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Young v. Baker

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 3, 2017

MARCUS D. YOUNG, Petitioner,
v.
RENEE BAKER, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          MIRANDA M. DU UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This action is a petition for writ of habeas corpus by Marcus D. Young, a Nevada prisoner. The action is before the Court with respect to the merits of the claims in Young's habeas petition. The Court will deny Young's petition.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On January 21, 2009, Young was convicted in Nevada's Second Judicial District Court, upon guilty pleas, of one count of sexual assault on a child and one count of lewdness with a child under the age of fourteen years, and he was sentenced to a term of life in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty years on the sexual assault conviction, and a consecutive term of life in prison with the possibility of parole after ten years on the lewdness conviction. *See Judgment, Exh. 13 (ECF No. 25-13) (The exhibits referred to in this order were filed by Young and are found in the record at ECF Nos. 25, 26 and 27.).

         Young's conviction resulted from his sexual assault upon, and lewdness with, his eleven-year old step-daughter. (See Incident Report, Exh. 1 (ECF No. 25-1); Arrest Report and Declaration of Probable Cause, Exh. 2 (ECF No. 25-2); Transcript of Interview, Exh. 3 (ECF No. 25-3); Transcript of Arraignment (Guilty Plea), Exh. 10 at 6-10 (ECF No. 25-10 at 7-11).) Police reports filed in this case by Young, along with the transcript of his statements to the police, reflect that there was substantial evidence of multiple sexual assaults and incidents of lewd behavior over several months. (See Incident Report, Exh. 1 (ECF No. 25-1); Arrest Report and Declaration of Probable Cause, Exh. 2 (ECF No. 25-2); Transcript of Interview, Exh. 3 (ECF No. 25-3).)

         Young did not pursue a direct appeal of the judgment of conviction. However, on October 14, 2009, Young filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the state district court. (See Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Exh. 23 (ECF No. 26-6).) Counsel was appointed for Young, and, with counsel, Young filed a supplemental habeas petition on August 31, 2010. (See Supplemental Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, Exh. 32 (ECF No. 26-15).) The state district court held an evidentiary hearing on January 7, 2011. (See Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, Exh. 37 (ECF No. 26-20).) On January 24, 2011, the state district court denied Young's petition. (See Order, Exh. 39 (ECF No. 26-22).) Young appealed, and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed on June 14, 2012. (See Order of Affirmance, Exh. 54 (ECF No. 27-13).)

         Young initiated this federal habeas corpus action on September 5, 2012, by filing a pro se habeas corpus petition (ECF No. 4). Counsel was appointed to represent Young. (See Order entered January 28, 2013 (ECF No. 14); Notice of Appearance of Counsel (ECF No. 15).) With counsel, Young filed an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus - the operative petition in the case - on September 19, 2013 (ECF No. 24). Respondents filed an answer (ECF No. 33), and Young filed a reply (ECF No. 38).

         III. SUBSTITUTION OF RESPONDENT WARDEN

         The Court observes that, Robert LeGrand, the named respondent warden of the prison where Young is incarcerated, the Lovelock Correctional Center, is no longer the warden of that prison. Renee Baker is now the warden. Therefore, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d), the Court will direct the Clerk of the Court to substitute Renee Baker for Robert LeGrand as the respondent warden on the docket for this case.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the standard of review applicable in this case under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA):

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).

         A state court decision is contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent, within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254, “if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases” or “if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the Supreme Court's] precedent.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73 (2003) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000), and citing Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002)).

         A state court decision is an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent, within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). The “unreasonable application” clause requires the state court decision to be more than incorrect or erroneous; the state court's application of clearly established law must be objectively unreasonable. Id. (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 409).

         The Supreme Court has instructed that “[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.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). The Supreme Court has stated “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102 (citing Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75); see also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (describing standard as “a difficult to meet” and “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).

