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Turner v. Skolnik

United States District Court, D. Nevada

April 11, 2017

VINCENT TURNER, Petitioner,
v.
HOWARD SKOLNIK, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          ROBERT C. JONES United States District Judge

         Before the court are the first amended petition for writ of habeas corpus (ECF No. 15)[1] and respondents' answer (ECF No. 102). The court finds that relief is not warranted, and the court denies the petition.

         Throughout this order, the court cites to exhibits that respondents filed in support of their first motion to dismiss, at ECF No. 21 through ECF No. 25. These docket entries have a problem. Every docket number is one greater than the attachment number seen on the docket report. For example, Exhibit A is shown as attachment #1 to ECF No. 21, but its docket number is ECF No. 21-2. Respondents' supplemental exhibits, at ECF No. 103 and ECF No. 104, do not have this problem. The court will refer to all exhibits by their docket numbers because the docket numbers are what appears on the pages of the documents.

         Congress has limited the circumstances in which a federal court can grant relief to a petitioner who is in custody pursuant to a judgment of conviction of a state court.

         An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the 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). “By its terms § 2254(d) bars relitigation of any claim ‘adjudicated on the merits' in state court, subject only to the exceptions in §§ 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2).” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011).

Federal habeas relief may not be granted for claims subject to § 2254(d) unless it is shown that the earlier state court's decision “was contrary to” federal law then clearly established in the holdings of this Court, § 2254(d)(1); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); or that it “involved an unreasonable application of” such law, § 2254(d)(1); or that it “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the record before the state court, § 2254(d)(2).

Richter, 562 U.S. at 100. “For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), ‘an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.'” Id. (citation omitted). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Id. (citation omitted).

[E]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.

Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004).

Under § 2254(d), a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, as here, could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of this Court.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, 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.

         The court has found that petitioner has not exhausted grounds 1, 2, and 5. ECF No. 91. The court dismissed those grounds upon petitioner's motion. ECF No. 96. Reasonable jurists would not find the court's conclusions to be debatable or wrong, and the court will not issue a certificate of appealability for grounds 1, 2, and 5.

         In ground 3, petitioner alleges that the trial court violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. On cross-examination of North Las Vegas Police Detective James Jackson, petitioner tried to ask Jackson about statements that Darryl Fuller made to him. The trial court did not allow those questions because they were argumentative and called for hearsay. Ex. HH, at 432-37 (ECF No. 23-9, at 34-39). Fuller was petitioner's co-defendant, and he had accepted a plea bargain. On this issue, the Nevada Supreme Court held:

Second, Turner contends that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine witness by limiting his cross-examination of Detective Jackson with respect to out-of-court statements contained in Det. Jackson's arrest affidavit and with respect to his investigation generally. We disagree. We conclude that the trial court, in its discretion, properly limited the cross-examination while still allowing the defense to present “facts from which . . . jurors could appropriately draw inferences relating to the reliability of the witness.” Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673[, 680] (1986) (quoting Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 318 (1974)); see also Atkins v. State, 112 Nev. 1122, 1127, 923 P.2d 1119, 1123 (1996) (trial courts are vested with considerable discretion in determining relevance and admissibility of evidence).

Ex. XX, at 1-2 (ECF No. 24-7, at 17-18). This was not some mechanical application of the hearsay rule that defeated the ends to justice. The trial court proposed a solution to petitioner: Call Darryl Fuller to testify and be subject to cross-examination. Ex. HH, at 435-36 (ECF No. 23-9, at 37-38).[2]Under these circumstances, the Nevada Supreme Court reasonably applied Van Arsdall.

         Reasonable jurists would not find this conclusion to be debatable or wrong, and the court will not issue a certificate of appealability for ground 3.

         In ground 4, petitioner alleges that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress his statements without an evidentiary hearing to determine whether petitioner was competent to waive his privilege against self-incrimination, even though petitioner was given the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). On this issue, the Nevada Supreme Court held:

Finally, Turner contends that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress his confession without an evidentiary hearing. We disagree. We conclude that the district court's ruling is supported by substantial evidence indicating that there was no police coercion and that Turner was competent to waive his Miranda rights. See Colorado v. [Connelly], 479 U.S. 157, 170 (1986) (holding that Fifth Amendment right protected by Miranda is not concerned with “moral and psychological pressures to confess emanating from sources other than official coercion.”); United States v. Glover, 596 F.2d 857, 864-66 (9th Cir. 1979) (affirming district court's decision that defendant with an IQ of 67 was competent to make Miranda waiver where there was other evidence of competency); see also Echavarria v. State, 108 Nev. 734, 743, 839 P.2d 589, 595 (1992) (holding that the question of admissibility of a confession is primarily a factual question addressed to the district court, whose determination will not be disturbed on appeal so long as it is supported by substantial evidence).

Ex. XX, at 2 (ECF No. 24-7, at 18). Detective Jackson testified about his interview with petitioner.

         Petitioner, who was in custody in the Clark County Detention Center on another matter, called an investigator of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, stating that he had information about the murder of Marnie Hickman. That investigator contacted Detective Jackson of the North Las Vegas Police Department, in which jurisdiction the murder occurred. The investigator also must have given petitioner Detective Jackson's name, because petitioner himself called Jackson before Jackson could contact petitioner. Jackson told petitioner over the phone that he wanted to speak with petitioner in person. Jackson went to the Clark County Detention Center, picked up petitioner, and brought him to the North Las Vegas Police Department. Supp. Ex. 1, at 38-40 (ECF No. 103-1, at 39-41). At the North Las Vegas Police Department, Jackson verbally advised petitioner of his Miranda rights. Jackson also gave petitioner a card printed with the Miranda rights. Petitioner waived his rights. Jackson also told petitioner that petitioner could stop talking with him at any time. Petitioner expressed remorse for what had happened to Hickman, and he wanted to talk about it. Ex. HH, at 360-67 (ECF No. 23-8, at 3-10).

         Although petitioner does not make coercion an issue, the court notes that the Nevada Supreme Court reasonably concluded that there was no official coercion.

         Petitioner's main issue is that he was not competent enough to realize what he was doing. Perhaps one could argue that, in spite of Jackson's efforts to make sure that petitioner knew that his statement was voluntary, an unintelligent person like petitioner would have felt some subtle compulsion. However, that argument does not take into account what happened before petitioner went to the North Las Vegas Police Department. Jackson did not seek out petitioner for a statement. Petitioner called the police on his own initiative twice. The first time, petitioner called the wrong police department, and then, after being told of the error, petitioner called the correct police department. The Nevada Supreme Court reasonably could have concluded that a person who did that was competent enough to waive his right to be silent.

         Reasonable jurists would not find this conclusion to be debatable or wrong, and the court will not issue a ...


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