and about the permissible duration of a competency-based stay. We do not presume that district courts need unsolicited advice from us on how to manage their dockets. Rather, the decision to grant a stay, like the decision to grant an evidentiary hearing, is “generally left to the sound discretion of district courts.” Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473, 127 S.Ct. 1933, 167 L.Ed.2d 836 (2007). For purposes of resolving these cases, it is unnecessary to determine the precise contours of the district court's discretion to issue stays.

Id. at 73-74.[1]

         In Rhines v. Weber, the Court held that federal district courts could use a stay-and-abeyance procedure in “limited circumstances” where the petitioner shows good cause for failing to exhaust, the unexhausted claim is potentially meritorious, and the petitioner has not engaged in abusive litigation tactics or intentional delay. 544 U.S. at 277-78.

         In Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 416 (2005), the United States Supreme Court authorized prisoners seeking to “avoid th[e] predicament” of a potentially late filing while they continued trying to exhaust some of their federal claims in state court to use the stay-and-abeyance procedure to file a “protective” petition in federal court to meet the statute of limitations deadline. These “protective” petitions, which have historically been used in other types of cases, put an element of delay back into federal habeas corpus procedure that the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was intended to eliminate. Further, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has declared that (1) the petition in Pace v. DiGuglielmo was “not mixed, ” (2) “the [Supreme] Court gave no indication that its statement applied only to mixed petitions, ” and (3) therefore, a petitioner now can file an entirely premature protective petition containing only unexhausted claims. Mena v. Long, 813 F.3d 907, 910 (9th Cir. 2016).

         AEDPA has two purposes. One is to “reduce delays in the execution of state and federal criminal sentences, particularly in capital cases.” Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 206 (2003). The other is to “balance[] the interests served by the exhaustion requirement and the limitation period by protecting a state prisoner's ability later to apply for federal habeas relief while state remedies are being pursued.” Rhines, 544 U.S. at 276 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Supreme Court has come right out and said that “[s]taying a federal habeas ...

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