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Spreitz v. Ryan

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 4, 2019

Christopher J. Spreitz, Petitioner-Appellant,
Charles L. Ryan, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued July 11, 2013

          Submitted March 4, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona No. 4:02-CV-00121-JMR John M. Roll, District Judge, Presiding

          Timothy M. Gabrielsen (argued), Assistant Federal Public Defender; John M. Sands, Federal Public Defender; Office of the Federal Public Defender, Tucson, Arizona; Susan B. Fox and Sean Bruner, Law Office of Sean Bruner Ltd., Tucson, Arizona; for Petitioner-Appellant.

          Lacey Stover Gard (argued) and Jeffrey A. Zick, Section Chief Counsel; Kent E. Cattani, Chief Counsel, Criminal Appeals/Capital Litigation Section; Mark Brnovich, Attorney General; Office of the Attorney General, Tucson, Arizona; for Respondents-Appellees.

          Before: Richard A. Paez, Marsha S. Berzon, and Richard C. Tallman, Circuit Judges.


         Habeas Corpus / Death Penalty

         The panel reversed the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief with respect to Christopher J. Spreitz's death sentence, and remanded, in a case in which Spreitz argued that the Arizona Supreme Court violated Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), by refusing to consider, as a matter of law, mitigating evidence of Spreitz's longstanding alcohol and substance abuse on the ground that he did not establish a causal connection between this mitigating evidence and the crime.

         The panel held that the district court erred in concluding that Spreitz's claim that the Arizona Supreme Court violated Eddings is procedurally defaulted. The panel explained that the first opportunity Spreitz had to raise that claim was before the post-conviction-relief (PCR) court, at which time he did so.

         Because the decision of the PCR court - which first declared the claim waived, but proceeded to adjudicate the claim on the merits - was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent, the panel accorded that decision no deference and reviewed Spreitz's Eddings claim de novo. The panel concluded that the Arizona Supreme Court violated Eddings by impermissibly requiring that Spreitz establish a causal connection between his longstanding substance abuse and the murder before considering and weighing the evidence as a nonstatutory mitigating factor. The panel concluded that the error was not harmless.

         The panel affirmed the district court's judgment denying relief with respect to Spreitz's conviction in a concurrently filed memorandum disposition.

         Dissenting, Judge Tallman wrote that the record does not establish that either the sentencing court or the Arizona Supreme Court unconstitutionally refused to consider relevant mitigating evidence; and that even if the Arizona courts did violate Eddings, Spreitz cannot show that this error had a "substantial and injurious effect or influence" on his ultimate sentence.



         In 1994, an Arizona jury convicted Christopher J. Spreitz ("Spreitz") of first-degree murder. The victim was thirty-nine year old Ruby Reid ("Reid"). Finding that the cruelty of the murder outweighed any mitigating circumstances, the trial judge sentenced Spreitz to death. Spreitz appeals the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction and sentence. We affirm the district court's judgment with respect to Spreitz's conviction, [1] and reverse with respect to his sentence.[2]

         In challenging his sentence, Spreitz argues that the Arizona Supreme Court unconstitutionally affirmed his death sentence by failing to consider mitigating evidence of his longstanding alcohol and substance abuse. He contends that the state court refused to consider, as a matter of law, this evidence in mitigation because he did not establish a causal connection between the crime and his long-term alcohol and substance abuse. In Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 110 (1982), the Supreme Court held that under both the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, a sentencer in a capital case may not "refuse to consider, as a matter of law, any relevant mitigating evidence" offered by the defendant. Id. at 114. Although a sentencer "may determine the weight to be given relevant mitigating evidence . . . they may not give it no weight by excluding such evidence from their consideration." Id. at 114-15 (footnote omitted). In interpreting and applying Eddings, the Supreme Court has explained that "full consideration of evidence that mitigates against the death penalty is essential if the [sentencer] is to give a reasoned moral response to the defendant's background, character, and crime." Penry v. Lynaugh (Penry I), 492 U.S. 302, 328 (1989), abrogated on other grounds by Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Moreover, the Supreme Court has been clear: requiring a defendant to prove a causal nexus between his mitigating evidence and the crime is "a test we never countenanced and now have unequivocally rejected." Smith v. Texas, 543 U.S. 37, 45 (2004) (per curiam).

         At the time of Spreitz's sentencing, Arizona Revised Statute Annotated § 13-703(G)(1994)[3] listed five mitigating factors, and Arizona case law additionally recognized nonstatutory mitigating factors, including, for example, a defendant's difficult family background or mental condition not severe enough to qualify as a statutory mitigating factor. In an en banc decision of our court, McKinney v. Ryan, 813 F.3d 798 (9th Cir. 2015), cert denied, 137 S.Ct. 39 (2016) (mem), we explained:

For a period of a little over 15 years in capital cases, in clear violation of Eddings, the Supreme Court of Arizona articulated and applied a "causal nexus" test for nonstatutory mitigation that forbade as a matter of law giving weight to mitigating evidence, such as family background or mental condition, unless the background or mental condition was causally connected to the crime.

