Stahl v. Haynes, Case No. C20-486-TSZ-MAT

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
Writing for the CourtMary Alice Theiler United States Magistrate Judge
PartiesCOURTNEY JAMES STAHL, Petitioner, v. RON HAYNES, Respondent.
Decision Date08 February 2021
Docket NumberCase No. C20-486-TSZ-MAT

RON HAYNES, Respondent.

Case No. C20-486-TSZ-MAT


February 8, 2021


Petitioner, a state prisoner who is currently confined at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington, seeks relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 from a 2016 King County Superior Court judgment and sentence. Dkt. 4. Respondent has filed an answer to petitioner's habeas petition and submitted relevant portions of the state court record. Dkts. 9, 10. Petitioner has filed a response to respondent's answer. Dkts. 24, 25.

Having considered the parties' submissions, the balance of the record, and the governing law, the Court recommends that the federal habeas petition (Dkt. 4) be DENIED without an evidentiary hearing. The Court also recommends that a certificate of appealability be DENIED.

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The Washington State Court of Appeals ("Court of Appeals"), on direct appeal, summarized the facts relevant to petitioner's conviction as follows:

Cortney Stahl resided in a greenbelt where a number of homeless people resided. On July 9, 2015, camp resident Jose Leon left the greenbelt briefly for roughly 30 to 40 minutes. When he returned, Leon observed his friend, Alicia Nickerson, shaking and crying. Nickerson told Leon that Stahl had been "manhandling her" and grabbing her throat.
Leon confronted Stahl about Nickerson's accusations. Stahl then hit both Leon and Nickerson. After Leon asked him to stop, Stahl then appeared to calm down and left the scene.
But, Stahl returned 20 to 30 minutes later and was more aggressive. He began using a piece of wood, similar to a two by four, to destroy Leon's shelter. He then began beating both Leon and Nickerson with the wood. Police arrived at the scene.
Police were informed about a separate incident involving Stahl and another resident, J.S. J.S. knew Stahl, and had received heroin from Stahl the day before. J.S. testified that she had woken up when Stahl attempted to put his penis in her mouth. She tried to get up, but Stahl grabbed her and held her down as he masturbated.
Another camp resident, N.W. reported an incident involving Stahl to the police. N.W. testified that Stahl had become angry with her, and threw a thermos and juice at her while the two were in a tent. As N.W. tried to crawl away from Stahl, he grabbed her between her legs by her vagina. N.W. testified that it felt like Stahl was trying to insert his fingers into her vagina. N.W. was able to get away.
The State charged Stahl with five crimes: indecent liberties and rape in the second degree for his acts against J.S., assault in the third degree for his acts against Leon, assault in the fourth degree for his acts against Nickerson, and indecent liberties for his acts against N.W. The jury found Stahl guilty on all counts, but the indecent liberties conviction involving J.S. was vacated for double jeopardy reasons.

Dkt. 10, Ex. 21, at 1-2; State v. Stahl, 199 Wash. App. 1014 (2017).

Petitioner appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals filing both an opening brief through appellate counsel as well as a pro se statement of additional grounds. Dkt. 10, Exs. 18, 19. On June 5, 2017, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. Dkt. 10, Ex. 21. Petitioner filed a petition for review through appellate counsel with the Washington Supreme Court ("Supreme Court"). Dkt. 10, Ex. 22. On November 8, 2017, the Supreme Court denied review without comment. Dkt. 10, Ex. 23. The Court of Appeals issued its mandate on January 12, 2018. Dkt. 10, Ex. 24.

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On September 6, 2018, petitioner filed a pro se personal restraint petition (PRP) with the Court of Appeals. Dkt. 10, Exs. 25, 26. On March 22, 2019, the Court of Appeals dismissed the PRP. Dkt. 10, Ex. 29. Petitioner sought discretionary review in the Supreme Court. Dkt. 10, Ex. 30. The Commissioner of the Supreme Court denied review. Dkt. 10, Ex. 31. Petitioner filed a motion to modify the Commissioner's ruling. Dkt. 10, Ex. 32. The Supreme Court denied the motion to modify without comment. Dkt. 10, Ex. 33. The Court of Appeals issued a certificate of finality on February 28, 2020. Dkt. 10, Ex. 34. Petitioner timely filed this federal habeas petition on March 30, 2020. Dkts. 1, 4.


