Needham v. State of Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER granting 23 Respondents motion to dismiss this habeas corpus petition; Denying 7 Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Signed by Judge Jill N. Parrish on 1/11/2018. (jds)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH
AARON DAVID TRENT NEEDHAM,
STATE OF UTAH,
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND
ORDER GRANTING RESPONDENT’S
MOTION TO DISMISS
Case No. 2:17-cv-115-JNP
District Judge Jill N. Parrish
Petitioner, Aaron David Trent Needham, has filed a pro se habeas corpus petition. See 28
U.S.C. § 2254 (2016). Respondent, the State of Utah, has moved to dismiss the habeas corpus
petition. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF
Petitioner was convicted in Utah state court. Upon appeal, the Utah Court of Appeals
affirmed the conviction. State v. Needham, 391 P.3d 295, 296-97 (Utah Ct. App. 2016).
Petitioner did not file a petition for certiorari in the Utah Supreme Court. Petitioner then filed an
unsuccessful application for state post-conviction relief. The Utah Court of Appeals dismissed
Petitioner’s appeal of his unsuccessful application for state post-conviction relief. Needham v.
State, No. 20170380-CA (Utah Ct. App. June 5, 2017) (dismissal order). He again did not file a
petition for certiorari in the Utah Supreme Court. He now challenges his conviction in this
federal habeas petition.
In its response to the petition, the State argues that Petitioner’s issues are unexhausted
and procedurally defaulted. The Court agrees.
In general, before Petitioner may seek review of a Utah conviction in federal court, he
must exhaust all remedies in Utah courts. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(b)(1)(A), (c); Picard v. Connor,
404 U.S. 270, 275-76 (1971); Knapp v. Henderson, No. 97-1188, 1998 WL 778774, at *2 (10th
Cir. Nov. 9, 1998). To exhaust his remedies, Petitioner must properly present to the highest
available Utah court the federal constitutional issues on which he seeks relief. See Picard, 404
U.S. at 276; Knapp, 1998 WL 778774, at *2-3. Here, because he did not petition for writ of
certiorari as to his failed direct appeal and application for state post-conviction relief, Petitioner
has not presented any of the issues upon which he seeks relief to Utah’s highest court, the Utah
Supreme Court. Consequently, Petitioner has not exhausted his remedies, as he is required to do
by § 2254(b)(1)(A).
B. Procedural Default
The United States Supreme Court has declared that when a petitioner has “‘failed to
exhaust his state remedies and the court to which the petitioner would be required to present his
claims in order to meet the exhaustion requirement would now find the claims procedurally
barred’ the claims are considered exhausted and procedurally defaulted for purposes of federal
habeas relief.” Thomas v. Gibson, 218 F.3d 1213, 1221 (10th Cir. 2000) (quoting Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 735 n.1 (1991)). Utah’s Post-Conviction Remedies Act, in pertinent
A person is not eligible for relief under this chapter upon any
(b) was raised or addressed at trial or on appeal;
(c) could have been but was not raised at trial or on appeal;
(d) was raised or addressed in any previous request for postconviction relief or could have been, but was not, raised in a
previous request for post-conviction relief; or
(e) is barred by the limitation period established in Section 78B-9107.
Utah Code Ann. § 78B-9-106(1) (2017); cf. Hale v. Gibson, 227 F.3d 1298, 1328 (10th Cir.
2000) (“Oklahoma bars collateral review of claims . . . that could have been raised on direct
appeal but were not. Accordingly, [petitioner] has defaulted his claim . . . .”). Under Utah law,
Petitioner may not raise his current arguments in future state habeas petitions. Consequently,
they are procedurally barred.
“This court may not consider issues raised in a habeas petition ‘that have been defaulted
in state court on an independent and adequate procedural ground unless the petitioner can
demonstrate cause and prejudice or a fundamental miscarriage of justice.’” Thomas, 218 F.3d at
1221 (alteration omitted) (citation omitted). Petitioner asserts both cause and prejudice and a
fundamental miscarriage of justice. Specifically, he asserts that that he was hampered by lack of
legal knowledge and resources and that he is actually innocent.
