Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California April 8, 2015.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. D.C. No. 3:01-cv-00096-RCJ-VPC. Robert Clive Jones, District Judge, Presiding.
The panel reversed the district court's denial of Billy Ray Riley's habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada conviction and death sentence for murder, and remanded with instructions to grant the writ unless the State of Nevada elects to pursue a new trial within a reasonable amount of time.
Reviewing de novo, the panel held that because Nevada law treated deliberation as a distinct element of first-degree murder at the time Riley was convicted and at the time his conviction became final, the district court's use of an instruction during the guilt phase of trial defining deliberation as a part of premeditation, rather than as a separate element, constituted a due process violation.
The panel held that Riley was prejudiced because the jury was presented with significant evidence of Riley's cocaine intoxication and emotional agitation -- evidence which might well have created a reasonable doubt as to whether the murder was committed with deliberation as well as with premeditation.
David S. Anthony (argued), Assistant Federal Public Defender, Rene L. Valladares, Federal Public Defender, and Sarah Hensley, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Las Vegas, Nevada, for Petitioner-Appellant.
Robert E. Wieland (argued), Senior Deputy Attorney General, Appellate Division; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Reno, Nevada, for Respondent-Appellee.
Before: Stephen Reinhardt, M. Margaret McKeown, and Milan D. Smith, Jr., Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Reinhardt.
REINHARDT, Circuit Judge: