Crespin v. Ryan et al

Filing 36

ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION. Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 1 ) under 28U.S.C. § 2254 is granted. The "without possibility of parole" provision of Petitioner's life sentence is vacated and Petitioner's case is remanded to the Pinal County Superior Court for resentencing. The Clerk of Court shall terminate this action and enter judgmentaccordingly. Signed by Judge Steven P Logan on 11/08/2017. (KAS)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 Freddie Crespin, 9 10 Petitioner, vs. 11 12 Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents. 13 14 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) No. CV-15-00992-PHX-SPL ORDER 15 Before the Court is Magistrate Judge Eileen S. Willett’s Report and 16 Recommendation (“R&R”) (Doc. 21) in which she recommends this Court grant 17 Petitioner Freddie Crespin’s Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus 18 (Doc. 1) (“Petition”). The Court agrees with Judge Willett’s determination that 19 Petitioner’s sentencing was an objectively unreasonable application of Miller v. Alabama, 20 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and will grant the Petition. 21 I. Factual Background 22 Petitioner Freddie Crespin is serving a life sentence without the possibility of 23 parole for first-degree murder. (Doc. 11 at 1.) Petitioner was sixteen years old at the time 24 of the crime, but was charged as an adult. (Doc. 11-1 at 74.) Petitioner pleaded guilty to 25 first-degree murder in the Pinal County Superior Court, CR95021006—a crime 26 punishable by (1) death by lethal injection, (2) life imprisonment without the possibility 27 of parole (natural life), or (3) life imprisonment with no parole until at least 25 years have 28 been served. (Doc. 11-1 at 2.) The parties stipulated to a sentence of natural life. (Doc. 11-1 at 2.) 1 Through counsel, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief on November 2 20, 2013, arguing that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment under the United 3 States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama. (Doc. 11-1 at 65-71.) Petitioner’s 4 petition for post-conviction relief was dismissed by the trial court on April 23, 2014. 5 (Doc. 11-1 at 91-92.) Following Petitioner’s timely appeal of the trial court’s dismissal 6 (Doc. 11-2 at 2-21), the Arizona Court of Appeals granted review of Petitioner’s petition, 7 but denied relief. (Doc. 11-2 at 79-81.) In May 2015, the Arizona Supreme Court denied 8 Petitioner’s request for further review. (Doc. 11-2 at 88.) Petitioner filed this Petition for 9 habeas review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on June 1, 2015. (Doc. 1.) 10 II. Standard of Review 11 Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole 12 or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” In reviewing 13 a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation, the Court “must determine de novo any 14 part of the magistrate judge’s disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed. R. Civ. 15 P. 72(b)(3). The Court need not undertake de novo review of a magistrate judge’s 16 recommendations that the parties accept as correct. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 17 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003). 18 When reviewing habeas petitions, federal courts “defer to the last reasoned state 19 court decision.” Woods v. Sinclair, 764 F.3d 1109, 1120 (9th Cir. 2014). Federal courts 20 may not grant a state prisoner’s writ of habeas corpus as to any adjudicated claim unless 21 the adjudication of the claim either: 22 23 24 25 (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. 26 27 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also, e.g., Woods, 764 F.3d at 1120; Henry v. Ryan, 720 F.3d 28 1073, 1078 (9th Cir. 2013). 2 1 III. Discussion 2 The Supreme Court’s modern interpretations of the Eighth Amendment have 3 repeated that central to its prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is 4 proportionality—a right grounded in “the basic precept of justice that punishment for 5 crime should be graduated and proportioned to both the offender and the offense.” Miller, 6 567 U.S. at 469 (quotation marks omitted) (citing Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 560 7 (2005); see also Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 311 (2002)). In 2012, the Court used 8 this tenet of proportionality to conclude that the “Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing 9 scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” 10 Miller, 567 U.S. at 479. Such a conclusion, the Court reasoned, was required by the 11 multitude of factors that make juvenile offenders different from adult offenders, including 12 (1) a lack of maturity leading to recklessness and impulsivity, (2) a heightened 13 vulnerability to negative influences and outside pressures, and (3) a recognition of the 14 evolution of character that accompanies age. Miller, 567 U.S. at 471 (internal citations 15 and quotations omitted). Because “children are constitutionally different from adults for 16 purposes of sentencing,” Miller, 567 U.S. at 471, sentencing courts must “consider a 17 child’s ‘diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change’ before condemning 18 him or her to die in prison.”1 Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 726 (2016) 19 (citing Miller, 567 U.S. at 479). Four years later, in Montgomery, the Supreme Court 20 clarified that the rule announced in Miller was a substantive rule of constitutional law to 21 be applied retroactively. 136 S. Ct. at 736. 22 23 1 24 25 26 27 28 The Miller Court clarified that its holding did not impose a categorical ban on natural life sentences for juveniles, only that the Eighth Amendment “forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.” 567 U.S. at 479 (emphasis added). In Montgomery, the Court explained that life without the possibility of parole is excessive for those “juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth” and is reserved for “the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.” 136 S. Ct. at 734 (internal citations omitted). 3 1 Here, Petitioner maintains that his natural life sentence violates Miller because 2 “the sentencing judge did not consider mitigating factors related to the defendant’s age 3 and immaturity but took pains to stress to Crespin and his family that no matter what 4 evidence they presented Crespin would be sentenced to natural life.” (Doc. 1 at 4) 5 (emphasis in original). In the R&R, Judge Willett concluded that the “Arizona Court of 6 Appeals’ decision reflects an objectively unreasonable application of Miller.” (Doc. 21 at 7 1.) Respondents challenge the R&R in its entirety, but its objections can be summarized 8 as follows: (1) that Petitioner’s guilty plea precludes habeas review, (2) that the state 9 court’s determination of facts was not incorrect or an unreasonable application of Miller, 10 and (3) that Petitioner’s sentence is nevertheless justified under Miller because of the 11 nature of his crime. (Doc. 27.) The Court addresses each objection in turn. 12 A. Habeas review 13 Respondents dispute the R&R’s finding that Petitioner’s guilty plea does not 14 preclude review of his habeas claim. (Doc. 27 at 2-4.) To support this argument, 15 Respondents refer the Court to several cases that address the limitations prisoners face 16 when challenging guilty pleas.2 Here, Petitioner is challenging the constitutionality of his 17 sentence, not his underlying conviction as Respondents suggests. (Doc. 1 at 1; Doc. 21 at 18 8; Doc. 30 at 2.) The very first sentence of the Petition highlights this point and reads: “1. 19 Petitioner is challenging the sentence imposed by the Pinal County Superior Court in case 20 number CR95021006.” (Doc. 1 at 1.) The Court has the authority to hear such challenges 21 under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) and thus, will reach the merits of Petitioner’s habeas petition. 22 B. Factual determinations and application of Miller by the trial court 23 Respondents object to the R&R’s conclusion that the Arizona Court of Appeals 24 made an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence before it when it 25 26 27 28 2 Respondents cite to Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258 (1973) (Doc. 11 at 29), United States v. Broce, 488 U.S. 563, 574 (1989) (Doc. 27 at 2-3), Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S. 175, 186 (2005) (Doc. 27 at 3), and Lambert v. Blodgett, 393 F.3d 943, 979 (9th Cir. 2004) (Doc. 27 at 3), all of which address the limitations of collaterally attacking guilty pleas and not the issue presented here. 4 1 determined that Petitioner’s sentencing complied with Miller. (Doc. 27 at 5-11.) In its 2 Memorandum decision affirming dismissal of Petitioner’s post-conviction relief petition, 3 the Arizona Court of Appeals concluded: 4 5 6 7 8 9 Accordingly, although the trial court told Crespin’s family ‘there is no sentence to be given other than what’s called for in the plea agreement,’ the court had the discretion to reject the plea agreement if it deemed the stipulated sentence inappropriate. It is clear from the record the court not only understood there were multiple sentencing options for firstdegree murder, but that it considered those options in the context of Crespin’s character, age and the nature of the offense before deciding if it would accept the plea agreement. 10 11 (Doc. 11, Ex. L.) 12 Yet, as Judge Willett aptly noted, “[t]he preceding statement incorrectly recounts 13 the record.” (Doc. 21 at 9.) As the record shows, Petitioner entered into a plea agreement 14 on March 16, 1998. (Doc. 11-1 at 2-5.) Petitioner’s plea agreement specifically noted the 15 sentencing range available for first-degree murder and reflected the parties’ stipulation 16 that Petitioner “shall be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.” 