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Bradley v. Baker

United States District Court, D. Nevada

June 5, 2017

DERRICK BRADLEY, Petitioner,
v.
RENEE BAKER, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          MIRANDA M. DU, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court for decision is a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 brought by Derrick Bradley, a Nevada Prisoner. (ECF No. 20.)

          I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Bradley seeks habeas relief from judgments of conviction in three separate but related cases in the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, Nevada.

         Facing numerous charges in several cases, Bradley agreed to enter guilty pleas to six counts of robbery with the use of a deadly weapon, with the parties stipulating to a sentence of 12 to 30 years on each count, all to be served concurrently. Prior to sentencing, Bradley moved to withdraw his guilty pleas. The state district court denied the motions and, on April 29, 2010, sentenced Bradley.

         Bradley appealed from the three separate judgments of conviction. The Nevada Supreme Court consolidated Bradley's appeals and, on January 13, 2011, affirmed the convictions but remanded the matter to correct a clerical error with respect to sentencing in one of the three cases.

         In June 2011, Bradley filed motions to modify or correct the sentences in the three district court cases. The state district court denied the motions. Bradley appealed. On November 18, 2011, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the motions.

         Bradley then filed state petitions for writ of habeas corpus. The state district court conducted an evidentiary hearing and, in April 2012, entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order denying the petitions. Bradley appealed.

         The Nevada Supreme Court consolidated the appeals and, on January 16, 2013, affirmed the lower court's decision.

         On or about August 7, 2013, Bradley submitted to this Court a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On August 14, 2013, this Court granted Bradley's motion to proceed in forma pauperis and ordered the Clerk to file the petition. With leave of the Court, Bradley's amended petition was filed on April 30, 2014. That petition is now before the Court for a decision on the merits.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the standard of review under 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 decision of a state court is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). An "unreasonable application" occurs when "a state-court decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the facts of a prisoner's case." Id. at 409. "[A] federal habeas court may not "issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly." Id. at 411.

         The Supreme Court has explained that "[a] federal court's collateral review of a state-court decision must be consistent with the respect due state courts in our federal system." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). The "AEDPA thus imposes a 'highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' and 'demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'" Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997); Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). "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 emphasized "that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable." Id. (citing Lockyerv. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)); see also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (describing the AEDPA 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).

         "[A] federal court may not second-guess a state court's fact-finding process unless, after review of the state-court record, it determines that the state court was not merely wrong, but actually unreasonable." Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 999 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 340 ("[A] decision adjudicated on the merits in a state court and based on a factual determination will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding, § 2254(d)(2)."). Because de novo review is more favorable to the petitioner, federal courts can deny writs of habeas corpus under § 2254 by engaging in de novo review rather than applying the deferential AEDPA standard. Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 390 (2010).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Ground One

         In Ground One, Bradley claims he received ineffective assistance of counsel, in violation of his constitutional rights, because counsel failed to make a claim of prosecutorial misconduct in relation to the State's identification procedure at a grand jury hearing. According to Bradley, the prosecutor showed a photograph of him to a robbery victim, Jeffrey Brown, prior to the hearing, then had Brown (who had previously been unable to do so) pick him out of a photo line-up in front of the grand jury. Defense counsel filed a pre-trial petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging the identification (ECF No. 24-4), but Bradley argues that counsel was ineffective by focusing only on "a single charge of the crime, " rather than his "defense as whole." (ECF No. 20 at 5.)

         Ineffective assistance of counsel ("IAC") claims are governed by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Under Strickland, a petitioner must satisfy two prongs to obtain habeas relief - deficient performance by counsel and prejudice. 466 U.S. at 687. To meet the performance prong, a petitioner must demonstrate that his counsel's performance was so deficient that it fell below an "objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. As to the prejudice prong, the court "must ask if the defendant has met the burden of showing that the decision reached would reasonably likely have been different absent [counsel's] errors." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 696. Put another way, a habeas petitioner "must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. To demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a challenge to a guilty plea, a petitioner must show both that counsel's advice fell below an objective standard of reasonableness as well as a "reasonable probability" that, but for counsel's errors, the petitioner would not have pled guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58-59 (1985) (holding that the two-part Strickland test applies to challenges to guilty pleas based on the ineffective assistance of counsel).

         In addressing Bradley's IAC claims in his state post-conviction proceeding, the Nevada Supreme Court correctly identified Strickland/Hill as the governing standard. (ECF No. 30-36 at 3.)[2] The court addressed the claim alleged herein as Ground One as follows:

[A]ppellant claimed that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately object to the State's identification procedure at the grand jury hearing. Appellant failed to demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient, as counsel filed a pretrial petition for a writ of habeas corpus arguing that the State's identification procedure was impermissibly suggestive. To the extent that appellant claimed that counsel should have appealed the order denying the pretrial petition, there is no right to an interlocutory appeal from such an order. Gary v. Sheriff, 96 Nev. 78, 80, 605 P.2d 212, 214 (1980). Therefore, we conclude that the district court did not err in denying this claim.

(Id. at 3.)

         The Nevada Supreme Court did not specifically address Bradley's assertion that counsel was ineffective for not bringing a broader prosecutorial misconduct claim, but this Court must nonetheless presume that the state court adjudicated, and rejected, that aspect of the claim on the merits for the purposes of § 2254(d). See Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1096 (2013) ("When a state court rejects a federal claim without expressly addressing that claim, a federal habeas court must presume that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits.").

         Even reviewed de novo, however, the claim falls well short of warranting habeas relief. Federal habeas claims of pre-plea ineffective assistance of counsel require a showing that the action, or inaction, of counsel prevented petitioner from making an informed choice whether to plead guilty. Mahrt v. Beard, 849 F.3d 1164, 1170 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 267-69 (1973)). Bradley's counsel ably challenged the prosecutor's conduct in relation to Brown's identification when she filed the pre-trial petition. Bradley has not proffered any evidence that alleged prosecutorial misconduct extended beyond the Brown identification. As such, Bradley has failed to establish that counsel performed below the constitutional standard or that her alleged omission impacted his choice whether to plead guilty.

         Ground One is denied.

         B. ...


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