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Ruiz v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 28, 2018

RANDY BLADES, Respondent.


          Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Idaho state prisoner Jose Antonio Ruiz (“Petitioner”), challenging Petitioner's state court convictions. (Dkt. 1.) Respondent has filed a Motion for Summary Dismissal, arguing that all of Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted. (Dkt. 18.) The Motion is now ripe for adjudication.

         The Court takes judicial notice of the records from Petitioner's state court proceedings, which have been lodged by Respondent. (Dkt. 11.) See Fed. R. Evid. 201(b); Dawson v Mahoney, 451 F.3d 550, 551 n.1 (9th Cir. 2006).

         The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings in this case in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. (Dkt. 8.) Having carefully reviewed the record, including the state court record, the Court finds that oral argument is unnecessary. See D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order granting Respondent's motion and dismissing this case with prejudice.


         The facts underlying Petitioner's conviction are set forth clearly and accurately in State v. Ruiz, 366 P.3d 644 (Idaho Ct. App. 2015), which is also contained in the record at State's Lodging B-4. The facts will not be repeated here except as necessary to explain the Court's decision.

         Following a jury trial in the Fourth Judicial District Court in Ada County, Idaho, Petitioner was convicted of two counts of lewd conduct with a minor under the age of sixteen and one count of sexual abuse of a minor under the age of sixteen. Ruiz, 366 P.3d at 645. Petitioner appealed, arguing that the trial court erred, under Idaho state law, when it denied denying Petitioner's motion for a mistrial after a state's witness-the victim's father-violated a pretrial order excluding certain descriptions or characterizations of text messages sent by Petitioner to the victim; in addition, Petitioner argued for the first time on appeal that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument by misstating the reasonable doubt standard, thereby lowering the prosecution's burden of proof. (State's Lodging B-1; B-3.)

         The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions in a published opinion. The court first held that the trial court did not err in denying Petitioner's motion for a mistrial, based on the father's testimony, under Idaho Criminal Rule 29.1. Ruiz, 366 P.3d at 646-47. As for Petitioner's prosecutorial misconduct claim, Petitioner had not objected to the alleged misconduct at trial. Therefore, the appellate court declined to consider the alleged error, concluding that Petitioner had not satisfied the first prong of Idaho's fundamental error doctrine-that there was a violation of one of Petitioner's unwaived constitutional rights. Id. at 725-27.

         In his petition for review to the Idaho Supreme Court, Petitioner argued only his second issue-prosecutorial misconduct in closing argument. However, Petitioner stated, in a footnote, that if the state supreme court were to grant review, that court also should consider the mistrial issue decided by the court of appeals with respect to the father's testimony about the text messages. (State's Lodging B-6.) The Idaho Supreme Court denied review. (State's Lodging B-7.)

         Petitioner then filed a petition for state post-conviction relief. Petitioner argued that, in violation of the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, he was not advised of his right to contact a “consular post” or a similar foreign representative. (State's Lodging C-1.) The state district court issued a notice of intent to dismiss the petition and denied Petitioner's demand for default. (State's Lodging C-7; C-8.) Although neither order was a final disposition of Petitioner's claims, Petitioner appealed both orders. (State's Lodging C-9; C-10.) The state district court later dismissed the petition, concluding that the principle cited by Petitioner was “not a basis for post-conviction relief” and that Petitioner's claim was “bare and conclusory” in any event. (State's Lodging C-11 at 4.)

         The Idaho Supreme Court conditionally dismissed Petitioner's appeal because it was not from a final order and called for a response. (State's Lodging D-1.) Petitioner did so, attaching the district court's final order of dismissal. (State's Lodging D-2.) The state supreme court then issued a second notice of conditional dismissal, this time based on Petitioner's failure to pay the “required fees for preparation of the Clerk's Record” and the lack of any order from the trial court waiving such fees. (State's Lodging D-3.) Petitioner responded, stating, “There are no fee's for Post-Conviction Remedy.” (State's Lodging D-4 (verbatim).) Petitioner did not seek a waiver of fees. Because Petitioner neither sought a waiver nor paid the record preparation fees, the Idaho Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. (State's Lodging D-5.)

         In the instant federal habeas corpus petition, Petitioner asserts two claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel (“IATC”) and two claims of due process violations. Claim 1(a) “asserts IATC for failure to advise [Petitioner] of his right to consult with a consular post or national diplomat, and right to diplomatic counsel.” (Memo. in Opp. to Mot. Summ. Dismissal, Dkt. 29, at 9-10.) Claim 1(b) “asserts IATC for failing to object to prejudicial testimony” regarding text messages, in violation of a pretrial order. (Id.)

         Claim 2(a) claims that the trial court violated due process when it did not grant a mistrial after testimony about the text messages presented by (i) the victim's father and (ii) the victim's aunt, Ms. Mendoza.[1] (Id. at 10.) Claim 2(b) alleges that the trial court should have granted a mistrial after the prosecutor committed misconduct by “lower[ing] the state's burden of proof, due to improper and highly prejudicial commentary during closing arguments.”[2] (Id.)

         The Court previously reviewed the Petition and allowed Petitioner to proceed on his claims to the extent those claims “(1) are cognizable in a federal habeas corpus action, (2) were timely filed in this Court, and (3) were either properly exhausted in state court or subject to a legal excuse for any failure to exhaust in a proper manner.” (Dkt. 5 at 3.)

         Respondent now argues that Petitioner's claims are subject to dismissal as procedurally defaulted.


         The Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases (“Habeas Rules”) authorize the Court to summarily dismiss a petition for writ of habeas corpus when “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any attached exhibits, ” as well as those records subject to judicial notice, “that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Habeas Rule 4; see Fed. R. Evid. 201(b); Dawson, 451 F.3d at 551 n.1. Where appropriate, a respondent may file a motion for summary dismissal, rather than an answer. White v. Lewis, 874 F.2d 599, 602 (9th Cir. 1989).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted and that Petitioner has not established an adequate excuse for the default. Thus, the Petition must be dismissed with prejudice.

         1. Standards of Law

         A 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. Davis v. Silva, 511 F.3d 1005, 1009 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The 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). Generally, 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. 2001).

         When a 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 v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 161-62 (1996). 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 (1991).

         “To 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, and 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 ...

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