Riley v. McDaniel

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 05-15-2015
  • Case #: 11-99004
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judges McKeown and Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

If a state statute states that three different elements of a crime need three separate definitions to prove mens rea, then it is a due process violation if two of the elements are coupled together under the same definition.

Billy Ray Riley was convicted and sentenced to death for robbing and murdering Albert Bollin. Riley and Bollin were involved in a drug deal during which Riley was on cocaine. The two men fought, and according to the testimony of one witness, Darrell Lee Jackson, Riley shot Bollin in the chest during their argument. After his conviction, Riley challenged the premeditation instruction given to the jury during trial. The instruction defined deliberation within premeditation, rather than as a separate instruction, and there was no additional instruction for deliberation. However, during Riley’s trial, Nevada case law stated that “all three elements, willfulness, deliberation, and premeditation, must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before an accused can be convicted of first degree murder.” A year after his conviction, the Nevada Supreme Court changed its mind, and explained that “deliberate, premeditated and willful are a single phrase, meaning simply that the actor intended to commit the act and intended death to result.” On appeal, the Ninth Circuit determined that during the time of Riley’s trial, three separate mens rea elements were required, and the district court coupled two of the elements as one, constituting a due process violation. However, in order to be granted relief, the panel noted that Riley must also show this instruction prejudiced the jury. The panel explained that in order to find that the defendant acted deliberately, the defendant’s actions must show “coolness and reflection.” The panel found that the jury learned that Riley was upset and crying, and using drugs right before he shot Bollin, which could show that there was no coolness, or that his actions were far from calculated. The panel therefore concluded that the jury instruction error was not harmless, and that Riley was entitled to a new trial. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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