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Garza v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 11, 2017

Ruben Garza, Petitioner,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.


          Susan R. Bolton, United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Petitioner Ruben Garza's Motion for Authorization to Appear in Ancillary State-Court Proceedings and for Temporary Stay and Abeyance. (Doc. 67.) Garza asks the Court to stay and hold his case in abeyance while he pursues state court relief. He also seeks permission for his federal habeas counsel to appear on his behalf in state court. Respondents filed a response opposing a stay and Garza filed a reply. (Docs. 68, 69.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A jury convicted Garza of two counts of first degree murder for the 1999 shooting deaths of Ellen Franco and Lance Rush. The jury declined to impose death for the murder of Franco, but authorized the death penalty for the murder of Rush. The trial court sentenced Garza to death for the murder of Rush and to life without possibility of parole for the murder of Franco. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentences. State v. Garza, 216 Ariz. 56, 63, 163 P.3d 1006, 1013 (2007). Garza filed a post-conviction relief petition, which the court denied without an evidentiary hearing. The Arizona Supreme Court denied review.

         Garza now seeks a stay so that he can return to state court and present two new claims. He argues that Lynch v. Arizona, 136 S.Ct. 1818 (2016) (per curiam), and Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. 616 (2016), are significant changes in the law that would probably overturn his sentence under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(g).


         Garza's habeas petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). Although AEDPA does not deprive courts of the authority to stay habeas corpus petitions, it “does circumscribe their discretion.” Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 276 (2005). The Supreme Court has emphasized that the stay and abeyance of federal habeas petitions is available only in limited circumstances. Id. at 277. “Staying a federal habeas petition frustrates AEDPA's objective of encouraging finality by allowing a petitioner to delay the resolution of the federal proceedings. It also undermines AEDPA's goal of streamlining federal habeas proceedings by decreasing a petitioner's incentive to exhaust all his claims in state court prior to filing his federal petition.” Id.

         A writ of habeas corpus may not be granted unless it appears that a petitioner has exhausted all available state court remedies. 28 U .S.C. § 2254(b)(1); see also Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731 (1991). In Arizona, there are two avenues for petitioners to exhaust federal constitutional claims: direct appeal and post-conviction relief proceedings (“PCR”). Rule 32 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure governs PCR proceedings. It provides that a petitioner is precluded from relief on any claim that could have been raised on appeal or in a prior PCR petition. Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.2(a)(3). The preclusive effect of Rule 32.2(a) may be avoided only if a claim falls within certain exceptions and the petitioner can justify why the claim was omitted from a prior petition or not presented in a timely manner. See Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(d)-(h), 32.2(b), 32.4(a).

         When a petitioner has an available remedy in state court that he has not procedurally defaulted, it is appropriate for the federal court to stay the habeas proceedings if (1) there was good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court, (2) his unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and (3) there is no indication that he engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. See Rhines, 544 U.S. at 277.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Garza contends that under Rule 32.1(g) of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, the United States Supreme Court's recent decisions in Lynch and Hurst provide an available remedy in state court. Rule 32.1(g) provides that a defendant may file a petition for post-conviction relief on the ground that “[t]here has been a significant change in the law that if determined to apply to defendant's case would probably overturn the defendant's conviction or sentence.” Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(g).

         Arizona courts have characterized a significant change in the law as a “transformative event, ” State v. Shrum, 220 Ariz. 115, 118, 203 P.3d 1175, 1178 (2009), and a “clear break” or “sharp break” with the past. State v. Slemmer, 170 Ariz. 174, 182, 823 P.2d 41, 49 (1991). “The archetype of such a change occurs when an appellate court overrules previously binding case law.” Shrum, 220 Ariz. at 118, 203 P.3d at 1178. A statutory or constitutional amendment representing a definite break from prior law can also constitute a significant change in the law. Id. at 119, 203 P.3d at 1179; see State v. Werderman, 237 Ariz. 342, 343, 350 P.3d 846, 847 (App. 2015).

         In Lynch, 136 S.Ct. 1818, the Supreme Court applied Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994), to a capital sentencing in Arizona. Simmons held that when future dangerousness is an issue in a capital sentencing determination, the defendant has a due process right to require that his sentencing jury be informed of his ineligibility for parole. 512 U.S. at 171.

         In Lynch, the defendant was convicted of murder and other crimes. 136 S.Ct. at 1818. Before the penalty phase of his trial began, the state successfully moved to prevent his counsel from informing the jury that, if the defendant did not receive a death sentence, he would be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Id. at 1819. The jury sentenced him to death. Id. On appeal, Lynch argued that because the state had made his future dangerousness an issue in arguing for the death penalty, the jury should have been given a Simmons instruction stating that the only non-capital sentence he could receive under Arizona law was life imprisonment without parole. Id. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the failure to give the Simmons ...

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