United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
E. Bush, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.
before the Court is a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
filed by Idaho state prisoner Clayton Adams
(“Petitioner” or “Adams”),
challenging Petitioner's Canyon County convictions of
second-degree murder and aggravated battery. (Dkt. 1.) 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. (Dkts. 8 & 12.) See Fed.
R. Evid. 201(b); Dawson v. Mahoney, 451 F.3d 550,
551 n.1 (9th Cir. 2006).
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. 7.) 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
clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, see
28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), the following facts of
Petitioner's case, as described by the Idaho Court of
Appeals, are presumed correct:
Three friends, Tyler Gorley, Stephen Maylin and Mikeal
Campbell, were leaving a Caldwell bar at closing time when
they ran into Adams and his friend, Sergio Madrigal, outside
the entrance. Campbell spoke to Adams, whom he knew, and the
group decided to go to a private party at another location,
with the intent to buy beer and drop off Maylin at his home
along the way. The five men got into Adams' car.
According to the State's evidence at Adams'
subsequent trial, the following events then unfolded. En
route, Adams asked for beer and gas money from Gorley, Maylin
and Campbell, and when he was told that they had no money,
Adams became enraged. Adams told the men that he had a knife
and a gun and that someone was going to get hurt if he was
not given money. In an apparent attempt to scare the men into
compliance, Adams started driving recklessly, speeding and
running stop lights and stop signs. Gorley, Maylin and
Campbell demanded to be let out of the car, but Adams
initially refused to stop. Eventually, Adams slammed on his
brakes in the middle of a rural road, and the three men got
out of the car to escape from him. Campbell was successful in
doing so but the other two men were not. As Maylin was
exiting by the left-rear passenger door, he was met by Adams,
who stabbed Maylin once in the side before Maylin got away.
Adams then stabbed Gorley five times, killing him. Adams then
got back in his car and drove away, with Madrigal still a
passenger. The two men then bought beer, unsuccessfully
looked for the party and then drove to Adams' home where
he was arrested.
Adams was charged with first degree premeditated murder, or
in the alternative, first degree felony murder, three counts
of attempted robbery, and one count of aggravated battery.
State v. Adams, 216 P.3d 146, 148-49 (Idaho Ct. App.
2009) (Adams I) (see also State's
Lodging B-4 at 1-2).
jury found Petitioner guilty of second-degree murder and
aggravated battery but acquitted him of first-degree murder
and attempted robbery. Petitioner received a unified sentence
of life imprisonment with 25 years fixed for second-degree
murder, as well as a consecutive 10-year term, with three
years fixed, for aggravated battery.
Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions
and sentences, and the Idaho Supreme Court denied review.
(State's Lodging B-4; B-7.)
pursued post-conviction relief. The state district court
ordered resentencing on the second-degree murder conviction,
but summarily dismissed Petitioner's other claims.
(State's Lodging E-1 at 1669-71; E-5 at 1859-60.) Upon
resentencing, the trial court again sentenced Petitioner to
life imprisonment with 25 years fixed on the second-degree
murder conviction; that sentence was affirmed on
appeal.(State's Lodging C-1 at 129-30; D-4.)
appealed the dismissal of six of his post-conviction claims.
The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Idaho Supreme
Court denied review. (State's Lodging F-4; F-12; F-10.)
federal Petition, Petitioner asserts seven claims: (1)
ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to call
Lynette Skeen as a witness; (2) ineffective assistance of
trial counsel for failing to object to a paramedic's
testimony that Gorley and Maylin suffered stab wounds; (3)
ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to seek
independent DNA testing of Gorley's clothing; (4)
ineffective assistance of trial counsel for allegedly
abandoning Petitioner's self-defense theory and conceding
that Petitioner was guilty of manslaughter; (5) denial of the
right to an impartial based on the trial court's failure
to excuse a juror for cause sua sponte; (6) prosecutorial
misconduct based on the prosecutor's statements in
rebuttal closing argument; and (7) cumulative error. (Dkt. 1
CORPUS STANDARD OF LAW
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;
(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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
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). Therefore, evidence that was not presented to the
state court cannot 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.”).
eligible for relief under § 2254(d)(2), 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.” 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.
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.
considering a habeas claim de novo, a district court may, as
in the pre-AEDPA era, draw from both United States Supreme
Court and well as circuit precedent, limited only by the
non-retroactivity rule of Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S.
288 (1989). Even under de novo review, however, if the
factual findings of the state court are not unreasonable
under § 2254(d)(2), 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
1167-68. Conversely, if a state court factual determination
is unreasonable, the federal court is not limited by §
2254(e)(1) and may consider evidence outside the state court
record, except to the extent that § 2254(e)(2) might
apply. Murray v. Schriro, 745 F.3d at 1000.
even if a petitioner succeeds in demonstrating a
constitutional error in his conviction, he is entitled to
federal habeas relief only if the petitioner “can
establish that [the error] resulted in ‘actual
prejudice.'” Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507
U.S. 619, 637 (1993). Under the Brecht standard, an
error is not harmless, and habeas relief may be granted, only
if the federal court has “grave doubt about whether a
trial error of federal law had substantial and injurious
effect or influence in determining the jury's
verdict.” O'Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S.
