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Aguilar v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 16, 2017

Tonatihu Aguilar, Petitioner,
v.
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          Honorable Diane J. Humetewa United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner's Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 10) and the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Doc. 46) issued by United States Magistrate Judge Bridget S. Bade on September 1, 2016. Petitioner has raised one claim for relief in the petition. (Doc. 10 at 3). His claim is based on the Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2469 (2012), which held “that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” In two separate cases in the Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, Arizona, CR 1997-009340 and CR 2002-006143, Petitioner was sentenced to life without possibility of parole after being convicted of first-degree murder.[1] Petitioner alleges the two natural life sentences for offenses he committed as a juvenile violate Miller, which has been made retroactive to cases that are otherwise final on direct review.

         In the R&R, Judge Bade first determined that Petitioner exhausted state court remedies for his Miller claims. (Doc. 46 at 14). Because it was not entirely clear whether the state courts adjudicated Petitioner's claims on the merits, Judge Bade conducted a de novo review rather than apply the deferential standard of review set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). (Doc. 46 at 15). Following that review, Judge Bade concluded that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus relief because the sentencing courts in his two cases complied with Miller by considering Petitioner's “youth and attendant characteristics” before imposing the life without parole sentences. (Doc. 46 at 16, 24, 28-29, and 30). Judge Bade therefore recommends the Petition be denied. (Id. at 30).

         Petitioner, through counsel, filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge ("Objections") (Doc. 50) on October 4, 2016. Respondents then filed a Response to Objections to Report and Recommendation (“Response to Objections”) (Doc. 51) on October 18, 2016. In addition, the parties jointly filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority (Doc. 52) on November 1, 2016. Respondent filed another Notice of Supplemental Authority (Doc. 53) on January 9, 2017.

         I. Background

         Magistrate Judge Bade provided a comprehensive summary of the factual and procedural background of this case in the R&R. (Doc. 46 at 2-9). The Court need not repeat that information here. Moreover, Petitioner has not objected to any of the information in the factual and procedural background section. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1989) (The relevant provision of the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), “does not on its face require any review at all . . . of any issue that is not the subject of an objection.”); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) (“The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.”).

         Petitioner does not object to Judge Bade's determination that even in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), Petitioner has exhausted state court remedies for the claim asserted in his habeas petition. (Doc. 50 at 1). Montgomery held that Miller applies retroactively to cases that have already become final as a result of the conclusion of direct review. Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 734. In their Response to Objections, Respondents “clarify their position regarding exhaustion” but do not object to Judge Bade's determination on that issue. Respondents argue that if Montgomery expanded the holding in Miller by imposing new requirements (in addition to merely holding that Miller applies retroactively), then Petitioner did not exhaust his state court remedies because Montgomery had not yet been decided when Petitioner presented his Miller claim in state court. (Doc. 51 at 2). Respondents, however, take the position that Montgomery did not expand the holding in Miller and they assert that the R&R adopts that same position. Consequently, because neither side objects to Judge Bade's decision that Petitioner exhausted his state court remedies, this Court will not review that decision. See Arn, 474 U.S. at 149; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         Likewise, this Court need not review Judge Bade's decision to conduct a de novo review rather than apply the deferential standard of review in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Petitioner does not object to that decision. (Doc. 50 at 3). Respondents, on the other hand, assert that the deferential standard applies and that the R&R does not conclude otherwise. (Doc. 51 at 3). Respondents, however, do not object to Judge Bade's decision to conduct a de novo review. (Id.). The Court will therefore not review that decision. See Arn, 474 U.S. at 149; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         II. Legal Standards

         As noted above, the Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2469 (2012), “that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” “By making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment.” Id. Although the Miller Court did not impose a “categorical bar on life without parole for juveniles, ” it explained that “we think appropriate occasion for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon” because of the great difficulty distinguishing between “‘the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.'” Id. (quoting Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 573 (2005) and Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 68 (2010)). “Although we do not foreclose a sentencer's ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, we require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” Miller, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. at 2469.

         In Montgomery v. Louisiana, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 718, 734 (2016), the Supreme Court held that “Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law” and is therefore retroactive. In reaching this conclusion, the Montgomery Court explained that Miller “did more than require a sentencer to consider a juvenile offender's youth before imposing life without parole; it established that the penological justifications for life without parole collapse in light of ‘the distinctive attributes of youth.'” Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 734 (quoting Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2465). “Even if a court considers a child's age before sentencing him or her to a lifetime in prison, that sentence still violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity.” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). A sentence of life without parole for a juvenile is excessive except in the rare circumstances when the juvenile's crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility. Id.

         However, as the Montgomery Court recognized, Miller did not impose a formal fact-finding requirement on the state trial courts. Id. at 735. “When a new substantive rule of constitutional law is established, this Court is careful to limit the scope of any attendant procedural requirement to avoid intruding more than necessary upon the States' sovereign administration of their criminal justice systems.” Id.

         III. Standard of Review

         The district judge "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) (“The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.”); U.S. v. Reyna-Tapia,328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (same). The judge "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the ...


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