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Bradford v. Baker

United States District Court, District of Nevada

March 31, 2015

JULIUS BRADFORD, Petitioner,
v.
RENEE BAKER, et al., Respondents.

ORDER

RICHARD F. BOULWARE, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the court, in this habeas corpus action, is a motion filed by the petitioner, Julius Bradford, requesting that the action be stayed while he exhausts claims in state court (ECF No. 41). The court will grant that motion, and stay this action while Bradford completes his pending state-court litigation.

In 2007, Bradford was convicted in Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court of first degree murder with use of a deadly weapon and attempted robbery with use of a deadly weapon. See Amended Judgment of Conviction, Exhibit 102 in Support of Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 28-15). Bradford was sentenced, for the murder, to two consecutive terms of life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 20 years. See id. For the attempted robbery, he was sentenced to two consecutive prison terms of 24 to 72 months. See id. The sentences for the murder and the sentences for the attempted robbery run concurrently. See id. Those convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal. See Order of Affirmance, Exhibit 111 in Support of Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 29-4). Bradford’s subsequent post-conviction proceedings in state court have been unsuccessful. See First Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 22), pp. 7-8.

Bradford initiated this federal habeas corpus action on September 27, 2013. See Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 1). The court appointed counsel for Bradford, and counsel filed a first amended habeas petition on Bradford’s behalf on August 12, 2014 (ECF No. 22).

On February 10, 2015, Bradford filed his motion for stay (ECF No. 41). Respondents filed an opposition to the motion on February 24, 2015 (ECF No. 45), and Bradford filed a reply on March 6, 2015 (ECF No. 46).

In the motion for stay, Bradford states that his first amended petition contains claims not yet exhausted in state court, and he requests that this federal habeas action be stayed while he completes a pending state-court habeas action, and thereby exhausts his unexhausted claims. According to Bradford, “[t]he state petition has already been dismissed by the state district court, ” and “Mr. Bradford is waiting for a written ruling, which he will appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.” Motion to Stay and Abey (ECF No. 41), p. 1. In his motion for stay, Bradford focuses on Grounds 1, 2, 14, and 15 of his first amended petition, and he argues that a stay is warranted under Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269 (2005), with respect to those claims.

A federal court may not grant habeas corpus relief on a claim not exhausted in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b). The exhaustion doctrine is based on the policy of federal-state comity, and is intended to allow state courts the initial opportunity to correct constitutional deprivations. See Picard v. Conner, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971). To exhaust a claim, a petitioner must fairly present the claim to the highest state court, and must give that court the opportunity to address and resolve it. See Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995) (per curiam); Keeney v. Tamayo-Reyes, 504 U.S. 1, 10 (1992).

In Rhines, the United States Supreme Court circumscribed the discretion of federal district courts to impose stays to facilitate habeas petitioners’ exhaustion of claims in state court. The Rhines Court stated:

[S]tay and abeyance should be available only in limited circumstances. Because granting a stay effectively excuses a petitioner’s failure to present his claims first to the state courts, stay and abeyance is only appropriate when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner’s failure to exhaust his claims first in state court. Moreover, even if a petitioner had good cause for that failure, the district court would abuse its discretion if it were to grant him a stay when his unexhausted claims are plainly meritless. Cf. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2) (“An application for a writ of habeas corpus may be denied on the merits, notwithstanding the failure of the applicant to exhaust the remedies available in the courts of the State”).
[I]t likely would be an abuse of discretion for a district court to deny a stay and to dismiss a mixed petition if the petitioner had good cause for his failure to exhaust, his unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and there is no indication that the petitioner engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. In such circumstances, the district court should stay, rather than dismiss, the mixed petition.

Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277-78; see also Blake v. Baker, 745 F.3d 977, 980-81 (9th Cir.2014).

Rhines does not state, or suggest, that every unexhausted claim in the petition must satisfy, individually, the “good cause” and “potentially meritorious” requirements before a stay is permitted. If a stay is warranted with respect to any single claim, the court need not conduct a claim-by-claim analysis regarding the remaining claims.

Respondents agree that Bradford’s first amended habeas petition is a “mixed petition, ” in that it contains both exhausted and unexhausted claims. See Opposition to Motion to Stay and Abey (ECF No. 45), p. 2.

The court determines that a stay is warranted with respect to Ground 15 of Bradford’s first amended petition, in which he claims: “The prosecution withheld material exculpatory evidence that a state witnesses received a material benefit in exchange for his testimony, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States ...


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