432, 436 (1995) (internal quotation marks omitted). However,
some types of claims “are analyzed under their own
harmless error standards, which can render Brecht
analysis unnecessary.” Jackson v. Brown, 513
F.3d 1057, 1070 (9th Cir. 2008). Ineffective assistance of
counsel claims are included in this category. Musladin v.
Lamarque, 555 F.3d 830, 834 (9th Cir. 2009)
(“[W]here a habeas petition governed by AEDPA alleges
ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674
(1984), we apply Strickland's prejudice standard
and do not engage in a separate analysis applying the
argues that Petitioner's claims do not survive review
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). For the following reasons,
the Court agrees.
Idaho Court of Appeals Reasonably Rejected Petitioner's
Ineffective Assistance Claims (Claims 1
state's theory of the case was that Petitioner became
angry at his three passengers and tried to rob them, stabbed
Maylin with a knife, and then fatally stabbed Gorley.
Petitioner told a different story-that the passengers
attacked him and that he stabbed Gorley in self-defense.
Claims 1 through 4 essentially assert that trial
counsel's actions undermined, or even abandoned,
Petitioner's claim of self-defense.
Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides
that a criminal defendant has a right to the effective
assistance of counsel in his defense. The standard for
ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”) claims
was set forth by the Supreme Court in Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). A petitioner asserting
IAC must show that (1) “counsel made errors so serious
that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel'
guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment, ” and
(2) those errors prejudiced the defendant by
“depriv[ing] the defendant of a fair trial, a trial
whose result is reliable.” Id. at 687. A
petitioner must establish both deficient performance and
prejudice. Id. at 697. On habeas review, a court may
consider either prong of the Strickland test first,
or it may address both prongs, even if one prong is not
satisfied and would compel denial of the IAC claim.
an attorney's performance was deficient is judged against
an objective standard of reasonableness. Id. at
687-88. A reviewing court's inquiry into the
reasonableness of counsel's actions must not rely on
Judicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly
deferential. It is all too tempting for a defendant to
second-guess counsel's assistance after conviction or
adverse sentence, and it is all too easy for a court,
examining counsel's defense after it has proved
unsuccessful, to conclude that a particular act or omission
of counsel was unreasonable. A fair assessment of attorney
performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate
the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the
circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to
evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the
time. Because of the difficulties inherent in making the
evaluation, a court must indulge a strong presumption that
counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant
must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances,
the challenged action might be considered sound trial
strategy. There are countless ways to provide effective
assistance in any given case. Even the best criminal defense
attorneys would not defend a particular client in the same
Id. at 689 (internal citations and quotation marks
decisions, such as the choice of a defense, “are
virtually unchallengeable” if “made after
thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible
options.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690.
Moreover, an attorney who decides not to investigate a
potential defense theory is not ineffective so long as the
decision to forego investigation is itself objectively
[S]trategic choices made after less than complete
investigation are reasonable precisely to the extent that
reasonable professional judgments support the limitations on
investigation. In other words, counsel has a duty to make
reasonable investigations or to make a reasonable decision
that makes particular investigations unnecessary. In any
ineffectiveness case, a particular decision not to
investigate must be directly assessed for reasonableness in
all the circumstances, applying a heavy measure of deference
to counsel's judgments.
Id. at 690-91. That is, “the duty to
investigate does not force defense lawyers to scour the globe
on the off chance something will turn up; reasonably diligent
counsel may draw a line when they have good reason to think
further investigation would be a waste.” Rompilla
v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374, 383 (2005). Further, counsel is
not deficient in an area where an investigation would not
have been fruitful for the defense.
Ninth Circuit has provided some insight into the
Strickland standard when evaluating an
attorney's “strategy calls.” These cases are
instructive in the Court's assessment of whether the
state court reasonably applied Strickland. See
Duhaime, 200 F.3d at 600.
tactical decisions do not constitute IAC simply because, in
retrospect, better tactics are known to have been available.
Bashor v. Risley, 730 F.2d 1228, 1241 (9th Cir.
1984). Second, a mere difference of opinion as to strategy
does not render counsel's assistance ineffective.
United States v. Mayo, 646 F.2d 369, 375 (9th Cir.
1981). Third, Strickland gives a trial attorney wide
discretion with respect to abandoning inconsistent defenses.
See Correll v. Stewart, 137 F.3d 1404, 1411 (9th
Cir. 1998) (holding that counsel's failure to develop a
mens rea defense was reasonable because such a defense
“would have conflicted with the primary defense theory
of misidentification”); Turk v. White, 116
F.3d, 1264, 1267 (9th Cir. 1997) (counsel's selection of
self-defense theory was reasonable and obviated his need to
investigate defendant's claim of incompetency). Fourth,
“counsel's investigation must determine trial
strategy, not the other way around.” Weeden v.