         B. Ground 1A

         In Ground 1 of his amended habeas petition, Young claims that his federal constitutional rights were violated because of ineffective assistance of his trial counsel. (See Amended Petition (ECF No. 24) at 6-7.) Ground 1 is subdivided into five separate claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel; the five separate claims are designated Grounds 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E. (See id. at 7-9.) In Ground 1A, Young claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for not moving to suppress statements that Young made to the police. (See id. at 7-8; see also Reply (ECF No. 38) at 4-10.)

         Young asserted this claim in his state habeas action. (See Supplemental Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, Exh. 32 at 5-9 (ECF No. 26-15 at 6-10). After holding an evidentiary hearing (see Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, Exh. 37 (ECF No. 26-20)), the state district court denied the claim. (See Order, Exh. 39 at 1-2 (ECF No. 26-22 at 4-5).) On the appeal in Young's state habeas action, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled as follows on this claim:

[A]ppellant claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress his confession. Appellant claims that he was not given his Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), warnings until partway through his interview with police. Appellant claims that this violated Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), because the police officers employed an improper two-step interrogation scheme to get him to confess. Appellant fails to demonstrate that counsel was deficient. First, appellant failed to demonstrate that he was in custody for his pre-warned statement such that Miranda would apply because he drove himself to the police station, he was told he was not under arrest at the beginning of the interview, his movement was not restricted, he voluntarily answered questions, and only one police officer at a time was present during questioning. State v. Taylor, 114 Nev. 1071, 1082, 968 P.2d 315, 323 (1998). Because appellant was not in custody, the police officer was not required to give the Miranda warnings at this point of the interview.
Second, unlike in Seibert, appellant did not confess prior to being given his Miranda warnings. In fact, appellant was adamant that he had done nothing wrong. Therefore, the concerns that existed in Seibert did not exist in this case. Accordingly, counsel was not deficient for failing to file a motion to suppress as that motion would have been futile, Donovan v. State, 94 Nev. 671, 675, 584 P.2d 708, 711 (1978), and the district court did not err in denying this claim.

(Order of Affirmance, Exh. 54 at 2-3 (ECF No. 17-13 at 3-4).)

         In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the Supreme Court propounded a two prong test for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel: the petitioner must demonstrate (1) that the defense attorney's representation “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” and (2) that the attorney's deficient performance prejudiced the defendant such that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 694. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must apply a “strong presumption” that counsel's representation was within the “wide range” of reasonable professional assistance. Id. at 689. The petitioner's burden is to show “that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. at 687. And, to establish prejudice under Strickland, it is not enough for the habeas petitioner “to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.” Id. at 693. In the context of a guilty plea, to satisfy the prejudice prong of the Strickland test, the petitioner must show that there is “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 56-60 (1985).

         Where a state court has adjudicated a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland, establishing that the decision was unreasonable under the AEDPA is especially difficult. See Harrington, 562 U.S. at 104-05. In Harrington, the Supreme Court instructed:

The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both highly deferential, [Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689]; Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997), and when the two apply in tandem, review is “doubly” so, [Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 123 (2009)]. The Strickland standard is a general one, so the range of reasonable applications is substantial. 556 U.S., at 123, 129 S.Ct. at 1420. Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness under Strickland with unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.

Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105; see also Cheney v. Washington, 614 F.3d 987, 994-95 (9th Cir. 2010) (acknowledging double deference required for state court adjudications of Strickland claims).

         The Nevada Supreme Court's denial of this claim was reasonable. The well-established rule of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), generally bars the use of statements elicited in a custodial interrogation unless the person in custody was first informed of his or her constitutional rights. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 444. Here, it was reasonable for the Nevada Supreme Court to conclude that during the first part of Young's statement to the police, before he was formally placed under arrest and read the Miranda warnings, he was not in custody. (See, e.g., Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, Exh. 37 at 27, 34-35 (ECF No. 26-20 at 28, 35-36) (Young's testimony regarding the circumstances during the first part of his statement).) In fact, at the end of the first part of Young's statement, just before he was arrested, he asked: “Look are you gonna arrest me? If not, I'd like to go.” (Transcript of Interview, Exh. 3 at 37, lines 24-25 (ECF No. 25-3 at 38, lines 24-25). Taking into consideration all the circumstances, including Young's own view that he had not been arrested, this Court finds that the Nevada Supreme Court reasonably determined that Young was not in custody before he was given the Miranda warnings.

