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Helms v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 30, 2015

Monty L. Helms, Petitioner,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.


EILEEN S. WILLETT, Magistrate Judge.


Pending before the Court is Monty L. Helms' ("Petitioner") Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (the "Petition") (Doc. 1). Respondents have filed their Answer (Doc. 10), and Petitioner has filed a Reply (Doc. 11). The matter is deemed ripe for consideration.

The Petition contains four grounds for federal habeas relief. Although the Petition is timely, the undersigned finds that Ground One is procedurally defaulted and the remaining grounds are meritless. It is therefore recommended that the Petition be denied and dismissed with prejudice.


In March 2009, police officers executed a search warrant for Petitioner's residence in Apache Junction, Arizona. (Doc. 1-6 at 148-49). Officers found the following items in Petitioner's bedroom: $1, 210 in cash strewn on the floor, a glass pipe, a small electronic scale with methamphetamine residue, two motor vehicle titles in Petitioner's name, and a locked safe. (Doc. 10-1 at 55; Doc. 1-6 at 21-26, 58, 159-169, 182-96). Officers pried the safe open and found two loaded firearms, an eyeglass case containing syringes and a baggie of methamphetamine, empty baggies, a baggie of methamphetamine, a scale with methamphetamine residue, and a manila envelope with a handwritten note addressed to "Monte." (Doc. 1-6 at 169-96).

Petitioner was indicted on three counts: (i) possession of a dangerous drug for sale in violation of ARIZ. REV. STAT. § 13-3407(A); (ii) possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of ARIZ. REV. STAT. § 13-3415(A); and (iii) misconduct involving weapons in violation of ARIZ. REV. STAT. § 13-3102(A)(8). (Doc. 1-3 at 63). Following a settlement conference, the parties reached a plea agreement. (Doc. 1-2 at 94). The plea agreement contained a stipulated sentence of 2.5 years. ( Id. at 94-95). At the hearing on August 4, 2009, Petitioner requested to withdraw from the plea agreement. The trial judge told Petitioner that the settlement conference judge "filled me in a little bit on what's going on with this case. You're passing up a sweetheart of a deal. It's your choice. Do you want me to not accept the plea agreement....[?]" (Doc. 1-8 at 97-98). Petitioner confirmed his desire to withdraw from the plea agreement, stating that "I think I can beat this case, your honor." ( Id. at 97). The trial judge then stated on the record that Petitioner withdrew from the plea agreement. ( Id. at 98).

On April 8, 2010, Petitioner's trial counsel filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during a search warrant, arguing that (i) the information used to obtain the search warrant was stale and (ii) police officers violated the knock and announce rule when executing the search warrant. (Doc. 10-3 at 23). The trial court denied the motion to suppress after holding an evidentiary hearing. ( Id. at 51).

After a two-day jury trial, Petitioner was found guilty as charged. (Doc. 10-1 at 13, 16-21). The Pinal County Superior Court sentenced Petitioner to a total of 12.5 years in prison. ( Id. at 17-18).

Petitioner timely raised two claims on direct appeal. ( Id. at 23-47). In the first claim, Petitioner argued that he was denied his right to an automatic change of judge after withdrawing from his guilty plea. ( Id. at 39-40). Petitioner did not request a change of judge, but asserted that the trial court should have advised him of the right. ( Id. at 40). In the second claim, Petitioner challenged the sufficiency-of-the-evidence to sustain guilty verdicts as to Counts One and Three (possession of a dangerous drug for sale and misconduct involving weapons). ( Id. at 40-45). On July 29, 2011, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences. ( Id. at 2-9). Petitioner did not petition the Arizona Supreme Court for review.

On July 5, 2011, Petitioner filed a notice of post-conviction relief ("PCR"). ( Id. at 78-80). In his PCR petition, Petitioner argued that his trial counsel's "woefully inadequate" motion to suppress and failure to call two individuals as witnesses at trial deprived Petitioner of the effective assistance of counsel. (Doc. 10-2 at 30-35). The trial court denied the PCR petition on the merits. (Doc. 10-5 at 2-3). Petitioner filed a petition for review in the Arizona Court of Appeals. ( Id. at 5-7). On April 11, 2014, the Arizona Court of Appeals granted review, but denied relief. ( Id. at 53-58).

On August 22, 2014, Petitioner filed the Petition seeking federal habeas relief. Respondents answered on December 29, 2014 (Doc. 10). Petitioner replied on January 22, 2015. (Doc. 11).


Respondents do not argue, and the undersigned does not find, that the Petition is barred by the one-year statute of limitations set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 110 Stat. 1214.[1] The following principles govern review of Petitioner's grounds for habeas relief.

A. Exhaustion-of-State-Remedies Doctrine

For over one hundred years, it has been settled that a "state prisoner must normally exhaust available state remedies before a writ of habeas corpus can be granted by the federal courts." Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 U.S. 1, 3 (1981); see also Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971) ("It has been settled since Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. 241, 6 S.Ct. 734, 29 L.Ed. 868 (1886), that a state prisoner must normally exhaust available state judicial remedies before a federal court will entertain his petition for habeas corpus."). The rationale for the doctrine relates to the policy of federal-state comity. Picard, 404 U.S. at 275 (1971). The comity policy is designed to give a state the initial opportunity to review and correct alleged federal rights violations of its state prisoners. Id. In the U.S. Supreme Court's words, "it would be unseemly in our dual system of government for a federal district court to upset a state court conviction without an opportunity to the state courts to correct a constitutional violation." Darr v. Burford, 339 U.S. 200, 204 (1950); see also Reed v. Ross, 468 U.S. 1, 11 (1984) ("[W]e have long recognized that in some circumstances considerations of comity and concerns for the orderly administration of criminal justice require a federal court to forgo the exercise of its habeas corpus power.") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

The exhaustion doctrine is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2254. That statute provides that a habeas petition may not be granted unless the petitioner has (i) "exhausted" the available state court remedies; (ii) shown that there is an "absence of available State corrective process"; or (iii) shown that "circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1).