1. Cause and Prejudice
“[T]o satisfy the ‘cause’ standard, Petitioner must show that ‘some objective factor
external to the defense’ impeded his compliance with Utah’s procedural rules.” Dulin v. Cook,
957 F.2d 758, 760 (10th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). And to demonstrate prejudice, “‘[t]he
habeas petitioner must show not merely that . . . errors . . . created a possibility of prejudice, but
that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage.’” Butler v. Kansas, No. 02-3211,
2002 WL 31888316, at *3 (10th Cir. Dec. 30, 2002) (unpublished) (alteration in original)
(quoting Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 494 (1986) (emphasis in original)).
Petitioner has not met his burden of showing that objective factors external to the defense
hindered him in meeting state procedural demands. Under Tenth Circuit case law, lack of legal
resources and knowledge (including Petitioner’s own misunderstanding) are circumstances that
do not carry Petitioner’s burden to show cause. Gilkey v. Kansas, 58 Fed. App’x 819, 822 (10th
Cir. 2003) (unpublished) (holding limited knowledge of the law is insufficient to show cause for
procedural default); Rodriguez v. Maynard, 948 F.2d 684, 688 (10th Cir. 1991) (concluding
petitioner’s pro se status and his corresponding lack of awareness and training on legal issues do
not constitute adequate cause for his failure to previously raise claims). “Indeed, these are factors
. . . that are internal to Petitioner’s defense.” Ardon-Aguirre v. Sorensen, No. 2:12-CV-914 DB,
2013 WL 5701069, at *4 (D. Utah Oct. 18, 2013) (emphasis in original).
2. Actual Innocence
Finally, Petitioner suggests that a miscarriage of justice will occur if this Court does not
address the defaulted claims in his petition. To be plausible, an actual-innocence claim must be
grounded on solid evidence not presented at trial. Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 559
(1998). Because such evidence is so rare, “in virtually every case, the allegation of actual
innocence has been summarily rejected.” Id. (quoting Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 324 (1995)).
Petitioner is burdened with making “a proper showing of factual innocence.” Byrns v. Utah, No.
98-4085, 1998 WL 874865, at *3 (10th Cir. Dec. 16, 1998) (unpublished) (citing Herrera v.
Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 404 (1992)).
Petitioner’s mere rehashing of the evidence and alleged violations of his civil rights in
state proceedings has not convinced this court that the exception applies. Indeed, the focus of the
court’s analysis regarding actual innocence is not whether Petitioner urgently believes there were
errors—or whether there were indeed errors—in the state proceedings, but whether Petitioner is
factually innocent. This factual innocence must also be supported with new evidence, which
Petitioner has not provided.
In sum, the court concludes that Petitioner’s issues are procedurally defaulted. And these
issues do not qualify for consideration under the cause-and-prejudice or miscarriage-of-justice
exceptions to the procedural bar. The court therefore denies Petitioner federal habeas relief.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
Petitioner’s challenges are procedurally barred and do not qualify for exceptional
treatment. IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Respondent’s motion to dismiss this habeas
corpus petition is GRANTED. See ECF No. 23.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the preliminary injunctive relief Petitioner seeks is
DENIED. See ECF No. 7. Generally, conditions-of-confinement claims are impermissible in
habeas-corpus cases. Petitioner is advised that the appropriate vehicle for such claims is a civilrights case. The Clerk of Court is ORDERED to send to Petitioner with this Order a pro se
prisoner packet with information about filing a civil-rights case and a blank-form complaint,
should Petitioner choose to follow up on his conditions-of-confinement grievances.
Signed January 11, 2018
BY THE COURT
Jill N. Parrish
United States District Court Judge
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