Id. at 802. As a result, we held in McKinney that "[a]pplication of the causal nexus test to nonstatutory mitigating factors violated Eddings, for it resulted in Arizona courts being entirely forbidden, as a matter of state law, to treat as a mitigating factor a family background or a mental condition that was not causally connected to a defendant's crime." Id. Spreitz argues that the Arizona Supreme Court applied its causal nexus test in his case, refusing to consider evidence of his long-term substance and alcohol abuse because he did not adequately establish a causal connection between that history of abuse and his crime.

         As in McKinney, "the precise question before us is whether the Arizona Supreme Court applied its unconstitutional causal nexus test in affirming [Spreitz]'s death sentence on de novo review."[4] Id. at 804 (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that it did.


         A. Spreitz's Crimes, Conviction, and Sentence

         On May 25, 1989, the police arrested Spreitz after discovering Ruby Reid's body in the desert. Upon questioning, Spreitz confessed to murdering Reid. We briefly provide the facts of the murder.

         On the evening of May 18, after drinking heavily and being rejected by the woman he was dating, Spreitz "picked up" Reid at a convenience store. State v. Spreitz (Spreitz I), 945 P.2d 1260, 1264-65 (Ariz. 1997).[5] In his confession, Spreitz claimed that Reid voluntarily left with him and that his understanding was that they would have sex later that evening. Id. at 1265. Spreitz further claimed that he drove her out to the desert, where Reid decided she no longer wanted to have sex. Id. The two fought as a result. Id. Spreitz explained that Reid slapped him and that he responded by punching her in the mouth. Id. Spreitz then sexually assaulted Reid-"remov[ing] her clothing and ha[ving] vaginal intercourse with her." Id. Spreitz also recounted that he hit Reid in the head multiple times with a rock "to make her stop yelling." Id. He explained that he left Reid without knowing whether she was alive or dead. Id.

         Shortly after leaving Reid in the desert, Spreitz was stopped by a Tucson police department officer. Id. at 1264. The officer observed that Spreitz had a ripped shirt, smelled of feces, and appeared to be covered in blood and fecal matter. Id. In addition, when detectives later searched Spreitz's car, they found blood spatter in the trunk, some of which was inconsistent with Spreitz's blood characteristics. Id. at 1265.

         On Monday morning, May 22, Reid's naked and decomposing body was discovered on the outskirts of Tucson. Id. At trial, "the medical examiner testified that, due to the advanced state of decomposition, he could not determine the full extent and nature of [Reid]'s injuries." Id. Even so, he was able to observe "bruising on the legs, arms, and back; bruising and abrasions on the buttocks; several broken ribs; internal bleeding; a broken jaw; several head lacerations; and a skull fracture where the skull had been 'shoved in.'" Id. The medical examiner concluded that Reid had been killed by "blunt-force trauma to the head." Id.

         In addition to finding Reid's body "[a]t the scene, police detectives observed tire tracks leading back to the pavement, oil stains in the dirt, footprints, and drag marks in the dirt leading away from the body. They also found feces-stained pants, tennis shoes, socks, a used tampon, and a torn brassiere. Two blood-stained rocks lay next to the body." Id. A few days later, police arrested Spreitz. Id.

         On June 2, 1989, a grand jury indicted Spreitz for first-degree murder, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 13-1105, 13-703; sexual assault, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 13-406(A) & (B); and kidnapping, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 13-304(A)(3) & (B). Spreitz I, 945 P.2d at 1265. After five years of pre-trial proceedings mostly regarding the admissibility of DNA evidence, a seven-day jury trial began on August 9, 1994. Id. at 1266. After the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all three counts: first-degree murder (both premeditated and felony murder), sexual assault, and kidnapping. Id.

         Prior to both his aggravation-mitigation and sentencing hearings before the trial judge, Spreitz submitted evidence and a memorandum in support of certain mitigating circumstances. As noted earlier, at the time of Spreitz's sentencing, Arizona's death penalty statutes provided a list of five specific mitigating factors; Arizona case law recognized nonstatutory mitigating factors as well. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703(G); McKinney, 813 F.3d at 802. Spreitz argued as nonstatutory mitigating factors: "(1) his dysfunctional family life and lack of socialization; (2) a history of alcohol and drug abuse; (3) his expressions of remorse; [(4)] his good behavior while incarcerated; [(5)] his lack of adult convictions; [and (6)] no prior record of violent tendencies." Spreitz I, 945 P.2d at 1279. Spreitz argued as statutory mitigating factors: (1) his age at the time of the murder, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703(G)(5), and (2) that his "capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was significantly impaired [due to alcohol use], but not so impaired as to constitute a defense to prosecution," id. § 13-703(G)(1); see Spreitz I, 945 P.2d at 1279.

