Sahagun v. Williams et al

Filing 41

ORDER Denying Petitioner's 6 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly and close this case. FURTHER ORDERED that a certificate of appealability is Denied. Signed by Judge Jennifer A. Dorsey on 9/15/2017. (Copies have been distributed pursuant to the NEF - SLD)

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1 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 2 DISTRICT OF NEVADA 3 4 Jahuart Sahagun, 5 Petitioner 6 Order Denying Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus v. 7 2:14-cv-00539-JAD-GWF Brian E. Williams, et al., [ECF No. 6] 8 Respondents 9 10 Petitioner Jauart Sahagun pled to and was convicted of four counts of trafficking in a 11 controlled substance;1 the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed his conviction on appeal.2 He filed in 12 state district court a post-conviction habeas corpus petition.3 The state district court denied the 13 petition,4 which the Nevada Supreme Court also affirmed on appeal.5 He then filed this petition 14 for a writ of habeas corpus6—which I have addressed and dismissed claims from before7—and I 15 now dismiss his only remaining claim and deny the petition. And because reasonable jurists 16 would not find my conclusions on any of the claims (those previously dismissed or the one I 17 dismiss now) debatable or wrong I do not issue a certificate of appealability for any of them. 18 Discussion 19 Congress has limited the circumstances in which a federal court can grant relief to an 20 21 1 ECF No. 17-14. 22 2 ECF No. 18-9. 23 3 ECF No. 18-13. 4 ECF No. 18-16. 5 ECF No. 18-25. 6 ECF No. 6. 7 ECF No. 35. 24 25 26 27 28 1 inmate who was convicted in state court. Once the inmate’s state-court habeas petition has been 2 denied, the federal court will also deny it unless the state court’s decision was: (1) “contrary to, 3 or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, as determined by the 4 Supreme Court of the United States”; or (2) “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts 5 in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”8 6 “For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), ‘an unreasonable application of federal law is different 7 from an incorrect application of federal law.’”9 “A state court’s determination that a claim lacks 8 merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree’ on the 9 correctness of the state court’s decision.”10 “[E]valuating whether a rule application was 10 unreasonable requires considering the rule’s specificity. The more general the rule, the more 11 leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.”11 “[A] habeas court 12 must determine what arguments or theories supported . . . the state court’s decision; and then it 13 must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories 14 are inconsistent with [Supreme Court case law].”12 The inmate “must show that the state court’s 15 ruling [on the habeas petition] was so lacking in justification that there was an error well 16 understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded 17 disagreement.”13 18 19 As his sole remaining claim, Sahagun contends that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to present mitigating evidence at sentencing. “[T]he right to 20 21 22 23 8 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). 9 Id. (citation omitted). 24 10 Id. (citation omitted). 11 Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004). 27 12 Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. 28 13 Id. at 103. 25 26 2 1 counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.”14 A petitioner claiming ineffective 2 assistance of counsel must demonstrate: (1) that the defense attorney’s representation “fell below 3 an objective standard of reasonableness”;15 and (2) that the attorney’s deficient performance 4 prejudiced the defendant such that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s 5 unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.”16 “[T]here is no 6 reason for a court deciding an ineffective assistance claim to approach the inquiry in the same 7 order or even to address both components of the inquiry if the defendant makes an insufficient 8 showing on one.”17 9 In Strickland v. Washington, the Supreme Court expressly declined to articulate specific 10 guidelines for attorney performance beyond generalized duties, including the duty of loyalty, the 11 duty to avoid conflicts of interest, the duty to advocate the defendant’s cause, and the duty to 12 communicate with the client over the course of the prosecution.18 The Court would not define 13 defense counsel’s duties so exhaustively as to give rise to a “checklist for judicial evaluation of 14 attorney performance,” fearing that “[a]ny such set of rules would interfere with the 15 constitutionally protected independence of counsel and restrict the wide latitude counsel must 16 have in making tactical decisions.”19 So, review of an attorney’s performance must be “highly 17 deferential,” and must adopt counsel’s perspective at the time of the challenged conduct to avoid 18 the “distorting effects of hindsight.”20 A reviewing court must “indulge a strong presumption 19 that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, 20 21 14 McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 771 n.14 (1970). 22 15 Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688 (1984). 16 Id. at 694. 17 Id. at 697. 18 Id. at 688. 27 19 Id. at 688–89. 28 20 Id. at 689. 23 24 25 26 3 1 the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged 2 action ‘might be considered sound trial strategy.’”21 3 The Sixth Amendment does not guarantee effective counsel per se but rather a fair 4 proceeding with a reliable outcome.22 It is not enough to show that counsel fell below an 5 objective standard of reasonableness. The petitioner must also show that the attorney’s sub-par 6 performance prejudiced the defense.23 There must be a reasonable probability that, but for the 7 attorney’s challenged conduct, the result of the proceeding in question would have been 8 different.24 “A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the 9 outcome.”25 And I must be highly deferential when reviewing a state court’s Strickland analysis: 10 Establishing that a state court’s application of Strickland was unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult. The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both “highly deferential,” . . . and when the two apply in tandem, review is “doubly” so . . . . The Strickland standard is a general one, so the range of reasonable applications is substantial. Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness under Strickland with unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel’s actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland’s deferential standard.26 11 12 13 14 15 16 Sahagun alleges that he had told counsel about numerous people who wanted to come to 17 court and speak at his sentencing because they knew about his work helping people in the 18 community and in his automobile-repair business. He raised nearly the same claim in his state 19 post-conviction habeas corpus petition and supporting memorandum.27 On appeal from the 20 21 21 Id. (citation omitted). 22 22 See id. at 691–92. See also Jennings v. Woodford, 290 F.3d 1006, 1012 (9th Cir. 2002). 23 Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691–92. 24 Id. at 694. 25 Id. 27 26 Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 105 (2011) (citations omitted). 28 27 ECF No. 18-13 at 18–19. 23 24 25 26 4 1 denial of the petition, the Nevada Supreme Court found this claim meritless: 2 [A]ppellant claimed that [his trial counsel] was ineffective for failing to present mitigation evidence at sentencing. Appellant failed to demonstrate deficiency or prejudice. Appellant’s claim that people wanted to speak on his behalf was a bare claim as he did not state what the people would have said or how it would have affected the outcome of the sentencing hearing. His claims that counsel made no positive representations was belied by the record as counsel noted his good family support and lack of a criminal history, and the presentence investigation report noted that he owned a business. Appellant did not state what other representations counsel should have made. We therefore conclude that the district court did not err in denying these claims.28 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 The Nevada Supreme Court’s assessment was correct: Sahagun did not allege who would have 10 spoken at sentencing, what they would have said, and how their words could have affected the 11 outcome of the sentencing.29 He thus failed to meet his burden of pleading an ineffective- 12 assistance claim. The transcript of the sentencing supports the Nevada Supreme Court’s other 13 conclusions,30 and the court reasonably applied Strickland in rejecting this claim. 14 15 Because reasonable jurists would not find my conclusion to be debatable or wrong, I will not issue a certificate of appealability. 16 Conclusion 17 18 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly and CLOSE THIS CASE. 19 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that a certificate of appealability is DENIED. 20 DATED: September 15, 2017. 21 _______________________________ _____________________ __ _________ _______ _ Jennifer A. Dorsey Jennifer A. Dorsey n e United States District Judge United States District Jud ted t tr t 22 23 24 25 28 ECF No. 18-25 at 4–5. 27 29 ECF No. 18-13 at 18–19. 28 30 ECF No. 17-12 at 11. 26 5

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