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Amaral v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 2, 2017

Travis Wade Amaral, Petitioner,
Charles L Ryan, et al., Respondents.



         Pending before this Court is the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (R&R). This Court “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)(1).

         The R&R recommends that this Court: 1) find Petitioner's Miller claim exhausted before the state courts; and 2) find Petitioner did not waive his right to seek federal habeas relief via his plea agreement. (Doc. 43). If the Court adopts the R&R, the state will file a supplement to its answer to address the merits of Petitioner's Miller claim. (Id. at 1).

         Respondents filed an objection to the R&R. (Doc. 44). Petitioner filed a reply to Respondents' objection. (Doc. 45). The Court will review the portions of the R&R to which there is a specific objection de novo. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (It is “clear that the district judge must review the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations de novo if objection is made, but not otherwise.”)

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The R&R summarized the factual and procedural background of this case. (Doc. 43 at 1-4). Neither party objected to the accuracy of this summary. Accordingly, the Court accepts and adopts it.

         In short summary, Petitioner is incarcerated for crime he committed when he was sixteen years old. (Doc. 43 at 2). Petitioner's sentence required him to serve 57.5 years in prison, with the possibility of parole thereafter. (Doc. 43 at 2-3).

         Following the Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), Petition filed a post-conviction relief petition in state court. In Miller, the Supreme Court held that “the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” Miller, 567 U.S. at 479. This holding has two components for juveniles: 1) that the sentence be “mandatory” and 2) that the sentence “life without the possibility of parole.” Petitioner argues that his 57.5 year sentence is effectively a life without parole sentence.

         II. Respondents' Procedural Arguments

         A. Montgomery

         Following its decision in Miller, the Supreme Court held in Montgomery v. Louisiana, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), that claims under Miller applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 736-37.

         In this case, when Petitioner first filed his second post-conviction relief petition in state court, Montgomery had not yet been decided. It is undisputed that Petitioner's case was not on direct appeal when Miller was decided and, thus, Petitioner would need the benefit of retroactivity to have his Miller claim heard by the courts.

         At this point, everyone seems to be in agreement that Montgomery did not create a new claim.[1] However, Respondents argue that a Montgomery claim must nonetheless be exhausted in state court. (Doc. 44 at 5). As all parties concede, Petitioner did present a Miller claim to the state courts via his second post-conviction relief petition. Further, the Arizona Courts presumed without deciding that Miller would be applicable to cases on collateral review; and therefore, the Arizona Courts proceeded to the merits of Petitioner's Miller claim even though Montgomery had not yet been decided. (See Arizona Court of Appeal Opinion on Petitioner's second post-conviction relieve petition: Doc. 33-4 at 36 n.1). Thus, as the R&R concludes, the Miller claim was exhausted in the state courts.

         1. “Mandatory”

         The actual issue Respondents are arguing is that Montgomery's “clarification” of Miller so materially modified the holding of Miller that any claim that was exhausted as a pure Miller claim, without the Montgomery clarification, was effectively not presented to the state courts because the claim was presented under the wrong legal test. Respondents' support for the argument that Montgomery so materially changed Miller is that when the Arizona state courts applied Miller as written, they were summarily reversed for further consideration in light of Montgomery. See Tatum v. Arizona, U.S. 137 S.Ct. 11, 12-13 (2016). Further, applying Tatum, the Arizona Supreme Court in Valencia noted that the holding of Miller was significantly clarified by Montgomery. Specifically, the Arizona Supreme Court stated:

The State contends that Miller bars mandatory sentences of life without parole and thus requires only that the sentencing court consider the juvenile's age as a mitigating factor before imposing a natural life sentence - as occurred in each case here. Montgomery refutes these arguments by expressly holding that Miller reflects a substantive rule and noting “[e]ven 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. at 734 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Tatum v. Arizona, 137 S.Ct. 11, 12 (2016) (summarily granting review, vacating, and remanding for reconsideration, in light ...

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