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Larsgard v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 21, 2016

John Kristoffer Larsgard, Petitioner,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.


          Honorable Steven P. Logan United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Petitioner John Kristoffer Larsgard‘s Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1). The Honorable James F. Metcalf, United States Magistrate Judge, has issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Doc. 13), recommending that the petition be denied with prejudice. Petitioner has objected to the R&R (Doc. 21). For the following reasons, the Court accepts and adopts the R&R, and denies the petition.

         I. Background[1]

         Petitioner was indicted in Navajo County Superior Court, Case Nos. CR2011-00780 and CR2011-00767, on charges of attempted second degree murder, aggravated assault, endangerment, and child abuse. (Doc. 9-1, Exh. DD.) Following a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of six counts of aggravated assault and one count of felony endangerment. (Doc. 9-8, Exh. GG.) Petitioner was acquitted on the two remaining counts of aggravated assault. (Doc. 9-8, Exh. HH.) On April 24, 2012, Petitioner was sentenced to concurrent presumptive sentences of either 7.5 or 3.5 years on the counts of aggravated assault, and a concurrent sentence of 2.25 years on the charge of endangerment. (Doc. 9-8, Exh. NN.)

         Petitioner filed a timely direct appeal, and in a Memorandum Decision issued May 7, 2013, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences. (Doc. 9-9, Exh. SS; State v. Larsgard, 2013 WL 1908037 (Ariz.Ct.App. May 7, 2013).) Petitioner filed a petition for review by the Arizona Supreme Court (Doc. 9-9, Exh. TT) which was summarily denied on September 16, 2013 (Doc. 9-9, Exh. YY).

         Petitioner filed a timely federal habeas petition (Doc. 1). In Ground One, Petitioner claims that his due process rights were violated when he did not receive necessary medications which rendered him incompetent to stand trial. In Ground Two, Petitioner claims: (1) the state court violated his due process rights by failing to preclude a late-disclosed lab report and associated expert at trial; (2) the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) by failing to obtain and disclose the video recording of his booking; and (3) the prosecution violated Brady when it failed to disclose the fact that two of the victims had filed civil lawsuits against Petitioner. In Ground Three, Petitioner claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions. In Ground Four, Petitioner argues that he was persecuted on the basis of his national origin.

         Following full briefing by the parties, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R recommending that the petition be dismissed. (Doc. 13.) As to Petitioner's claims in Grounds One and Two, the R&R found that Petitioner had failed to show that the Arizona Court of Appeal's decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of federal law, or that it was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The R&R further concluded that Petitioner's claims in Grounds Three and Four were procedurally defaulted and barred from review.

         II. Standard of Review

         A district judge “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). When a party files a timely objection to an R&R, the district judge reviews de novo those portions of the R&R that have been “properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). A proper objection requires specific written objections to the findings and recommendations in the R&R. See United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). It follows that the Court need not conduct any review of portions to which no specific objection has been made. See Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d at 1121; see also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985) (discussing the inherent purpose of limited review is judicial economy). Further, a party is not entitled as of right to de novo review of evidence or arguments which are raised for the first time in an objection to the R&R, and the Court's decision to consider them is discretionary. United States v. Howell, 231 F.3d 615, 621-622 (9th Cir. 2000).

         III. Discussion

         Having reviewed the objected to recommendations de novo, the Court agrees and adopts the Magistrate Judge's findings.

         A. Medication

         In Ground One, Petitioner argues that his right to due process was violated when he was denied medications previously prescribed by his physician for severe neck pain and was provided incorrect or inadequate medication by jail medical staff that “severely impacted his ability to communicate with counsel, prevented him from reacting rapidly to trial developments, sedated him, and diminished his ability to express emotions.” (Doc. 1 at 28.)

         Under clearly established federal law, the conviction of a defendant who was incompetent to stand trial violates due process. Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 403, (1960); Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389, 402 (1993). A defendant is incompetent to stand trial if he “lacks the capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel, and to assist in preparing his defense.” Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162 (1975). It follows where the administration, discontinuation, or lack of medication affects or undermines a defendant's mental state in such a way that it renders him incompetent to stand trial, the conviction of the defendant violates due process. See Benson v. Terhune, 304 F.3d 874, 885 (9th Cir. 2002) (“Even were we to assume that Benson had been medicated without her informed consent, she has not suffered any prejudice. She fails to establish that her constitutional trial rights-including the right to participate in her own defense - were affected or undermined by the challenged medication.”); Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 388 n. 1 (1966) (distinguishing a procedural due process claim from “the simple claim that defendant was convicted while incompetent during the trial”).

         In the last reasoned decision resolving this claim, [2] the Arizona Court of Appeals found that “Larsgard ha[d] failed to present evidence demonstrating that the unidentified medications that the jail medical staff provided him significantly affected his access to counsel or his ability to participate in his own defense.” (Doc. 9-9 at 141, Exh. SS at 5.) According substantial deference to the trial court's observations, the Court of Appeals reasoned that “[t]he trial court had the opportunity to observe Larsgard throughout the trial, and found that he was fully engaged in the trial and was able to and did communicate with counsel.” (Id.) It cited that the trial court had observed that “Mr. Larsgard was engaged fully in the trial of his case, taking notes, whispering with investigators, testifying lucidly and clearly and confronting [sic] with counsel, and he did not appear tired or out of it.” (Id.) The state court found that the record “failed to support his claims that the medications made him restless, cloudy, unresponsive, nauseous, and largely apathetic toward life; or severely impacted his ability to communicate with counsel, prevented him from reacting rapidly to trial developments, sedated him, and diminished his ability to express emotions.” (Doc. 9-9 at 140, Exh. SS at 4.)

         Reaching the merits of Ground One, the R&R found that Petitioner had failed to point to evidence showing that his medication regimen rendered him incompetent to stand trial, and therefore did not demonstrate that the appellate court's decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. (Doc. 13 at 18-19.) Petitioner objects to this finding, arguing the R&R “fails to properly account for all the actions undertaken by the State that diminished and eroded Mr. Larsgard's competency both leading up to and during the trial.” (Doc. 21 at 2.) Petitioner claims that the R&R either incorrectly interpreted the facts or failed to give sufficient weight to the evidence of his alleged incompetence.

         First, in his objection, Petitioner points to his arraignment, arguing “it was clear there was something seriously wrong with Mr. Larsgard, as he provided a completely incorrect name to the court.” (Doc. 21 at 3.) This evidence is unavailing. Even if assuming that Petitioner's false self-identification was a manifestation of forced medication or the discontinuation of medication, he does not explain how this evidence undermined his competence to stand trial months later. See Williams v. Woodford, 384 F.3d 567, 609 (9th Cir. 2004) (“With the exception of the incident at the preliminary hearing where Williams stood mute when questioned by the ...

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