Case law has clarified that in order to "exhaust" state court remedies, a petitioner's federal claims must have been "fully and fairly presented" in state court. Woods v. Sinclair, 764 F.3d 1109, 1129 (9th Cir. 2014). To "fully and fairly present" a federal claim, a petitioner must present both (i) the operative facts and (ii) the federal legal theory on which his or her claim is based. This test turns on whether a petitioner "explicitly alerted" a state court that he or she was making a federal constitutional claim. Galvan v. Alaska Department of Corrections, 397 F.3d 1198, 1204-05 (9th Cir. 2005). "It is not enough that all the facts necessary to support the federal claim were before the state courts or that a somewhat similar state law claim was made." Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 6 (1982) (citation omitted); see also Lyons v. Crawford, 232 F.3d 666, 668 (9th Cir. 2000), as modified by 247 F.3d 904 (9th Cir. 2001) (federal basis of a claim must be "explicit either by citing federal law or the decisions of federal courts, even if the federal basis is self-evident or the underlying claim would be decided under state law on the same considerations that would control resolution of the claim on federal grounds").

B. Procedural Default Doctrine

If a claim was presented in state court, and the court expressly invoked a state procedural rule in denying relief, then the claim is procedurally defaulted in a federal habeas proceeding. See, e.g., Zichko v. Idaho, 247 F.3d 1015, 1021 (9th Cir. 2001). Even if a claim was not presented in state court, a claim may be procedurally defaulted in a federal habeas proceeding if the claim would now be barred in state court under the state's procedural rules. See, e.g., Beaty v. Stewart, 303 F.3d 975, 987 (9th Cir. 2002).

Similar to the rationale of the exhaustion doctrine, the procedural default doctrine is rooted in the general principle that federal courts will not disturb state court judgments based on adequate and independent state grounds. Dretke v. Haley, 541 U.S. 386, 392 (2004). A habeas petitioner who has failed to meet the state's procedural requirements for presenting his or her federal claims has deprived the state courts of an opportunity to address those claims in the first instance. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731-32 (1991).

As alluded to above, a procedural default determination requires a finding that the relevant state procedural rule is an adequate and independent rule. See Id. at 729-30. An adequate and independent state rule is clear, consistently applied, and well-established at the time of a petitioner's purported default. Greenway v. Schriro, 653 F.3d 790, 797-98 (9th Cir. 2011); see also Calderon v. U.S. Dist. Court (Hayes), 103 F.3d 72, 74-75 (9th Cir. 1996). An independent state rule cannot be interwoven with federal law. See Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 75 (1985). The ultimate burden of proving the adequacy of a state procedural bar is on the state. Bennett v. Mueller, 322 F.3d 573, 585-86 (9th Cir. 2003). If the state meets its burden, a petitioner may overcome a procedural default by proving one of two exceptions.

In the first exception, the petitioner must show cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law. Hurles v. Ryan, 752 F.3d 768, 780 (9th Cir. 2014). To demonstrate "cause, " a petitioner must show that some objective factor external to the petitioner impeded his or her efforts to comply with the state's procedural rules. See Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986); Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1052 (9th Cir. 2004). To demonstrate "prejudice, " the petitioner must show that the alleged constitutional violation "worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982); see also Carrier, 477 U.S. at 494 ("Such a showing of pervasive actual prejudice can hardly be thought to constitute anything other than a showing that the prisoner was denied fundamental fairness' at trial.").

In the second exception, a petitioner must show that the failure to consider the federal claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Hurles, 752 F.3d at 780. This exception is rare and only applied in extraordinary cases. Wood v. Ryan, 693 F.3d 1104, 1118 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 321 (1995)). The exception occurs where a "constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent of the offense that is the subject of the barred claim." Wood, 693 F.3d at 1117 (quoting Schlup, 513 U.S. at 327).

C. Reviewing Habeas Claims on the Merits

In reviewing the merits of a habeas petitioner's claims, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") requires federal courts to defer to the last reasoned state court decision. Woods v. Sinclair, 764 F.3d 1109, 1120 (9th Cir. 2014); Henry v. Ryan, 720 F.3d 1073, 1078 (9th Cir. 2013). To be entitled to relief, a state prisoner must show that the state court's adjudication of his or her claims either:

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)(1), (2); see also, e.g., Woods, 764 F.3d at 1120; Parker v. Matthews, 132 S.Ct. 2148');">132 S.Ct. 2148, 2151 (2010); Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 99 (2011).

As to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), "clearly established federal law" refers to the holdings of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions applicable at the time of the relevant state court decision. Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006); Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47 (2010). A state court decision is "contrary to" such clearly established federal law if the state court (i) "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [U.S. Supreme Court] cases" or (ii) "confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the [U.S. Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [U.S. Supreme Court] precedent." Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)).

As to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), factual determinations by state courts are presumed correct unless the petitioner can show by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011). A state court decision "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 ...

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