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Fletcher v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 2, 2019

WILLIAM FLETCHER, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY BLADES, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

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

         Pending before the Court is an Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. 53), filed by Idaho state prisoner William Fletcher (“Petitioner” or “Fletcher”), challenging Petitioner's Ada County conviction of felony injury to a child. The Court previously dismissed, as procedurally defaulted, all of the claims in the Amended Petition with the exception of Claim 4(e). (Dkt. 78.) That claim is now fully briefed on the merits and ripe for adjudication. (See Dkt. 87, 88.) The Court takes judicial notice of the records from Petitioner's state court proceedings, which have been lodged by Respondent. (Dkt. 13, 55.) See Fed. R. Evid. 201(b); Dawson v. Mahoney, 451 F.3d 550, 551 n.1 (9th Cir. 2006).

         All 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. 25.) Having 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 denying habeas corpus relief on Claim 4(e).

         1. Background

         Petitioner was initially charged with two counts of lewd conduct with a minor under the age of sixteen. (State's Lodging A-1 at 6-7.) Pursuant to a binding plea agreement, Petitioner entered an Alford plea to a single reduced charge of felony injury to a child, based on Petitioner's “rubbing the vaginal opening” of the minor victim. (Id. at 74, 75-84.) Petitioner was sentenced to ten years in prison with three years fixed but was placed on a rider. After an unsuccessful period of retained jurisdiction, the trial court relinquished jurisdiction and ordered execution of Petitioner's sentence. (See Dkt. 78 at 2.) The state appellate court affirmed.

         Petitioner pursued post-conviction relief and filed numerous motions in his underlying criminal case, but the trial court dismissed the post-conviction petition and denied the motions. Again, the state appellate court affirmed. Petitioner has since been released on parole.

         In the instant habeas case, only Claim 4(e) remains for adjudication on the merits. In that claim, Petitioner asserts that his attorney rendered ineffective assistance by allegedly leading Petitioner to believe that “local racial prejudice would make trying to put on a defense a futile gesture.” Petitioner claims that as a result of this advice, his plea of guilty was invalid. (Dkt. 53 at 10.)

         2. Habeas Corpus Standard of Law

         Federal habeas corpus relief may be granted when a 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). If the state court has adjudicated a claim on the merits, habeas relief is further limited by § 2254(d), as amended by the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Under AEDPA, federal habeas relief may be granted only 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). “Deciding whether a state court's decision involved an unreasonable application of federal law or was based on an unreasonable determination of fact requires the federal habeas court to train its attention on the particular reasons- both legal and factual-why state courts rejected a state prisoner's federal claims and to give appropriate deference to that decision.” Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1191-92 (2018) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         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 not warranted under § 2254(d)(1). Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). The Supreme Court has emphasized that “even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. 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.” Id. at 103.

         Though the source of clearly established federal law must come only 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, 569 U.S. 58, 64 (2013).

         “[R]eview 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 determinations of the state court were reasonable. See Murray v. Schriro, 745 F.3d 984, 999-1000 (9th Cir. 2014); (“After Pinholster, a federal habeas court may consider new evidence only on de novo review, subject to the limitations of § 2254(e)(2).”); Hurles v. Ryan, 752 F.3d 768, 778 (9th Cir. 2014) (“If we determine, considering only the evidence before the state court, that the adjudication of a claim on the merits ... was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts, we evaluate the claim de novo, and we may consider evidence properly presented for the first time in federal court.”).

         To be eligible for relief under § 2254(d)(2), a 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.” 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); see also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007) (“The question under AEDPA is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold.”). State court factual findings are presumed to be correct and are binding on the federal court unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         If a petitioner satisfies § 2254(d)-either by showing that the state court's adjudication of the claim was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent or by establishing that the state court's factual findings were unreasonable-then the federal habeas court must review the petitioner's claim de novo, meaning without deference to the state court's decision. Hurles, 752 F.3d at 778. De novo review is also required where the state appellate court did not decide a properly-asserted claim or where an adequate excuse for the ...


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