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Estes v. Baker

United States District Court, D. Nevada

July 13, 2017

DONALD GLENN ESTES, 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 Donald Glenn Estes, a Nevada prisoner. The action is before the Court with respect to the merits of the claims in Estes' habeas petition. The Court will deny the petition.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In its opinion on Estes' direct appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court summarized the relevant background of Estes' case as follows:

Appellant Donald Estes sexually assaulted a minor, B.C., in a desert area near Las Vegas. The State charged Estes with six counts of sexual assault of a minor under the age of 14 years, two counts of lewdness with a child under the age of 14 years, two counts of battery with intent to commit a crime, two counts of coercion, two counts of preventing or dissuading a person from testifying or producing evidence, and one count of first-degree kidnapping. Based upon preliminary findings that Estes was not competent to stand trial, the district court twice committed him to Lake's Crossing Center for Mentally Disordered Offenders. [Footnote: Lake's Crossing is operated by the Nevada Division of Mental Health and Development Services.] Relying upon evaluations provided by Lake's Crossing staff, the district court eventually found Estes competent to stand trial.
Estes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and the case proceeded to trial. He called no experts and testified as the sole defense witness. In this, he recounted all of his mental health problems beginning as a young adult and claimed that medication (lithium) prescribed for diagnosed bipolar disorder caused him to abduct and assault B.C. He further admitted much of the charged misconduct, stating that if “B.C. said he did it, ” he probably did.
In rebuttal, the State presented the testimony of three members of the Lake's Crossing staff: Elizabeth Neighbors, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist and facility director; Hale Henson, M.D., psychiatrist; and A.J. Coronella, a licensed clinical social worker. All three either observed or treated Estes during the evaluation process.
Dr. Neighbors testified concerning psychological testing of Estes that revealed occasional malingering, i.e., feigned mental illness. She also testified that neither she, nor members of Estes' treatment team, observed him in a psychotic state or viewed him as incompetent during his second commitment. Dr. Henson opined that Estes attempted to present a history of mental illness to avoid more severe prosecution, that Estes did not suffer from lithium poisoning, and that Estes desired to be medicated to support his claim that he had a disabling medical condition.
Doctors Neighbors and Henson also testified to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that, under the M'Naughten standard, [footnote omitted] Estes knew right from wrong and suffered from no mental condition that would impair his judgment during the alleged incidents with B.C. More particularly, Dr. Neighbors stated that Estes' behavior as reported seemed deliberate and thoughtful. Both derived their opinions from police reports and statements to the police made by Estes and B.C.
The social worker, A.J. Coronella, testified to Estes' interest in preparing an insanity defense, as revealed in a discussion with him during her “legal process” class at Lake's Crossing. She also recounted his comment to her, in an interview, that an affair between his wife and brother was the underlying reason for his divorce. The State elicited the latter statement in response to Estes' testimony that he and his wife divorced because of his mental illness.
The jury convicted Estes on all counts. The district court imposed a series of concurrent and consecutive sentences totaling 40 years imprisonment and ordered Estes to register as a sex offender upon his eventual release. The court further awarded Estes 898 days' credit for time served in local custody before sentencing.

Estes v. State, 122 Nev. 1123, 1129-30, 146 P.3d 1114, 1118-19 (2006); (Exh. 47 (ECF No. 18-5) (Except where otherwise indicated, the Exhibits referred to in this order were filed by Estes, and are found in the record at ECF Nos. 14-19.).)

         On appeal, in pertinent part relative to his petition in this case, Estes raised issues regarding the admission of testimony of the three Lake's Crossing employees, and regarding the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury regarding involuntary intoxication. (See Appellant's Opening Brief, Exh. 41 (ECF No. 17-9).) The Nevada Supreme Court rejected Estes' claims with respect to those issues. See Estes v. State, 122 Nev. 1123, 146 P.3d 1114 (2006); (Exh. 47 (ECF No. 18-5).) Ruling on other issues, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed Estes' convictions on one count of battery with intent to commit a crime and two counts of lewdness with a child under the age of fourteen years, and remanded to the state district court, for, among other things, further consideration of the two counts of preventing or dissuading a person from testifying or producing evidence. (See id.) The Nevada Supreme Court denied Estes' petition for rehearing on March 1, 2007. (See Order Denying Rehearing, Exh. 52 (ECF No. 18-10).) The United States Supreme Court denied Estes' petition for a writ of certiorari on October 1, 2007. (See Notice of Denial of Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Exh. 56 (ECF No. 18-14).)

         On remand, in the state district court, the court dismissed the two counts of preventing or dissuading a person from testifying or producing evidence, and Estes' sentences on those convictions were vacated. (See Second Amended Judgment of Conviction, Exh. 53 (ECF No. 18-11).)

         On November 28, 2007, Estes filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the state district court. (See Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Exh. 57 (ECF No. 18-15).) Counsel was appointed for Estes, and, with counsel, Estes filed supplemental briefing in support of his habeas petition. (See Order of Appointment, Exh. 61 (ECF No. 19); Supplemental Brief in Support of Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Exh. 63 (ECF No. 19-2); Second Supplemental Brief in Support of Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Exh. 64 (ECF No. 19-3).) The state district court held an evidentiary hearing on April 7, 2011. (See Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, Exh. 68 (ECF No. 19-8).) On June 14, 2011, the state district court denied Estes's petition in a written order. (See Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order, Exh. 71 (ECF No. 19-11).) Estes appealed, and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed on December 12, 2012. (See Order of Affirmance, Exh. 76 (ECF No. 19-16).)

         Estes initiated this federal habeas corpus action on February 14, 2013, by filing a pro se habeas corpus petition (ECF No. 4). Counsel was appointed to represent Estes. (See Order entered April 11, 2013 (ECF No. 3); Notice of Appearance of Counsel (ECF No. 8).) With counsel, Estes filed an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus - the operative petition in the case - on November 12, 2013 (ECF No. 20).)

         Respondents filed a motion to dismiss on January 15, 2014 (ECF No. 25), contending that certain of Estes' claims are unexhausted in state court. The Court denied the motion to dismiss. (See Order entered July 22, 2014 (ECF No. 28).) Respondents then filed an answer (ECF No. 29), and Estes filed a reply (ECF No. 34).

         On May 30, 2017, the Court ordered respondents to expand the record, pursuant to Rule 7 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, by filing, as an Exhibit, a copy of the transcript of Estes' statement to the police, which was admitted into evidence at trial. (See Order entered May 30, 2017 (ECF No. 35).) Respondents complied with that order, by filing the transcript as an Exhibit on June 19, 2017 (ECF No. 36). Estes responded to that filing (ECF No. 37), stating that he has no objection to the Court's consideration of the Exhibit, but stating that his birthdate and Social Security number should be redacted from the Exhibit. On June 21, 2017, the Court ordered the June 19, 2017, filing sealed, and ordered respondents to file a redacted version of the Exhibit. (See Order entered June 21, 2017 (ECF No. 38).) On June 22, 2017, respondents filed the Exhibit with Estes' birthdate and Social Security number redacted out (ECF No. 39).

         III. SUBSTITUTION OF RESPONDENT WARDEN

         The Court observes that Robert LeGrand, the named respondent warden, is no longer the warden of Lovelock Correctional Center, the prison where Estes is incarcerated. 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 ...


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