         With respect to Young's contention that he was subjected to an improper two-part interrogation in violation of the rule of Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), this case is unlike Seibert because Young did not confess before he was read the Miranda warnings. A defendant's post-warning statements may be inadmissible if law enforcement officers used an improper two-step interrogation process. See Seibert, 542 U.S. at 617. “A two-step interrogation involves eliciting an unwarned confession, administering the Miranda warnings and obtaining a waiver of Miranda rights, and then eliciting a repeated confession.” United States v. Narvaez-Gomez, 489 F.3d 970, 973-74 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Seibert, 542 U.S. at 609-10). “If the interrogators deliberately employ the two-step strategy, the [court] must suppress post-warning statements unless the interrogators take curative measures to apprise the defendant of his rights; if the two-step method is not deliberate, the post-warning statements are admissible if voluntarily made.” Id. at 974 (citing Seibert, 542 U.S. at 622 (Kennedy, J., concurring)). In this case, Young did not confess during the unwarned portion of the interview, before he was arrested and given Miranda warnings. When Young was placed under arrest, he stated: “Can we talk some more? Please?” (Transcript of Interview, Exh. 3 at 38, line 7 (ECF No. 25-3 at 39, line 7).) He was then given Miranda warnings, and he went on to confess. (See id. at 38-64.) There is no showing that the police officers deliberately employed a two-step interrogation strategy, or that any of Young's statements to the police were involuntary.

         Young's trial counsel testified, at some length, at the evidentiary hearing in the state district court, regarding her decision not to move for suppression of Young's confession. She testified that she read the transcript of the statement or watched a video of it. (See Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, Exh. 37 at 57, 65 (ECF No. 26-20 at 58, 66).) She testified further:

Q. You'd indicated you did not make a motion to suppress. Can you explain why?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Okay. Go ahead.
A. In my review of the interview/interrogation, to begin with, Mr. Young was invited down to visit with the police officers. He drove down by himself. He was not in custody.
And preliminarily, he was not interrogated. In my professional opinion, he was interviewed. He was asked some biographical information. He was free to leave. He was - as I recall - again, it's been two years - he was advised that he wasn't originally under arrest and he was free to leave. However - and during that time, nothing was gleaned from that interview that would have been subject to suppression.
Now, when they - the police officers decided to place him under arrest, they fully Mirandized him. He was put into handcuffs, and he was given the Miranda admonishment. So, anything after that might have been suppressible, but he was given his Miranda warnings. Anything before that, he was not in custody, and frankly, there is nothing in his statement that is incriminating so I would have had nothing to suppress.
Q. To put a fine point on it, up to the point that he's actually put in formal arrest, you had determined, based on the totality of the circumstances leading up to that, that he had not been subject to a quote-unquote “custodial interrogation?” A. That is correct.
Q. And then after that, he's formally under arrest, so we don't have a custody issue?
A. Correct.
Q. And he's given a Miranda warning, and then he's interrogated?
A. Yes.
Q. And then he makes all the various and sundry admissions and confessions, right?
A. Yes.
Q. And your conclusion was based on the facts as you understood them and the applicant principles of law, this motion was not going to be meritorious?
A. That's absolutely correct.

(Id. at 71-73 (ECF No. 26-20 at 72-74).)

         The Court is mindful of the double deference necessary in resolving this claim. The Court grants deference to counsel's determination that a motion to suppress would not have been meritorious; in addition, the Court grants deference to the state supreme court's conclusion that counsel acted reasonably in making that determination. See Harrington, 562 U.S. at 105 (describing double deference required in reviewing state court adjudications of Strickland claims); Cheney, 614 F.3d at 994-95 (same).

         The Court concludes that the Nevada Supreme Court's denial of this claim was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Miranda, Seifert, Strickland, or any other clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court, and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. The Court will deny relief with respect to Ground 1A.

         C. ...


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