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Brown v. Ramirez

United States District Court, D. Idaho

November 19, 2019

KEITH A. BROWN, Petitioner,



         Pending before the Court is a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Idaho prisoner Keith A. Brown (“Petitioner” or “Brown”), challenging Petitioner's state court convictions of voluntary manslaughter and accessory to grand theft. (Dkt. 1.) The Court previously dismissed Claims 2 through 9 of the Petition as procedurally defaulted or noncognizable. (Dkt. 23, 27.) Petitioner asks that the Court reconsider its dismissal of Claims 5 and 6. (Dkt. 34.)

         Additionally, Claim 1, the only remaining claim, 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. 10, 19, 29.) 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. 8.) 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 Petitioner's remaining claim and dismissing this case with prejudice.


         Under 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 absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary:

This case began in February 2007, when Bonner County sheriff's officers were alerted to an abandoned truck. The keys were with the truck, which was registered to Les Breaw, along with Breaw's wallet, checkbook, legal papers, and several pieces of mail. There were no debit or credit cards in the wallet. When officers checked at Breaw's home, it looked as though he had stepped out and planned to return, but the snow-covered driveway showed no signs of recent traffic. Concerned for Breaw's safety, the officers began investigating to determine when he was last seen. They were told by a neighbor that one of Breaw's other neighbors, Keith Brown, was last seen hurriedly packing for a trip around the time Breaw was last seen, and that Brown had not been seen since. Officers also learned that neither Brown, who worked for Breaw, nor Brown's wife, Tyrah Brown, had picked up their most recent paychecks. While investigating Breaw's recent bank card activity, officers also discovered a security video from a local store which appeared to show Brown using Breaw's debit card. When the store clerk was later asked about the incident, the clerk remembered it clearly because Brown did not know how to use the debit card and did not know the debit card's pin number.
Because of the suspicious circumstances surrounding Breaw's and Brown's disappearance and the possibly illegal debit card activity, an officer applied to a magistrate for a search warrant and a warrant to arrest Brown for theft of the debit card. The officer testified in support of the warrant, and gave the magistrate the details of the suspicious use of the debit card and the circumstances surrounding Breaw's and Brown's disappearance. He also reported to the magistrate that both Brown and Tyrah had extensive criminal records, including arrests for identity theft. After considering the evidence, the magistrate found probable cause, and both a search warrant for the Brown residence and a warrant authorizing Brown's arrest for grand theft were issued on February 7, 2007.
Although the arrest warrant was issued on suspicion of only theft of the bank card, over the next few weeks officers uncovered more incriminating information about Brown and Tyrah, including information that an escrow check for $50, 000 payable to Breaw had been deposited into a bank account held by Tyrah. Tyrah had opened the account on January 22, 2007, and deposited the check two days later. Within a week, all of the $50, 000 had been withdrawn from the account. Officers also learned that around the time of the suspicious debit card transaction, a man and woman had gone to some of Breaw's renters to collect rent, allegedly on behalf of Breaw. One renter who had paid in cash remembered the incident because Breaw called the next day claiming that he had never received the rent money. Officers learned from Tyrah's co-workers that she had made inconsistent statements about Breaw having travel plans. She told one individual that the Browns were going to take Breaw to the airport in Seattle, from which he would fly to Thailand to pick up a sailboat, and told another person that the Browns were going to drive Breaw to Oregon.
As part of the investigation, an officer contacted Tyrah's mother, Rebekah Harding. Harding said that she had left with the Browns in late January, but Brown purchased a new car in Montana and left Harding with Brown's old car at a hotel. During Harding's initial conversation with an officer on February 8, she was reluctant to believe that anything illegal had occurred. She said that Breaw was not missing because he had gone to California to “dig clams” and visit his mother. She also said that Brown had permission to use Breaw's debit card, and explained that Breaw was a poor bookkeeper, so the incident with missing rent money had been a misunderstanding. The next day, however, Harding called the officer because of a phone call that she received from Tyrah earlier that morning. Harding reported that although the conversation started off casually, when Harding told Tyrah that she had been questioned by a law enforcement officer the preceding day, the phone line went dead. Harding then suspected that Brown had done something to Breaw. Harding eventually admitted that Brown had given her $7, 000 before leaving her in Montana.
On March 19, a body was found hidden under a pile of brush and snow a short distance from the location where Brown's truck had been left. Although officers suspected that the body was Breaw, they were not able to confirm the identity until an autopsy on March 21. During the autopsy the missing debit card was found in the decedent's pocket.
On March 20, the day after the body was found, Brown was arrested in Florida on a fugitive warrant from Idaho. Before he was extradited to Idaho on the grand theft charge, Brown and Tyrah were interviewed by Florida law enforcement officials. In these interviews, the Browns made a number of incriminating statements. When asked about Breaw's $50, 000 escrow check, Brown claimed that the money was owed to him because of services he had rendered Breaw, but eventually Tyrah confessed to forging Breaw's name on the escrow check. Tyrah also confessed to shooting Breaw and hiding his body. According to Tyrah, she had done it because Breaw had raped her. When Brown was told that his wife had confessed, he also confessed to killing Breaw and told officers that Tyrah was not there. According to Brown, he and Breaw had gone shooting that day, and during the outing Breaw offered Brown the escrow check so that Brown would forgive Breaw for Breaw's sexual misconduct with Tyrah. Breaw continued, however, to make disparaging remarks about Tyrah, which ultimately prompted Brown to shoot Breaw. Brown said that he buried Breaw in the snow and hid the murder weapon nearby. Brown even drew a map to the gun's location to persuade officers that Tyrah was not involved. By the next day, however, Brown's story had changed. He recanted his story about killing Breaw and instead told the Florida officers that shooting Breaw had been an accident. He claimed that Breaw had first shot Brown in the leg, which then caused Brown to accidentally shoot Breaw in the head.