17 (Doc. 11-1 at 2.) The same day, Petitioner attended his change of plea hearing, at which 18 time the trial court judge explicitly stated that he accepted and entered Petitioner’s plea 19 agreement on the record. (Doc. 11-2 at 41.) Petitioner’s probation report, which was not 20 made available until May 1998—two months after the court had already accepted 21 Petitioner’s plea agreement—includes only a passing mention of the Petitioner’s juvenile 22 status as a mitigating factor for consideration. (Doc. 11-1 at 13.) 23 At Petitioner’s sentencing hearing on September 29, 1998, the sentencing judge 24 began by reiterating that the plea agreement to which Petitioner had entered—and that the 25 court had already accepted—included a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. 26 (Doc. 11-1 at 20-22.) The sentencing judge also stated, 27 28 And you understand that the sentence that’s provided, no matter what testimony is presented on your behalf, and I 5 1 2 3 know [defense attorney] wants your family members to talk to me, once I’ve accepted the plea agreement, you’ll receive a life sentence, which is natural life sentence with no possibility of parole, commutation of sentence, et cetera. 4 5 (Doc. 11-1 at 20.) Prior to allowing Petitioner’s family members to address the court, the 6 sentencing judge again noted, “Before they start, the Court wants to make sure the family 7 members understand that there is no sentence to be given other than what’s called for in 8 the plea agreement.” (Doc. 11-1 at 30.) 9 Respondents contend that “[t]he R&R ignores the decisions and reasoning of the 10 state appellate court, and instead focuses its analysis exclusively on the actions of the 11 sentencing court.” (Doc. 27 at 12.) But such an argument ignores that the Arizona Court 12 of Appeals’ finding that the sentencing judge complied with Miller was an unreasonable 13 one given the evidence before it. As Judge Willett concluded, “the trial court made 14 several statements at the sentencing hearing that it [was] bound by the stipulated natural 15 life sentence.” (Doc. 21 at 9.) Moreover, the record does not support the Arizona Court of 16 Appeals’ conclusion that “the [trial] court not only understood there were multiple 17 sentencing options for first-degree murder, but that it considered those options in the 18 context of Crespin’s character, age and the nature of the offense before deciding if it 19 would accept the plea agreement.” (Doc. 11-2 at 81.) In fact, the record itself warrants an 20 opposite conclusion. The trial court accepted Petitioner’s plea agreement two months 21 before Petitioner’s probation report was available for review. At Petitioner’s sentencing 22 hearing, the trial court made several statements on the record that clearly indicate it 23 believed itself to be bound by the stipulated natural life sentence, irrespective of the 24 probation report’s listing of Petitioner’s age as a mitigating factor and any favorable 25 testimony presented on Petitioner’s behalf during the sentencing hearing. Thus, the 26 determination that the sentencing court complied with the directives of Miller is not an 27 ordinary error to which a degree of deference must be afforded, but one “where there is 28 no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court’s decision conflicts 6 1 with this Court’s precedents.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). 2 C. Petitioner’s crime 3 Respondents argue that if the Court were to undertake a de novo review of 4 Petitioner’s case, it should deny relief because Petitioner’s crime does not warrant a 5 different sentence, even when taking his juvenile status at the time of the crime into 6 consideration as Miller requires. (Doc. 27 at 22-25.) The Court declines what amounts to 7 Respondents’ invitation to now serve as Petitioner’s sentencing judge because the Court’s 8 present purpose is limited to ensuring that Petitioner’s sentence is in accord with the 9 Constitution. Harrington, 562 U.S. at 91 (“The writ of habeas corpus stands as a 10 safeguard against imprisonment of those held in violation of the law.”). 11 IV. Conclusion 12 Having considered the Petition, Judge Willett’s R&R, and Respondents’ 13 objections, the Court finds that Petitioner’s sentencing was an objectively unreasonable 14 application of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). Accordingly, 15 IT IS ORDERED: 16 1. 17 accepted and adopted by the Court; 2. 18 19 That the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation (Doc. 21) is That Petitioner’s Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is granted; 3. 20 That the “without possibility of parole” provision of Petitioner’s life 21 sentence is vacated in accordance with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and 22 Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016); 4. 23 That Petitioner’s case is remanded to the Pinal County Superior Court for 24 resentencing; and 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 7 1 2 3 5. That the Clerk of Court shall terminate this action and enter judgment accordingly. Dated this 8th day of November, 2017. 4 5 Honorable Steven P. Logan United States District Judge 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8

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