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Archanian v. Gittere

United States District Court, D. Nevada

December 3, 2019

WILLIAM GITTERE, et al., Respondents.



         Petitioner Avetis Archanian has filed a motion requesting that this capital habeas corpus action be stayed while he exhausts claims in state court. ECF No. 15. I will grant that motion and stay this case while Archanian completes his state-court litigation. Archanian has also filed a motion requesting equitable tolling of the applicable limitation period. ECF No. 16. I will deny that motion without prejudice to Archanian requesting equitable tolling if the respondents file a motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations.

         Archanian's case arose from the robbery and murders of Elisa Del Prado and her mother, Juana Quiroga, in the back room of a jewelry store in Las Vegas. Archanian was convicted in Nevada's Eighth Judicial District Court of two counts of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon of a victim 65 years of age or older, and two counts of robbery with the use of a deadly weapon of a victim 65 years of age or older. See Archanian v. State, 145 P.3d 1008, 1013 (Nev. 2006). He was sentenced to death for the murders, and for the robberies he was sentenced to four consecutive terms of 72 to 180 months in prison. See id.

         After an unsuccessful direct appeal and state habeas action, Archanian initiated this federal habeas corpus action on March 29, 2019. On March 30, 2019, I appointed the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of California to represent Archanian. ECF No. 6. On October 17, 2019, with counsel, Archanian filed an amended habeas petition. ECF No. 14.

         Archanian filed his motion for stay on October 22, 2019. ECF No. 15. He states that he has filed a second state habeas action, and he requests a stay of this action pending the completion of that proceeding. See ECF No. 15, p. 2 n.1. The respondents do not oppose the motion for stay. See ECF No. 18.

         In Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269 (2005), the United States Supreme Court circumscribed the discretion of federal district courts to impose stays to facilitate habeas petitioners' exhaustion of claims in state court.

[S]tay and abeyance should be available only in limited circumstances. Because granting a stay effectively excuses a petitioner's failure to present his claims first to the state courts, stay and abeyance is only appropriate when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court. Moreover, even if a petitioner had good cause for that failure, the district court would abuse its discretion if it were to grant him a stay when his unexhausted claims are plainly meritless. Cf. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2) (“An application for a writ of habeas corpus may be denied on the merits, notwithstanding the failure of the applicant to exhaust the remedies available in the courts of the State”).
[I]t likely would be an abuse of discretion for a district court to deny a stay and to dismiss a mixed petition if the petitioner had good cause for his failure to exhaust, his unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and there is no indication that the petitioner engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. In such circumstances, the district court should stay, rather than dismiss, the mixed petition.

Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277-78.

         Rhines does not state or suggest that every unexhausted claim in the petition must satisfy, individually, the “good cause” and “potentially meritorious” requirements for a stay. If a stay is warranted with respect to any single claim, the court need not conduct a claim-by-claim analysis regarding the remaining claims. In considering Archanian's motion for stay, I focus on Claim 1 of his amended petition, a claim that a juror committed misconduct by failing during voir dire to reveal that he had a prior acquaintance with Archanian. See ECF No. 14 at 17-23; ECF No. 15 at 4, 6.

         Archanian concedes that Claim 1 is unexhausted in state court. See ECF No. 14 at 14; ECF No. 27 at 4. Therefore, Archanian's amended petition is a “mixed petition, ” meaning it contains both exhausted and unexhausted claims. A federal court may not grant habeas corpus relief on a claim not exhausted in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b). The exhaustion doctrine is based on the policy of federal-state comity, and is intended to allow state courts the initial opportunity to correct constitutional deprivations. See Picard v. Conner, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971).

         Archanian asserts that the attorney who handled his first state habeas action performed ineffectively by failing to present the claim. ECF No. 15 at 3-5. In Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), the Supreme Court held that “[w]here, under state law, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel must be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding, a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective.” Martinez, 566 U.S. at 17. In Blake v. Baker, the Ninth Circuit held that the sort of ineffective assistance of counsel in an initial-review collateral proceeding described in Martinez can be good cause for a Rhines stay. See Blake, 745 F.3d at 977, 982-84 (9th Cir. 2014). Archanian has shown good cause for his failure to exhaust Claim 1 in state court. Further, that Claim 1 is at least potentially meritorious. And, there is no showing that Archanian has engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. Therefore, Archanian has satisfied the requirements for a stay of this action pending exhaustion of his claims in state court.

         In exercising my discretion to grant the stay, I take into account Crump v. Warden, 934 P.2d 247 (1997), under which there is a possibility that the Nevada courts may consider, on their merits, Archanian's unexhausted claims upon a showing of ineffective assistance of his prior post-conviction counsel.

         My intention is that this will be the last time this case is stayed to facilitate Archanian's exhaustion of claims in state court. Archanian must exhaust all his unexhausted claims ...

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