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Deloney v. Legrand

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 30, 2017

WARDEN LeGRAND, et al, Respondents


          Robert C. Jones United States District Judge

         Petitioner Donald Deloney, a prisoner in the custody of the State of Nevada, brings this habeas action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to challenge his 2008 Nevada state conviction for first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon. After evaluating his claims on the merits, this Court denies Deloney's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, dismisses this action with prejudice, and denies a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For the shooting of David Johnson during the early morning hours of July 25, 2006, the petitioner, Donald Deloney, was convicted of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon following a three-day jury trial. (Exhibits 22-24).' The trial court sentenced him to two consecutive terms of imprisonment of twenty years to life, in addition to various monetary sums. (Exhibits 37-38).

         Deloney appealed, and the Nevada Suprem[1] Court affirmed on November 30, 2009, with remittitur issuing on December 29, 2009. (Exhibits 39, 48, 49). He filed a habeas petition in state court on July 14, 2010, and the state district court ordered an evidentiary hearing on June 22, 2011. (Exhibits 50, 56, 62). Deloney filed a supplemental petition on April 4, 2012. (Exhibit 72). The evidentiary hearing occurred on August 17 and August 28, 2012. (Exhibits 75-76). The state district court denied the petition on January 10, 2013. (Exhibit 78). He appealed, and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed on May 13, 2014. (Exhibits 85, 101). Deloney petitioned for hearing, the petition was denied, and remittitur issued on August 26, 2014. (Exhibits 102-03).

         Deloney filed an Amended Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in federal court on April 10, 2015. (ECF No. 9). The State filed an Answer. (ECF No. 17). Deloney filed a Reply. (ECF No. 21).


         When a state court has adjudicated a claim on the merits, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) imposes a "highly deferential" standard for evaluating the state court ruling that is "difficult to meet" and "which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011). Under this highly deferential standard of review, a federal court may not grant habeas relief merely because it might conclude that the state court decision was incorrect. Id. at 202. Instead, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), the court may grant relief only if the state court decision: (1) was either contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established law as determined by the United States Supreme Court or (2) was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented at the state court proceeding. Id. at 181-88. The petitioner bears the burden of proof. Id. at 181.

         A state court decision is "contrary to" law clearly established by the Supreme Court only if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court case law or if the decision confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court decision and nevertheless arrives at a different result. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003). A state court decision is not contrary to established federal law merely because it does not cite the Supreme Court's opinions. Id. The Supreme Court has held that a state court need not even be aware of its precedents, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of its decision contradicts them. Id. And "a federal court may not overrule a state court for simply holding a view different from its own, when the precedent from [the Supreme] Court is, at best, ambiguous." Id. at 16. A decision that does not conflict with the reasoning or holdings of Supreme Court precedent is not contrary to clearly established federal law.

         A state court decision constitutes an "unreasonable application" of clearly established federal law only if it is demonstrated that the state court's application of Supreme Court precedent to the facts of the case was not only incorrect but "objectively unreasonable." See, e.g., Id. at 18; Davis v.Woodford, 384 F.3d 628, 638 (9th Cir. 2004). When a state court's factual findings based on the record before it are challenged, the "unreasonable determination of fact" clause of 28 U.S.C.§ 2254(d)(2) controls, which requires federal courts to be "particularly deferential" to state court factual determinations. See, e.g., Lambert v. Blodgett, 393 F.3d 943, 972 (9th Cir. 2004). This standard is not satisfied by a mere showing that the state court finding was "clearly erroneous." Id. at 973. Rather, AEDPA requires substantially more deference:

[I]n concluding that a state-court finding is unsupported by substantial evidence in the state-court record, it is not enough that we would reverse in similar circumstances if this were an appeal from a district court decision. Rather, we must be convinced that an appellate panel, applying the normal standards of appellate review, could not reasonably conclude that the finding is supported by the record.

Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 1000 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Lambert, 393 F.3d at 972.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), state court's factual findings are presumed to be correct and the petitioner must rebut that presumption by "clear and convincing evidence." In this inquiry, federal courts may not look to any factual basis not developed before the state court unless the petitioner both shows that the claim relies on either (a) "a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable" or (b) "a factual predicate that could not have been previously discovered through the exercise of due diligence" and shows that "the facts underlying the claim would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2).

         When a state court summarily rejects a claim, it is the petitioner's burden to show that "there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98(2011).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Ground 1

         In Ground 1, Deloney argues tiiat "[t]here was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction of First Degree Murder." (ECF No. 9, at 10). This argument hinges on Jackson v. Virginia,443 U.S. 307 (1979), where the Supreme Court held that a conviction comports with due process only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, "any rational trier of fact could have found essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. at ...

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