State v. Brown, 313 P.3d 751, 754-56 (Idaho Ct. App. 2013) (Brown I) (footnote omitted); see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         In the First Judicial District Court in Bonner County, Idaho, Petitioner was charged with first-degree murder and grand theft, as well as being a felon in possession of a firearm. Petitioner filed a motion to suppress his initial statements to Florida law enforcement officers, which the trial court denied. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner entered an Alford plea[1] to voluntary manslaughter and accessory to grant theft. Id. at 756.

         Petitioner appealed, claiming, in pertinent part, that his statements to the Florida police were involuntary. (State's Lodging B-1 at 26 (“Mr. Brown asserts that the district court erred when it concluded that his statements were voluntarily made in the absence of any evidence establishing the circumstances under which those statements were obtained.”).) The Idaho Court of Appeals held that the prosecution had failed to meet its burden of showing that the statements were voluntary, apparently due to the prosecutor's mistaken belief that Petitioner, and not the state, bore the burden of proof. Brown, 313 P.3d at 759-60. However, rather than adopting Petitioner's proposed remedy-remand for entry of a suppression order, which would allow Petitioner to withdraw his guilty plea-the court of appeals remanded the matter for further factual development at a new suppression hearing to determine whether the statements were voluntary.

         Petitioner then filed a petition for review with the Idaho Supreme Court, arguing that the state should not be allowed a second chance to show that his incriminating statements were voluntary. Instead, he asserted, because the prosecution had failed to meet its burden of proof, the court of appeals should have remanded with instructions to enter a suppression order. (State's Lodging B-6 at 7-14.) The Idaho Supreme Court denied the petition for review without discussion. (State's Lodging B-7.)

         The trial court held a new suppression hearing on remand. (State's Lodging C-3.) The videos of both of Petitioner's police interviews, as well as the police interview of Petitioner's wife, were introduced at the hearing.[2] (Id. at 30-32.) The trial court held that Petitioner's statements were voluntary and denied Petitioner's motion to suppress. (State's Lodging C-1 at 131-36.)

         Petitioner appealed, again arguing that his statements to Florida police were involuntary because they were coerced by the police. (State's Lodging D-1 at 8 (“Mr. Brown asserts that his confession was the product of psychological coercion by Detective Long, who manipulated Mr. Brown's immense concern for his wife and any adverse consequences to her due to her confession to the same crime.”).) The Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the statements were voluntary. State v. Brown, 377 P.3d 1098 (Idaho Ct. App. 2016) (Brown II). The Idaho Supreme Court denied review. (State's Lodging D-5.)

         Petitioner filed the instant Petition in March 2017. The Court previously dismissed Claims 2 through 9, leaving only Claim 1 for adjudication on the merits. (See Dkt. 23, 27).


         Petitioner asks the Court to reconsider its previous dismissal of Claims 5 and 6. The Court dismissed Claim 5 as procedurally defaulted and dismissed Claim 6 as both procedurally defaulted and noncognizable. (Dkt. 23 at 19-27, 29-30; Dkt 27.)

         The Court has the “inherent procedural power to reconsider, rescind, or modify an interlocutory order for cause seen by it to be sufficient.” City of Los Angeles v. Santa Monica Baykeeper, 254 F.3d 882, 885 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted). See Habeas Rule 12 (“The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to the extent that they are not inconsistent with any statutory provisions or these rules, may be applied to a proceeding under these rules.”). Although courts have authority to reconsider prior orders, they “should be loath to do so in the absence of extraordinary circumstances such as where the initial decision was ‘clearly ...

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