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Carpenter v. Neven

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 29, 2017

D.W. NEVEN, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER (ECF NOS. 3, 65)


         Before the court for a decision on the merits is an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Earnest Dean Carpenter, a Nevada prisoner. ECF No. 3.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On March 16, 2007, Carpenter was convicted of burglary, pursuant to a guilty plea, in the Second Judicial District Court for Nevada. The district court adjudicated Carpenter a habitual criminal and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Carpenter appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

         On February 13, 2008, the Supreme Court of Nevada affirmed the judgment of conviction. On September 30, 2008, Carpenter filed a proper person petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the state district court. With the assistance of appointed counsel, he filed a supplemental petition on January 20, 2009. On May 11, 2009, the state district court dismissed most of Carpenter's claims, but ordered an evidentiary hearing on his claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel due to counsel's failure to adequately investigate his theory of defense, properly advise him of his rights, and present evidence at sentencing. After hearing the testimony of Carpenter's guilty plea/sentencing counsel, the district court denied the claim. Carpenter appealed.

         In his opening brief before the Supreme Court of Nevada, Carpenter raised only one claim, arguing that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present certain mitigating evidence at sentencing. On March 17, 2011, the Supreme Court of Nevada affirmed the denial of Carpenter's state habeas petition.

         On May 24, 2011, Carpenter initiated this federal habeas proceedings. Respondents moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that certain claims in the petition were unexhausted. On January 11, 2011, this court granted the motion, in part, concluding that Grounds 1-B and 2 were exhausted but Grounds 3(a), 3(b), 3(c), 3(d), 3(e), 3(f), and 3(h) were unexhausted.

         Carpenter was granted a stay and abeyance to allow him to return to state court. On May 1, 2013, he filed a second state habeas petition raising the claims this court found unexhausted. The state district court dismissed the petition as procedurally defaulted. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed that decision.

         Pursuant to Carpenter's motion, the stay was lifted on July 30, 2014. On September 29, 2014, respondents moved to dismiss grounds 3(a)-(f), and (h) as procedurally defaulted. This court granted the motion.

         The court now addresses Carpenter's remaining claims - Grounds 1, 1-B, 2, and 3(g) - on the merits.


         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 than 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 Lockyer v. 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).


         Ground 1

         In Ground 1, Carpenter argues that his sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a non-violent crime constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment.

         Carpenter presented Ground 1 in the direct appeal of his conviction and sentence. ECF No. 7-19. The Nevada Supreme Court addressed the claim as follows:

Appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by imposing an excessive sentence. Citing to the dissent in Tanksley v. State[1] for support, appellant argues that this court should review the sentence imposed by the district court to determine whether justice was done. Appellant argues that his sentence was excessive given that his six prior felony convictions were primarily non-violent property offenses and occurred over a span of thirty years.[2] We disagree with appellant's contention.
The Eighth Amendment does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence, but forbids only an extreme sentence that is grossly disproportionate to the crime.[3] Regardless of its severity, a sentence that is within the statutory limits is not “‘cruel and unusual punishment unless the statute fixing punishment is unconstitutional or the sentence is ...

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