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Lewis v. State

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 18, 2019

STATE OF NEVADA, et al., Respondents



         Willie Ray Lewis’ 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition is before the court for final adjudication on the merits. As discussed below, his petition is denied.

         I. Procedural History and Background

         Willie Ray Lewis was convicted pursuant to a jury trial of multiple counts involving his two daughters of lewdness with a minor under the age of 14, sexual assault of a minor under 16 years of age, and attempted sexual assault of a minor under 16 years of age (exhibit 29).[1] The Nevada Supreme Court on direct appeal concluded that insufficient evidence was presented to support 34 counts, and an amended judgment of conviction was entered. Exhs. 24, 29. While not entirely clear from the state-court record provided, the Nevada Department of Corrections inmate information reflects that Lewis is currently serving an aggregate sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

         The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Lewis’ state postconviction habeas corpus petition in part and reversed and remanded in part. Exh. 35. The state supreme court ordered the district court to consider whether appointment of counsel was appropriate and directed the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing with respect to whether defense counsel should have interviewed certain witnesses. Id. The state district court did not appoint counsel, held an evidentiary hearing, denied the petition, and the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the petition. Exhs. 45, 47, 55.

         Lewis filed a second proper person state postconviction habeas petition; the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the petition as successive and untimely. Exh. 63.

         This court appointed counsel for Lewis’ federal habeas corpus petition. Respondents have now answered his fourth-amended petition, and Lewis replied (ECF Nos. 43, 98, 100).

         II. Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), a provision of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), provides the legal standards for this court’s consideration of the petition in this case:

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.

         The AEDPA “modified a federal habeas court’s role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas ‘retrials’ and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-694 (2002). This Court’s ability to grant a writ is limited to cases where “there is no possibility fair-minded jurists could disagree that the state court’s decision conflicts with [Supreme Court] precedents.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). 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 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, 538 U.S. at 73 (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000), and citing Bell, 535 U.S. at 694.

         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 74 (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).

         To the extent that the state court’s factual findings are challenged, the “unreasonable determination of fact” clause of § 2254(d)(2) controls on federal habeas review. E.g., Lambert v. Blodgett, 393 F.3d 943, 972 (9th Cir.2004). This clause requires that the federal courts “must be particularly deferential” to state court factual determinations. Id. The governing standard is not satisfied by a showing merely that the state court finding was “clearly erroneous.” 393 F.3d 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 factual findings are presumed to be correct unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. The petitioner bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he is entitled to habeas relief. Cullen, 563 U.S. at 181.

         III. Instant Petition

         a. Claims raised on direct appeal

         i. Ground 1

         Lewis contends that the admission of prior bad act evidence violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights (ECF No. 43, pp. 7-10).

         Generally, admission of evidence is a question of state law. State law errors do not warrant federal habeas relief. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991). Rather, a petitioner must establish “whether [or not] the state proceedings satisfied due process.” Holley v. Yarborough, 568 F.3d 1091, 1101 (9th Cir. 2009). In reviewing evidentiary questions, the challenged evidence is not constitutionally suspect unless it is irrelevant and has no probative value to questions at issue in the defendant’s case. Estelle, 502 U.S. at 68-69. In short, the admitted evidence must ...

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