362 F.3d 302 (5th Cir. 2004), 02-41179, Riley v. Dretke

Docket Nº:02-41179.
Citation:362 F.3d 302
Party Name:Michael Lynn RILEY, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Doug DRETKE, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:March 05, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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362 F.3d 302 (5th Cir. 2004)

Michael Lynn RILEY, Petitioner-Appellant,


Doug DRETKE, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 02-41179.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 5, 2004

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Alexander Lee Calhoun, Law Office of Alex Calhoun, Austin, TX, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Deni S. Garcia, Austin, TX, for Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before HIGGINBOTHAM, SMITH and CLEMENT, Circuit Judges.


Petitioner Michael Lynn Riley ("Riley") is a death-row inmate in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division. The district court granted Riley a certificate of appealability ("COA") based on one of his sub-claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. 1 Specifically, Riley argues that the state habeas court wrongly denied him habeas relief because evidence showed that his trial counsel failed to investigate and present facts supporting Riley's alleged mental retardation. On appeal, Riley also argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying him investigative funds. For the reasons set forth below, we reject both arguments.

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On February 1, 1986, Riley fatally stabbed 23-year-old Winona Lynn Harris. The state of Texas twice tried and twice convicted Riley for capital murder. During the first trial, Riley submitted into evidence a 1973 evaluation from the Terrell State Hospital assigning him an I.Q. score of 67, a level consistent with borderline mental retardation. The jury returned a guilty verdict and imposed a sentence of death. The first conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal because of an error in jury selection.

In preparation for Riley's second trial, Riley's lead trial counsel, William Wright ("Wright"), became aware of the 1973 I.Q. test. Despite this knowledge, Wright determined that Riley was not mentally retarded based on Wright's personal observations of and interactions with Riley, interviews with Riley's family, and school, probation and juvenile records. Furthermore, Wright decided to forego presenting the prior I.Q. test because he believed that presenting it would detract from the argument that Riley would not pose a future threat to society. Wright believed that the prior I.Q. test was more likely to aggravate than to further the trial strategy.

Although Wright did not believe that Riley was mentally retarded, Wright still employed a psychologist, Dr. Patrick Lawrence ("Dr. Lawrence"), to determine whether Riley posed a future threat to society. In meeting with Dr. Lawrence, Wright discussed the 1973 I.Q. test with him. Part of Dr. Lawrence's examination of Riley consisted of administering a more recently developed intellectual aptitude test. During the second trial, Dr. Lawrence testified as an expert and opined that Riley's mental state would not pose a future threat to society; Dr. Lawrence did not testify as to Riley's I.Q.

After his second conviction and death sentence, Riley petitioned for a state habeas proceeding, arguing, inter alia, that Wright had failed to adequately investigate and present mitigating evidence of mental retardation. The state habeas court held that Wright had conducted "a thorough and complete investigation as to other existence of retardation evidence," and that Wright had made a reasonable tactical decision that the 1973 I.Q. test would not benefit Riley in the overall trial strategy.

Upon exhausting his habeas claims in state court, Riley sought federal habeas relief. The federal district court also denied Riley habeas relief, but did grant Riley a COA with respect to the above argument. Riley then petitioned the district court for funds to investigate circumstances surrounding Wright's determination that Riley was not mentally retarded. The court denied this motion.

On appeal, Riley presents his argument for which the district court granted a COA and challenges the district court's denial of his motion for investigatory funds.


Because Riley filed his habeas petition on April 1, 1998, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") applies to his appeal. See Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 235 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 324-26, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997) (noting that the AEDPA applies to all federal habeas petitions filed on or after April 24, 1996)). According to the AEDPA, habeas relief cannot be granted unless the challenged state court proceeding resulted in (1) "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," 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); or

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(2) "a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). Under subpart (d)(1) of § 2254, "unreasonable" does not mean merely incorrect. Schaetzle v. Cockrell, 343 F.3d 440, 443 (5th Cir. 2003). "[A]n application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent must be incorrect and unreasonable to warrant federal habeas relief." Id. (internal quotations omitted); accord Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 406, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000).

A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel presents a mixed question of law and fact. Lockett v. Anderson, 230 F.3d 695, 710 (5th Cir. 2000). The district court's findings of fact are reviewed for clear error and its conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. Beazley v. Johnson, 242 F.3d 248, 255 (5th Cir. 2001).

This Court reviews a district court's denial of investigative funds pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 848(q) under an abuse of discretion standard. Clark v. Johnson, 202 F.3d 760, 769 (5th Cir. 2000).


A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a habeas petitioner must satisfy Strickland v. Washington's two-prong test: first, the petitioner must affirmatively show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms; and second, the petitioner must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). In applying this test, "[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential." Id. at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052. "[A] court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy." Id. (internal quotations omitted).

1. Wright's representation met an objective standard of reasonableness.

a. Wright investigated the possibility of mental retardation.

Riley first argues that Wright's conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness because Wright allegedly failed to adequately investigate whether Riley was retarded. In support of this argument, Riley relies on Martin v....

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