         Spreitz provided evidence of and argued for all the foregoing mitigating circumstances but focused heavily on a combination of his relationship with his mother and his long history of alcohol and substance abuse. To that end, Spreitz submitted a written report by and presented testimony from an examining psychologist, Dr. Todd Flynn, Ph.D. After conducting interviews and research, Dr. Flynn concluded that Spreitz's longstanding alcohol and substance abuse should be considered as both a statutory and nonstatutory mitigating factor. In his report, which was admitted into evidence at the aggravation and mitigation hearing, Dr. Flynn repeatedly emphasized Spreitz's longstanding substance abuse[6]:

By age twelve or thirteen, Chris Spreitz began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. By age 15, he drank steadily on weekends and would have a shot of vodka before school.
The collateral information shows that the alcohol abuse continued to intensify after he left home. A variety of persons . . . described him as a heavy drinker. This includes a second cousin, Scott [Jouett], who saw him to be intoxicated, "a majority of the time," when he was visiting Santa Barbara a week before the current offense. To the interviewing investigator, Mr. [Jouett] also described, "several different occasions when Chris has blackouts," while drinking alcohol.
It appears completely clear from the available information that Chris Spreitz had a longstanding problem with alcohol which probably reached the level of physical dependence. He described himself as drinking in the morning as early as age 15. Virtually everyone else who spent much time with him described him as a heavy drinker.

         Ultimately, Dr. Flynn concluded that Spreitz's alcohol abuse, childhood home life, and stunted development, combined with rejection by his girlfriend on the day of the crime, and intoxication at the time of the crime, led to the murder.

         At the end of his report, Dr. Flynn summarized his findings and opinions with respect to both statutory and nonstatutory mitigating factors. He opined that both Spreitz's age, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703(G)(5), and impaired capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or conform his conduct to the law, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703(G)(1), were mitigating statutory factors. As to § 13-703(G)(5), specifically, Dr. Flynn opined that a combination of a disturbing upbringing in a "pathogenic, emotionally neglectful home environment," and "[y]ears of alcoholism intoxication" combined to cause major deficits in Spreitz's social and emotional development. As to § 13-703(G)(1), Dr. Flynn offered a similar conclusion. In light of Spreitz's "history of alcoholism . . ., a significant but unknown degree of alcohol intoxication is likely" on the night of the crime. In addition, Spreitz's "history strongly suggests years of early experiences likely to have caused a build-up of pent-up angry, aggressive feelings toward women generally (and older women especially) which may have burst forth with uncontrollable intensity with or without alcohol intoxication." Dr. Flynn concluded that Spreitz's intoxication on the night of the crime coupled with his early childhood experiences "likely . . . contributed to an uncontrollable outburst of aggression" and inability to control his conduct.

         Dr. Flynn also concluded that certain nonstatutory mitigating factors were present. The nonstatutory mitigating factors included, in his opinion: Spreitz's low potential for future violence, the "failure of [Spreitz's] parents to provide treatment for alcohol abuse in [his] teenage years," and the "emotionally deprived, physically punitive home environment" of Spreitz's upbringing. Dr. Flynn also emphasized that even if both statutory mitigating factors failed to satisfy the statutory threshold, they may still "be appropriately considered . . . as nonstatutory mitigation."

         On November 28, 1994, the trial court conducted an aggravation-mitigation hearing. At the hearing, Spreitz called three mitigation witnesses: Dr. Flynn and two correctional officers from the Pima County jail, where Spreitz was incarcerated. The State did not offer any witnesses or evidence at the hearing. Dr. Flynn testified consistently with his report, as detailed above.

         On the same date, a probation officer filed a Pre-Sentence Report, which concluded:

It appears the defendant became involved in the senseless commission of the instant offense due to his alcohol and drug abuse. After five years in custody, he now admits his substance abuse problem; however, this does not condone his involvement in the offense. It is unfortunate the victim died before the defendant had his revelation.

         Prior to the sentencing hearing, Spreitz also submitted several letters from friends, family, and jail personnel.