Johnson, 854 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2017); see
also Id. (“Weeden's counsel could not have
reasonably concluded that obtaining a psychological
examination would conflict with his trial strategy without
first knowing what such an examination would reveal.”).
petitioner shows that counsel's performance was
deficient, the next step is the prejudice analysis. “An
error by counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does
not warrant setting aside the judgment of a criminal
proceeding if the error had no effect on the judgment.”
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691. To satisfy the
prejudice standard, a petitioner “must show that there
is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.” Id. at 694. As the
Strickland Court instructed:
In making this determination, a court hearing an
ineffectiveness claim must consider the totality of the
evidence before the judge or jury. Some of the factual
findings will have been unaffected by the errors, and factual
findings that were affected will have been affected in
different ways. Some errors will have had a pervasive effect
on the inferences to be drawn from the evidence, altering the
entire evidentiary picture, and some will have had an
isolated, trivial effect. Moreover, a verdict or conclusion
only weakly supported by the record is more likely to have
been affected by errors than one with overwhelming record
support. Taking the unaffected findings as a given, and
taking due account of the effect of the errors on the
remaining findings, a court making the prejudice inquiry must
ask if the defendant has met the burden of showing that the
decision reached would reasonably likely have been different
absent the errors.
Id. at 695-96. To constitute Strickland
prejudice, “[t]he likelihood of a different result must
be substantial, not just conceivable.”
Richter, 562 U.S. 86 at 112.
foregoing standard, giving deference to counsel's
decision-making, is the de novo standard of review. Another
layer of deference-to the state court decision-is afforded
under AEDPA. In giving guidance to district courts reviewing
Strickland claims on habeas corpus review, the
United States Supreme Court explained:
The pivotal question is whether the state court's
application of the Strickland standard was
unreasonable. This is different from asking whether defense
counsel's performance fell below
Strickland's standard. Were that the inquiry,
the analysis would be no different than if, for example, this
Court were adjudicating a Strickland claim on direct
review of a criminal conviction in a United States district
court. Under AEDPA, though, it is a necessary premise that
the two questions are different. For purposes of §
2254(d)(1), “an unreasonable application of federal law
is different from an incorrect application of federal
law.” Williams, supra, at 410, 120
S.Ct. 1495. A state court must be granted a deference and
latitude that are not in operation when the case involves
review under the Strickland standard itself.
Richter, 562 U.S. at 101. That is, when evaluating
an IAC claim under § 2254(d), this Court's review of
that claim must be “doubly deferential.”
Pinholster, 563 U.S. at 190 (internal quotation
Petitioner Is Not Entitled to Relief on Claims 1, 2, 3, or
Idaho Court of Appeals considered and rejected
Petitioner's ineffective assistance claims, presented
here as Claims 1 through 4, on appeal from the partial
dismissal of Petitioner's post-conviction petition.
Claim 1, Petitioner asserts that his trial counsel was
ineffective in failing to investigate and call a witness in
the altercation that resulted in Gorley's death, Lynette
Skeen-who lived nearby-reported that she heard a male voice
outside her home yell, “Get the Fuck back here.”
(State's Lodging E-1 at 393.) She also saw the headlights
of Petitioner's car. Though the state listed Lynette
Skeen as a witness, it did not call her at trial. Adams
v. State, 387 P.3d 153, 167 (Idaho Ct. App. 2016)
(Adams II). Petitioner's counsel also did not
call Skeen to testify as a witness.
asserts that trial counsel should have investigated Skeen,
and called her as a witness, because Skeen's
statement-that she heard a male yelling “Get the Fuck
back here”-corroborated Petitioner's self-defense
theory. (Dkt. 21 at 13.)
Idaho Court of Appeals rejected this claim. In doing so, it
addressed both Strickland prongs:
Adams only offered conclusory allegations as to what [Skeen]
would have testified to at trial based on a police report.
Such argument is mere speculation and inadmissible. Thus,
Adams failed to provide admissible evidence concerning the
substance of [Skeen's] testimony. Moreover, Adams failed
to show that [Skeen] would have been available to testify and
that [she] would have testified consistently with her
respective alleged statements and consistently with
Adams's version of the events. Adams has not provided
evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption that trial
counsel made a strategic decision not to call either witness.
Adams II, 387 P.3d at 167-68. That is, the state
court held that trial counsel reasonably decided not to call
Skeen and that Petitioner could not show prejudice in any
event, since he had not shown that Skeen would have testified
consistently with Petitioner's story about the
Idaho Court of Appeals' rejection of Claim 1 was not
unreasonable under AEDPA. There was no evidence that Skeen
could identify the voice she heard. As this Court previously
explained when it denied Petitioner's motion for
discovery with respect to this claim, “even if the jury
had heard Skeen's report of the incident, it is highly
unlikely that the jurors would have assumed that the
victim-rather than Petitioner- made the statement, ‘Get
the fuck back here, '” especially given that
“multiple witnesses testified that Petitioner was the
aggressor.” (Dkt. 32 at 6.) Petitioner cannot show
prejudice based on counsel's failure to investigate Skeen
or to call her as a witness at trial.
foregoing reasons, the state court's decision on Claim 1
was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of,
Supreme Court precedent, nor was it based on an unreasonable