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Wadsworth v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 30, 2015

MICHAEL B. WADSWORTH, Petitioner,
v.
BRIAN E. WILLIAMS, et al., Respondents.

ORDER

GLORIA M. NAVARRO, Chief District Judge.

Before the court are the second amended petition for writ of habeas corpus (#26), respondents' motion to dismiss (#34), petitioner's opposition (#38), and respondents' reply (#45). The court finds that petitioner has not exhausted all his grounds for relief, and the court grants the motion in part.

After a jury trial in state district court, petitioner was found guilty of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon. Ex. 50 (#13). Petitioner appealed, and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed. Ex. 75 (#14).

Petitioner then filed a proper-person post-conviction habeas corpus petition in the state district court. Ex. 81 (#14). The state district court appointed counsel, who filed a supplemental petition. Ex. 96 (#15). The state district court dismissed the claims in the proper-person petition without an evidentiary hearing and determined that an evidentiary hearing was necessary for the claim in the supplemental petition. Ex. 103 (#15). After holding the hearing, the state district court denied the claim in the supplemental petition. Ex. 108 (#15). Petitioner appealed, and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed. Ex. 123 (#16).

Petitioner then commenced this action. The court appointed counsel, who filed a first amended petition (#9) and a second amended petition (#26). Respondents' motion to dismiss (#34) followed.

Exhaustion of State-court Remedies

The court will take respondents' arguments out of the order of presentation and turn first to the arguments that petitioner has not exhausted all his grounds for relief. Before a federal court may consider a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner must exhaust the remedies available in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b). To exhaust a ground for relief, a petitioner must fairly present that ground to the state's highest court, describing the operative facts and legal theory, and give that court the opportunity to address and resolve the ground. See Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (per curiam); Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 6 (1982).

"[A] petitioner for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 exhausts available state remedies only if he characterized the claims he raised in state proceedings specifically as federal claims. In short, the petitioner must have either referenced specific provisions of the federal constitution or statutes or cited to federal case law." Lyons v. Crawford, 232 F.3d 666, 670 (9th Cir. 2000) (emphasis in original), amended, 247 F.3d 904 (9th Cir. 2001). Citation to state case law that applies federal constitutional principles will also suffice. Peterson v. Lampert, 319 F.3d 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc). "The mere similarity between a claim of state and federal error is insufficient to establish exhaustion. Moreover, general appeals to broad constitutional principles, such as due process, equal protection, and the right to a fair trial, are insufficient to establish exhaustion." Hiivala v. Wood, 195 F.3d 1098, 1106 (9th Cir. 1999) (citations omitted).

Respondents base their primary argument for failure to exhaust upon the second of three issues that petitioner presented in the appeal from the denial of his state habeas corpus petition. The three issues were:

I. The District Court erred in denying Wadsworth's claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel, when there was no good or sound reason for counsel's choice of defense....
II. The District Court erred in dismissing several properly-pled claims in the postconviction petition for writ of habeas corpus-including the Batson challenge and the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim-without an evidentiary hearing, and by impermissibly adopting the State's position wholesale....
III. The State presented insufficient evidence of First Degree Murder, and thus the jury erroneously convicted Wadsworth of the same....

Ex. 115 at ii (#15) (citations to the Constitution omitted). Respondents argue that petitioner has not exhausted grounds 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and parts of ground 6 because he did not present them specifically to the Nevada Supreme Court, but only raised the issue that the state district court should have held an evidentiary hearing before dismissing the grounds.[1] The Nevada Supreme Court's ruling was:

Next, appellant argues that the district court erred by summarily dismissing his other claims without holding an evidentiary hearing or making specific findings of fact or conclusions of law as to those claims. Specifically, appellant contends that the district court's order should be reversed because the district court stated that the claims raised in appellant's proper person petition were dismissed "on motion of the State, for the reasons stated in the motion to dismiss." We conclude that, to the extent that the district court erred by failing to set forth specific findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to NRS 34.830(1) and NRAP 4(b)(5)(B), appellant has failed to demonstrate that he was harmed by such error. Our review of the record reveals that the claims raised by appellant in his proper person petition were belied by the record, were rejected by this court on direct appeal and thus were barred by the doctrine of the law of the case, or failed to demonstrate actual prejudice. Furthermore, other than asserting that the district court failed to hold an evidentiary hearing or make factual findings or conclusions of law in denying these claims, appellant does not present any argument on appeal to demonstrate that ...

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