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Yates v. Sinclair

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 7, 2014

ROBERT LEE YATES, JR., Petitioner,
v.
STEPHEN D. SINCLAIR, Respondent.

ORDER GRANTING PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR STAY AND ABEYANCE

RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Robert Lee Yates, Jr.'s Motion for Stay and Abeyance pursuant to Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 276 (2005). Dkt. # 18. In this capital habeas corpus action, Mr. Yates seeks to stay the Court's consideration of his First Amended Petition so that he may exhaust two claims that have yet to be considered by a Washington state court. Respondent opposes a full stay and asks the Court consider the claims that have been exhausted while staying consideration of the two unexhausted claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Stay and Abeyance shall be granted in its entirety and this matter shall be stayed pending resolution of Mr. Yates' state court proceedings.

II. BACKGROUND

Petitioner Yates is a prisoner held in the Intensive Management Unit of the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, Washington. Yates' incarceration derives from two cases: State v. Yates , Spokane County Cause No. 00-1-01153-0 ("Spokane County case") and State v. Yates , Pierce County Cause No. 00-1-03253-8 ("Pierce County case").

In the Spokane County case, Yates pleaded guilty to thirteen counts of First Degree Murder and one count of Attempted First Degree Murder on October 13, 2000. See Dkt. # 11 (First Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, hereafter referred to as Dkt. # 11), ¶ II.A.4. The court sentenced Yates to a 408 year prison term for those crimes. See id. at ¶ II.A.5. In July of 2012, Yates filed a personal restraint petition ("PRP") challenging his convictions in the Spokane County case. See id. at ¶ II.A.6; In re Personal Restraint of Yates, Washington Supreme Court No. 875189. Petitioner states that the Washington Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling although the PRP has been fully briefed. See Dkt. # 11, ¶ II.A.6.

In the Pierce County case, Yates was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder in October 2002. See id. at ¶ II.B.4. After a sentencing hearing, the jury returned a sentence of death. On October 9, 2002, Yates was formally sentenced to death in Pierce County Superior Court. See id. Yates then filed a direct appeal and a PRP in the Washington Supreme Court. See id. at ¶¶ II.B.5-II.B.6; see also State v. Yates, 161 Wash.2d 714 (2007) and In re Yates, 177 Wash.2d 1 (2013). All of Yates' claims for relief were rejected by the Washington Supreme Court, and on April 3, 2013, Yates filed a Notice of Intent to file a Habeas Corpus Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court.

Yates filed a preliminary pleading entitled Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus; Motion to Appoint Counsel; Unopposed Request for Stay of Execution on May 10, 2013. See Dkt. # 1. Then, on January 21, 2014, Yates filed the First Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus wherein he raised two claims that have yet to be resolved in the Washington state courts.

As to these unexhausted claims, Claim One alleges that Yates' Pierce County case trial counsel were ineffective for failing to file a motion for improper venue pursuant to CrR 5.1, CrR 5.2(a), or Washington Constitution Article I, § 22. It also alleges that post-conviction counsel were ineffective by failing to raise the ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. Yates filed additional evidence in the form of declarations to support this new claim. In addition, he recently filed a PRP in the Washington Supreme Court. See Dkt. # 11, ¶ II.C.3. The Washington Supreme Court has assigned cause number 89792-1 to the new PRP. Dkt. # 18, p. 3 n.2.

Claim Three raises a legal claim challenging the guilty pleas in the Spokane County case. See Dkt. # 11, ¶¶ IV.C.1-IV.C.8. Claim Three alleges that the guilty pleas and judgment in the Spokane County case were unconstitutional and therefore the jury in the Pierce County case should not have considered them during the penalty phase. As noted above, Yates raised the constitutional challenge to the Spokane guilty pleas and judgment in a June 2012 PRP that the Washington Supreme Court has yet to rule upon.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

A federal court may not grant habeas corpus relief on a claim that has not been exhausted in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b). The federal habeas statutes codify the longstanding common law rule that a state prisoner must "fairly present" to the state courts the substance of the federal claim. Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971). The doctrine of exhaustion derives from the policy of federal-state comity and gives state courts the first occasion to correct any constitutional violations. See id. at 275-76.

A mixed petition is one that contains both exhausted and unexhausted claims. "When faced with a petition that contains unexhausted claims, a district court has four options: (1) stay the petition pending the outcome of state proceedings; (2) allow the petitioner to delete the unexhausted claims and proceed on the exhausted claims; (3) dismiss the petition without prejudice as unexhausted; or (4) deny the unexhausted claims on the merits under 28 U.S.C. 2254(b)(2)."[1] ...


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