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Amaral v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 20, 2018

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

          ORDER

          James A. Teilborg, Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is the second Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) from the Magistrate Judge recommending that the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in this case be denied. (Doc. 69). Petitioner has filed objections to the R&R (Doc. 77) and Respondents have replied to those objections (Doc. 78). The Court must review the portions of the R&R to which there is an objection de novo. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc).

         Review of State Court Decision

          The Petition in this case was filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 because Petitioner is incarcerated based on a state conviction. With respect to any claims that Petitioner exhausted before the state courts, under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1) and (2) this Court must deny the Petition on those claims unless “a state court decision is contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law”[1] or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. See Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71 (2003).[2]

         Merits of the Petition[3]

         As this Court discussed in prior orders, Petitioner brings this Petition claiming that his sentence violates Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). (Doc. 47 at 2; Doc. 60). Having review the R&R, the Court has determined there are three issues remaining in this case: 1) whether Petitioner's sentence is a “functional equivalent” of a life sentence; 2) whether, even if Petitioner received a “functional equivalent life sentence, ” such a sentence provides a basis for relief; and 3) whether Miller applies to non-mandatory life sentences. Specifically, the R&R summarized the claims as: “Petitioner argues that his consecutive sentences, which result in an aggregate sentence of 57.5 years to life imprisonment, are the functional equivalent of a sentence of life without parole and, therefore, violate the Eighth Amendment under Graham and Miller.” (Doc. 69 at 9) (citation omitted).

         The R&R concluded that Petitioner exhausted the Miller claim before the Arizona Courts. (Id.). Neither party objected to this finding and the Court hereby accepts it. The Arizona Courts rejected this claim. (Id.) (citing Doc. 33, Exs. N, U.). Thus, because the Arizona Courts rejected this claim, this Court can only grant Petitioner relief if the Arizona Courts' decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. See Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 71.

         1. Whether Petitioner's sentence is the functional equivalent to a life sentence.

         As the R&R recounts:

After holding an aggravation/mitigation hearing, on March 5, 1993, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole until Petitioner had served twenty-five years, for each of the two first-degree murder convictions, and seven-and-one-half years' imprisonment for the attempted armed robbery conviction. (Doc. 33, Ex. H at 1-2.) The trial court ordered the three sentences to run consecutively. (Id.) The consecutive nature of the three sentences requires that Petitioner serve a minimum of 57.5 years' imprisonment. (Doc. 12 at 2.).
Petitioner argues that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief based on Graham and Miller because his aggregate sentence of 57.5 years to life imprisonment is functionally equivalent to life without parole. (Doc. 1 at 7; Doc. 31 at 5.) Petitioner was 16 or 17 years old at the time of his sentencing and he argues that his life expectancy is less than seventy-five years due to the toll of prolonged incarceration. (Doc. 12 at 25.) Petitioner will be approximately seventy-four years old when he becomes eligible for parole.

(Doc. 69 at 2, 13).

         The parties have not cited, and the Court has not located, a case that draws a line which says that a number of years in prison, or an age at the time of parole eligibility, converts a sentence of a particular length to a “functional equivalent” life sentence. As an example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a 254-year sentence violated Graham's requirement that a juvenile (nonhomicide) offender be given some opportunity to reenter society. (Doc. 69 at 13). Obviously, however, 57.5 years is substantially less than 254 years when considering human life expectancy.

         Assuming for purposes of this section that a functional equivalent life sentence is subject to Miller, the Court finds Petitioner in this case did not receive the functional equivalent of a life sentence. Petitioner will be eligible for parole when he is 74 years old. The Court does not agree with Petitioner that attaining the age of 74 is the equivalent of death. Accordingly, the Arizona Court of Appeals holding that, “… although the consecutive nature of the three sentences requires that Amaral serve a minimum of 57.5 years, the length of the consecutive sentences does not make them the functional equivalent of a life sentence without parole[]” ...


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