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Rhines v. Weber

December 19, 2005

CHARLES RUSSELL RHINES, PETITIONER,
v.
DOUGLAS WEBER, WARDEN, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE PENITENTIARY RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schreier, District Judge.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR STAY AND ABEYANCE

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Petitioner, Charles Rhines, was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder and third-degree burglary. On January 26, 1993, a jury sentenced him to death by lethal injection. Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Fourteen issues were raised on direct appeal, including the excuse of prospective juror Diane Staeffler, the state's use of its peremptory challenges, the use of victim impact testimony, and the proportionality review. The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence and the United States Supreme Court denied further review on December 2, 1996.

Petitioner then applied for a writ of habeas corpus in state court on December 5, 1996. In his state habeas, petitioner raised numerous issues, including ineffective assistance of counsel, the excuse for cause of prospective juror Diane Staeffler, and the constitutionality of the South Dakota capital punishment statutes. Rhines's state habeas was denied by the trial court on October 8, 1998. The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the denial on February 9, 2000.

On February 22, 2000, Rhines filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. An amended petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed on November 20, 2000, that alleged thirteen grounds for relief. Respondent, Douglas Weber, alleged that several of the grounds had not been exhausted and were, therefore, procedurally defaulted. On July 3, 2002, this court found that petitioner's grounds for relief Two(B), Six(E), Nine(B), (H), (I), and (J), Twelve, and Thirteen were unexhausted. This court stayed the petition pending exhaustion of Rhines's state court remedies on the condition that Rhines file a petition for habeas review in state court within 60 days and return to federal court within 60 days of completing the state proceedings. The state appealed.

On direct appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the stay and remanded the case so this court could determine whether Rhines could proceed by dismissing the unexhausted claims from his petition. Rhines v. Weber, 346 F.3d 799 (8th Cir.2003). The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether a district court may issue an order of stay and abeyance in a mixed petition for habeas corpus, that is, a petition containing exhausted and unexhausted claims. Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 125 S.Ct. 1528, 1532, 161 L.Ed.2d 440 (2005). The Court held that stay and abeyance is permissible under some circumstances. Rhines, 125 S.Ct. at 1535. The Court remanded the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals so it could determine whether this court abused its discretion in granting the stay. Id. at 1535-36.

Because this court did not have the benefit of the controlling Supreme Court authority when it issued the order of stay and abeyance in 2002, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to this court to analyze the petition for writ of habeas corpus under the new test enunciated in Rhines. Rhines v. Weber, 409 F.3d 982, 983 (8th Cir.2005). This court was directed to analyze each unexhausted claim to: (1) determine whether Rhines had good cause for his failure to exhaust the claims in state court, (2) determine whether the claims were plainly meritless, and (3) consider whether Rhines had engaged in abusive litigation tactics or intentional delay. Id. (citing Rhines, 125 S.Ct. at 1535). The court finds that Rhines had good cause for failing to exhaust the claims, the claims are not plainly meritless, and Rhines has not engaged in abusive litigation tactics. Accordingly, his petition for habeas corpus is stayed pending exhaustion in state court.

DISCUSSION

1. Good Cause

Rhines contends that he has good cause for his failure to exhaust his claims in state court because his post-conviction counsel was ineffective. Respondent argues that alleged ineffective assistance of counsel cannot serve as good cause for failure to exhaust his claims in state court, just as ineffective assistance of counsel is not good cause to excuse a procedural default. The Supreme Court did not define "good cause" in Rhines.

The only other Supreme Court decision to reference the term "good cause" in the stay and abeyance context is Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 125 S.Ct. 1807, 161 L.Ed.2d 669 (2005). In Pace, the Court held that a state postconviction filing rejected by the state court as untimely was not properly filed within the meaning of § 2244(d)(2). Id. at 1814. The petitioner argued that the court's timeliness interpretation was unfair because a petitioner trying in good faith to exhaust his state court claims might litigate for several years only to find out that his claim had never been properly filed. Id. at 1813. Thus, his federal petition for habeas relief would be time barred. Id. In response, the court noted that "[a] prisoner seeking state postconviction relief might avoid this predicament ... by filing a 'protective' petition in federal court to stay and abey the federal habeas proceedings until state remedies are exhausted." Id. The Supreme Court recognized that "petitioner's reasonable confusion about whether a state filing would be timely will ordinarily constitute 'good cause' for him to file in federal court." Id.

In the present case, Rhines initially filed a pro se federal habeas corpus petition leaving "more than eleven months left before the expiration of the limitations period." Rhines, 125 S.Ct. at 1532. He also filed a pro se "Motion to Toll Time" because he was concerned about the one-year statute of limitations contained in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). In response to the Motion to Toll Time, respondent advised the court that Rhines "has had a maximum of fourteen days (more likely eight days) that have run against the statute of limitations in Section 2244. Since petitioner is in no danger of losing his right to file for federal habeas corpus relief, there is no reason to toll the time of the statute of limitations." State's Response to Petitioner's Motion to Toll Time (filed June 2, 2000) at p. 4. Relying on respondent's representations, the court denied Rhines's motion to toll time.

Rhines followed the procedure that was subsequently articulated in Pace, namely he filed a protective petition in federal court and asked the federal court to stay and abey the federal habeas proceeding, stating that he was concerned about complying with the one-year statute of limitations in the AEDPA. The court finds that Rhines was reasonably confused about whether his claims had been properly exhausted in state court and thus he has shown "good cause" for his failure to exhaust his unexhausted claims.

In the alternative, the court finds that under the circumstances of this case, Rhines meets the "good cause" requirement due to the ineffective assistance of his post-conviction counsel. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has not addressed the issue of "good cause" in the stay and abeyance context. District courts faced with the stay and abeyance question since the Rhines decision have split on whether alleged ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel constitutes good cause for failure to exhaust claims in state proceedings.*fn1 Without much discussion, at least four district courts found that alleged ineffective assistance of counsel during post-conviction proceedings did constitute good cause for failure to exhaust claims in state proceedings. See e.g., Ramchair v. Conway, 2005 WL 2786975 at *16 (E.D.N.Y.2005); Boyd v. Jones, 2005 WL 2656639 at *4 (E.D.Mich.); Fradiue v. Pliler, 2005 WL 2204862 (E.D.Cal.2005); and Martin v. Warren, 2005 WL 2173365 (E.D.Mich.2005). Similarly, and again with limited discussion, at least two ...


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