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Jones v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 24, 2018

Danny Lee Jones, Petitioner,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.



         This case is before the Court on remand from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

         A quarter century ago, Danny Jones was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. On March 26, 1992, Jones killed his friend Robert Weaver with a baseball bat. He then attacked Weaver's seventy-four-year-old grandmother with the bat; she died from her injuries after trial, having spent seventeen months in a coma. Finally, Jones killed Weaver's seven-year-old daughter, Tisha, dragging her out from under her bed, beating her with the bat, and then strangling or suffocating her. State v. Jones, 185 Ariz. 471, 477-78, 917 P.2d 200, 206-07 (1996). The trial judge sentenced Jones to death. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed. Id.

         After unsuccessfully pursuing post-conviction relief (“PCR”) in state court, Jones filed a preliminary federal habeas corpus petition in this Court on February 28, 2001 (Doc. 1), and filed an amended petition on September 13, 2002 (Doc. 54). Jones also moved for evidentiary development. (See Docs. 104, 120.) The Court granted his requests for expansion of the record and an evidentiary hearing in support of Claims 20(O), (P), and (T), alleging various instances of ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. (Doc. 121.) After holding a three-day evidentiary hearing in March 2006, the Court denied the claims, as well as Jones's remaining habeas claims. (Docs. 220, 221.)

         The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. Jones v. Ryan, 583 F.3d 626, 647 (9th Cir. 2009). On April 18, 2011, however, the United States Supreme Court granted Respondents' petition for certiorari, vacated the judgment, and remanded to the Ninth Circuit for further consideration in light of Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170 (2011). Ryan v. Jones, 563 U.S. 932 (2011).

         Three years later, after briefing and oral argument, the Ninth Circuit vacated and deferred submission of the case pending the decision in Dickens v. Ryan, 740 F.3d 1302 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc). Jones v. Ryan, No. 07-9900 (9th Cir. Sep. 05, 2013). Shortly after the decision, the Ninth Circuit remanded Jones's case to this Court to consider, under Dickens and Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), “Jones's argument that his ineffective assistance of counsel claims are unexhausted and therefore procedurally defaulted, and that deficient performance by his counsel during his post-conviction relief case in state court excuses the default.” (Doc. 240-2.)


         Federal habeas claims are analyzed under the framework of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). The AEDPA provides that a petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         In Pinholster, the Court emphasized that “review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits.” 563 U.S. at 181. “The federal habeas scheme leaves primary responsibility with the state courts . . . .” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 27 (2002). As the Court explained in Pinholster:

Section 2254(b) requires that prisoners must ordinarily exhaust state remedies before filing for federal habeas relief. It would be contrary to that purpose to allow a petitioner to overcome an adverse state-court decision with new evidence introduced in a federal habeas court and reviewed by that court in the first instance effectively de novo.

563 U.S. at 182.

         For claims not adjudicated on the merits in state court, federal review is generally not available when the claims have been denied pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991). For such claims, “federal habeas review . . . is barred unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750. Coleman held that ineffective assistance of counsel in PCR proceedings does not establish cause for the procedural default of a claim. Id.

         In Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), however, the Court established a “narrow exception” to the rule announced in Coleman. Under Martinez, a petitioner may establish cause for the procedural default of an ineffective assistance claim “by demonstrating two things: (1) ‘counsel in the initial-review collateral proceeding, where the claim should have been raised, was ineffective under the standards of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)' and (2) ‘the underlying ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim is a substantial one, which is to say that the prisoner must demonstrate that the claim has some merit.'” Cook v. Ryan, 688 F.3d 598, 607 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Martinez, 566 U.S. at 14); see Clabourne v. Ryan, 745 F.3d 362, 377 (9th Cir. 2014), overruled on other grounds by McKinney v. Ryan, 813 F.3d 798 (9th Cir. 2015).

         In Dickens, the Ninth Circuit held that factual allegations not presented to a state court may render a claim unexhausted, and thereby subject to analysis under Martinez, if the new allegations “fundamentally alter” the claim presented and considered by the state courts. 740 F.3d at 1318. A claim has not been fairly presented in state court if new evidence fundamentally alters the legal claim already considered by the state court or places the case in a significantly different and stronger evidentiary posture than it was when the state court considered it. Id. at 1318-19 (citing Vasquez v. Hillary, 474 U.S. s the federal district court's254, 260 (1986); Aiken v. Spalding, 841 F.2d 881, 883 (9th Cir. 1988); Nevius v. Sumner, 852 F.2d 463, 470 (9th Cir. 1988)).

         In state court Dickens argued that sentencing counsel provided ineffective assistance for failing to direct the work of a court-appointed psychologist and failed to adequately investigate Dickens's background. More specifically, Dickens alleged that counsel “conducted no investigation whatsoever into the possibility [petitioner] was suffering from any medical or mental impairment, ” and failed to direct the psychologist to any particular mitigating evidence. In his federal habeas petition, however, Dickens included extensive factual allegations suggesting that he suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and organic brain damage. The Ninth Circuit

reject[ed] any argument that Pinholster bars the federal district court's ability to consider Dickens's “new” IAC [ineffective assistance of counsel] claim. The state argues that the district court cannot consider new allegations or evidence proffered for the first time to the district court. In Pinholster, the Supreme Court made clear that a federal habeas court may not consider evidence of a claim that was not presented to the state court. However, this prohibition applies only to claims previously “adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings.”
Pinholster does not bar Dickens from presenting evidence of his “new” IAC claim, because the claim was not “adjudicated on the merits” by the Arizona courts. While the Arizona courts did previously adjudicate a similar IAC claim, the new allegations and evidence “fundamentally altered” that claim . . . .

Id. at 1320 (citations omitted).


         At issue are three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. Jones previously argued that the claims were exhausted in state court, Respondents conceded that the claims were exhausted, and the Court found that the claims were exhausted. (See Doc. 90 at 7; Doc. 121.) The claims are as follows.

         In Claim 20(O), Jones alleged that his trial counsel performed ineffectively by failing to secure the appointment of partisan mental health experts, specifically a neuropsychologist and neurologist, who could have revealed Jones's “neurological disorders and organic mental illness.” (Doc. 54 at 126.) In Claim 20(P), Jones alleged that counsel performed ineffectively by failing to make a timely motion seeking neurological and neuropsychological testing. (Id. at 126.) In Claim 20(T), Jones alleged that counsel performed ineffectively by ...

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