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Crespin v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 8, 2017

Freddie Crespin, Petitioner,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.


          Hon. Steven P. Logan, United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Magistrate Judge Eileen S. Willett's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Doc. 21) in which she recommends this Court grant Petitioner Freddie Crespin's Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 1) (“Petition”). The Court agrees with Judge Willett's determination that Petitioner's sentencing was an objectively unreasonable application of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and will grant the Petition.

         I. Factual Background

         Petitioner Freddie Crespin is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. (Doc. 11 at 1.) Petitioner was sixteen years old at the time of the crime, but was charged as an adult. (Doc. 11-1 at 74.) Petitioner pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the Pinal County Superior Court, CR95021006-a crime punishable by (1) death by lethal injection, (2) life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (natural life), or (3) life imprisonment with no parole until at least 25 years have been served. (Doc. 11-1 at 2.) The parties stipulated to a sentence of natural life. (Doc. 11-1 at 2.)

         Through counsel, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief on November 20, 2013, arguing that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment under the United States Supreme Court's holding in Miller v. Alabama. (Doc. 11-1 at 65-71.) Petitioner's petition for post-conviction relief was dismissed by the trial court on April 23, 2014. (Doc. 11-1 at 91-92.) Following Petitioner's timely appeal of the trial court's dismissal (Doc. 11-2 at 2-21), the Arizona Court of Appeals granted review of Petitioner's petition, but denied relief. (Doc. 11-2 at 79-81.) In May 2015, the Arizona Supreme Court denied Petitioner's request for further review. (Doc. 11-2 at 88.) Petitioner filed this Petition for habeas review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on June 1, 2015. (Doc. 1.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” In reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the Court “must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court need not undertake de novo review of a magistrate judge's recommendations that the parties accept as correct. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003).

         When reviewing habeas petitions, federal courts “defer to the last reasoned state court decision.” Woods v. Sinclair, 764 F.3d 1109, 1120 (9th Cir. 2014). Federal courts may not grant a state prisoner's writ of habeas corpus as to any adjudicated claim unless the adjudication of the claim 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); see also, e.g., Woods, 764 F.3d at 1120; Henry v. Ryan, 720 F.3d 1073, 1078 (9th Cir. 2013).

         III. Discussion

         The Supreme Court's modern interpretations of the Eighth Amendment have repeated that central to its prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is proportionality-a right grounded in “the basic precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to both the offender and the offense.” Miller, 567 U.S. at 469 (quotation marks omitted) (citing Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 560 (2005); see also Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 311 (2002)). In 2012, the Court used this tenet of proportionality to conclude 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. Such a conclusion, the Court reasoned, was required by the multitude of factors that make juvenile offenders different from adult offenders, including (1) a lack of maturity leading to recklessness and impulsivity, (2) a heightened vulnerability to negative influences and outside pressures, and (3) a recognition of the evolution of character that accompanies age. Miller, 567 U.S. at 471 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Because “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing, ” Miller, 567 U.S. at 471, sentencing courts must “consider a child's ‘diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change' before condemning him or her to die in prison.”[1] Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 726 (2016) (citing Miller, 567 U.S. at 479). Four years later, in Montgomery, the Supreme Court clarified that the rule announced in Miller was a substantive rule of constitutional law to be applied retroactively. 136 S.Ct. at 736.

         Here, Petitioner maintains that his natural life sentence violates Miller because “the sentencing judge did not consider mitigating factors related to the defendant's age and immaturity but took pains to stress to Crespin and his family that no matter what evidence they presented Crespin would be sentenced to natural life.” (Doc. 1 at 4) (emphasis in original). In the R&R, Judge Willett concluded that the “Arizona Court of Appeals' decision reflects an objectively unreasonable application of Miller.” (Doc. 21 at 1.) Respondents challenge the R&R in its entirety, but its objections can be summarized as follows: (1) that Petitioner's guilty plea precludes habeas review, (2) that the state court's determination of facts was not incorrect or an ...

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