Petitioner identifies twelve grounds for habeas relief which are summarized as follows:

1. Petitioner was denied his right to a unanimous jury verdict on the fourth-degree assault charge (count 4).

2. Petitioner was denied a fair trial as to counts 1 and 5, due to prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument.

3. Defense counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel at trial by failing to object to the prosecutor's misconduct during closing argument.

4. Petitioner's constitutional and statutory right to a speedy trial were violated.

5. The admission of "testimonial out-of-court statements and photograph evidence against him to prosecute him at trial, for assault on count 4, without the alleged victim testifying and being subject to cross-examination at trial violated petitioner's right to confrontation and a fair trial [.]"

6. The trial court erred in denying petitioner's request for substitution of new counsel without conducting an adequate inquiry.

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7. The trial court denied petitioner his right to counsel for purposes of a new trial motion and sentencing hearing.

8. The joinder of all five counts for trial unduly prejudiced petitioner and denied him his right to a fair trial.

9. The trial court erred in failing to dismiss juror 18 for misconduct violating petitioner's right to an impartial jury.

10. The prosecutor failed to disclose evidence that the complaining witness for count 1 had a felony conviction for theft of a motor vehicle and failed to disclose the "true identity" of the complaining witness for count 3. Petitioner claims the prosecutor's actions violated Brady v. Maryland1 and petitioner's right to a fair trial.

11. Petitioner was "constructively denied" counsel "through denial of his right to present a defense at trial" and trial counsel provided ineffective assistance at trial by: failing to object on Confrontation Clause grounds to testimonial statements and photographs of unavailable witness on count 4; failing to "declare[] a mistrial"; failing to argue severance of count 5 from count 1 at trial; failing to impeach a witness on count 1 based on her criminal history; failing to impeach a witness on count 3 for giving a false identity and failing to investigate that witness's true name and criminal background; failing to propose a jury instruction on self-defense; failing to raise or present lesser included or alternative offense jury instructions options for counts 1, 2 and 5 or all counts; failing to investigate, interview, or call important material fact witnesses to trial including the paramedic who examined

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petitioner, and the sergeant who documented petitioner's injuries in his police report.

12. Appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise Grounds 5-11 above as assignments of error on direct appeal.

Dkts. 4, 4-2.


Respondent argues that petitioner failed to properly exhaust Grounds 1, 4, 10, 11, and 12, in the state courts and that those claims are now procedurally defaulted and cannot be presented in federal court. Dkt. 9. Respondent concedes that petitioner properly exhausted Grounds 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, but argues that those claims should be denied on the merits. Id. Petitioner argues that all of his claims were properly exhausted and that the state courts' errors entitle him to relief. Dkts. 4, 23, 24. As discussed below, the Court concludes petitioner failed to properly exhaust Grounds 1, 4, 10, 11, and 12. These grounds are procedurally defaulted and should be denied. The Court further concludes that petitioner properly exhausted Grounds 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, but that those claims should be denied on the merits. Likewise, petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing should be denied.

A. Exhaustion

Before seeking federal habeas relief, a state prisoner must exhaust the remedies available in the state courts. The exhaustion requirement reflects a policy of federal-state comity, intended to afford the state courts "an initial opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights." Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971) (internal quotation and citation marks omitted).

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There are two avenues by which a petitioner may satisfy the exhaustion requirement. First, a petitioner may properly exhaust his state remedies by "fairly presenting" his claim in each appropriate state court, including the state supreme court with powers of discretionary review, thereby giving those courts the opportunity to act on his claim. Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004); Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365-66 (1995). "It has to be clear from the petition filed at each level in the state court system that the petitioner is claiming the violation of the federal constitution that the petitioner subsequently claims in the federal habeas petition." Galvan v. Alaska Dep't of Corrections, 397 F.3d 1198, 1204 (9th Cir. 2005).

Second, a petitioner may technically exhaust his state remedies by demonstrating that his "claims are now procedurally barred under [state] law." Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 162-63 (1996) (quoting Castille v. Peoples, 489 U.S. 436, 351 (1989)); see also Smith v. Baldwin, 510 F.3d 1127, 1139 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). If the petitioner is procedurally barred from presenting his federal claims to the appropriate state court at the time of filing his federal habeas petition, the claims are deemed to be procedurally defaulted for purposes of federal habeas review. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 848 (1999). A habeas petitioner who has defaulted his federal claims in state court meets the technical...

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