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Gray v. Salmonson

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

February 22, 2019

TRAVIS LORREN GRAY, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES SALMONSON, Respondent.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          TIMOTHY J. CAVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case comes before the Court on Petitioner Travis Lorren Gray's application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Gray is a state prisoner proceeding pro se.

         I. Background

         Gray was convicted of Sexual Intercourse without Consent in Montana's Fourteenth Judicial District, Musselshell County in July of 2015. He was sentenced to the Montana Department of Corrections for fifteen years, with 10 of those years suspended. In his current petition, Gray challenges certain conditions of his sentence, which restrict his access to the internet via a computer or cell phone.

         Gray did not file a direct appeal. (Doc. 6 at 1, ¶ 8). He also did not apply for sentence review, id. at ¶ 9; he did not file a petition for postconviction relief; and he did not seek state habeas relief. Id. at 2, ¶¶ 11-14.

         Upon review of his Amended Petition, this Court ordered Gray to show cause as to why his petition should not be dismissed as time-barred and procedurally defaulted. (Doc. 7.) Gray timely responded. (Doc. 8.)

         While the instant matter was pending, Gray filed a petition for habeas relief with the Montana Supreme Court. See, Gray v. Guyer, OP 18-0715, Pet. (filed Dec. 21, 2018).[1]The petition Gray filed with the Montana Supreme Court was nearly identical to his federal habeas petition. Cf, Id. with (Doc. 1.)

         On January 8, 2019, the Montana Supreme Court denied Gray's petition. Gray v. Guyer, OP 18-0715, Or. (Mont. Jan. 8, 2019). The Court first found Gray's state petition to be untimely, and that he could have challenged the probationary conditions in 2015 on direct appeal. Id. at 1. Despite the untimeliness, the Court also determined that Montana law provided the district court with statutory authority to impose conditions restricting Gray's access to social media. Id. at 1-2, citing Mont. Code Ann. §46-18-202(1)(c) & (1)(g).[2] The Court held Gray failed to demonstrate that his sentence or incarceration was illegal. Id. at 2.

         III. Analysis

         Although this Court is not convinced Gray should be excused from his untimely filing, the Court will disregard procedural bars and will instead examine the merits of Gray's petition. See, Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). As explained below, because Gray's claims do not survive deferential review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), his petition should be denied.

         i. Application of AEDPA

          Because Gray filed his federal habeas petition after April 24, 1996, his petition is governed by the AEDPA, 28 U.S.C. §2254. Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 204 (2003). Under §2254(d)(1), a federal court must deny habeas relief with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding unless the proceeding “resulted in 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.”

         Upon federal review, there is a highly deferential standard for state court rulings which “demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 776, 773 (2010). The petitioner carries the burden of proof for this standard, and it is “difficult to meet.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011). For relief to be granted, “a state court merits ruling must be so lacking in justification that there was an error . . . beyond any possibility for fair minded disagreement.” Bemore v. Chappell, 788 F.3d 1151, 1160 (9th Cir. 2015).

         Gray argues that the offending conditions, which prevent him from accessing the internet/social media via a cell phone or computer, infringe upon his First Amendment right of freedom of expression and were imposed in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. See e.g., (Doc. 1 at 2-3.) Although Gray presented the same constitutional arguments to the Montana Supreme Court, Gray's state habeas petition was denied purely on state law grounds; ...


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