         On December 21, 1994, the trial court conducted a sentencing hearing. Spreitz, Spreitz's counsel, the victim's sister, and the prosecutor each addressed the court.[7] The prosecutor first disputed the mitigating evidence presented by Spreitz at the mitigation-aggravation hearing. With respect to Spreitz's alcohol abuse, the prosecutor argued that Spreitz's intoxication at the time of the crime did not meet the statutory definition for mitigation under § 13-703(G)(1) because his conduct both during the murder and afterwards demonstrated that "he knew what he was doing." The prosecutor emphasized that the evidence revealed that Reid had been forcibly abducted and stuffed into the trunk of a car, thus forcing her to spend time "contemplat[ing] the uncertainty of her fate." The prosecutor argued that the evidence revealed signs of struggle and that the serious injuries to Reid's body belied any notion that Spreitz did not know what he was doing. The prosecutor further argued that the fact that Reid defecated on herself revealed that she was terrified prior to her murder. In sum, the prosecutor argued that given both the heinous nature of the crime and the manner in which Reid suffered, a finding in aggravation that Reid was murdered in an "especially cruel manner" was warranted.

         After a short recess, the sentencing judge rendered oral findings addressing the aggravation and mitigation issues. He then imposed a sentence of death.[8] Following the hearing, the sentencing judge filed a judgment setting forth written findings.

         The judge first found one aggravating circumstance- that the offense was committed in an "especially cruel manner." Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-703(F)(6). The judge proceeded to review the "many factors [that were] submitted in mitigation," ultimately finding five mitigating circumstances of various levels of significance:

[1] A mitigating circumstance defense submitted was that the defendant had an extremely disruptive childhood . . . . The court finds the home was sub-normal, not even a minimally healthy one for developing children; and it is obvious the defendant suffered a disruptive middle childhood-had a punitive, controlling, cold mother, who he could not please, no matter what he did.
The defendant in his life turned to substance abuse-alcohol and some suggestion he was using cocaine and other drugs. However, the court does not find such is a mitigating circumstance that impaired his ability to make a judgment on whether he was acting rightfully or wrongfully in the death of the victim.
The defendant's history of intoxication is longstanding. He had been abusing substances for close to ten years of his life at the time of this offense when he was twenty-two. Again, the court does not believe that the substance abuse or intoxication impaired the defendant's ability and capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct to any significant degree. . . . The court does not believe intoxication is any sort of mitigating circumstance.
. . .
[2] The court acknowledges that the defendant has begun a process of improvement and emotional growth while confined at the Pima County Jail, where he has taken part in education programs. Correctional officers have testified he was a prisoner who caused no problems.
[3] The age of the defendant at the time of the offense (twenty-two) is not a mitigating circumstance in and of itself. Immaturity probably is, but the court does not believe immaturity was a significant mitigating circumstance.
[4] The court finds that Mr. Spreitz has no criminal history of a felony nature-there is no history or propensity for acts of violence.
[5] The court believes the defendant is capable of being rehabilitated. The court does not know whether he has a good prognosis for the future, but the court believes he can be rehabilitated.

         In conclusion, the judge found that "the mitigating circumstances [were] not sufficient to balance the aggravating circumstances, nor [were] they sufficiently substantial to call for leniency." He thus imposed a death sentence as to the first-degree murder conviction.

         B. Spreitz's Appeal and Post-Conviction Proceedings

         Spreitz appealed his conviction and sentence to the Arizona Supreme Court with the assistance of new counsel. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed Spreitz's conviction and sentence after conducting its own independent review of the record.[9] In reviewing the mitigating evidence, the court found four of the five mitigating circumstances that the sentencing judge had found, declining to find Spreitz's good behavior while in jail awaiting sentencing as a mitigating circumstance. Spreitz I, 945 P.2d at 1280-81. The court explained:

[1] "We agree with the sentencing judge that defendant's upbringing was subnormal." Id. at 1280.
[2] "We also find that the sentencing judge . . . properly found that his emotional immaturity was not a significant mitigating factor." Id. at 1281.
[3] "We agree that the record supports the sentencing judge's findings that defendant had no previous adult felony convictions, no prior acts of violence, and
[4] that the defendant is capable of rehabilitation." Id.

         The Arizona Supreme Court also added that it considered remorse as an additional nonstatutory mitigating factor. Id.

         The court addressed Spreitz's history of alcohol and substance abuse as follows:

The record demonstrates defendant's longtime substance abuse problems. We note, however, that defendant's general problems with substance abuse are not essential to our decision here. We therefore decline to conclude that defendant was impaired by alcohol consumption to an extent that it interfered with his "capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law." A[riz]. R[ev]. S[tat]. [Ann.] § 13-703(G)(1); see also State v. Medrano, 185 Ariz. 192, 194, 914 P.2d 225, 227 (1996) (citing [State v.] Stokley, 182 Ariz. [505, ] 520, 898 P.2d [454, ] 469 [1995]).

Id. at 1280-81. In the only other portion of its opinion addressing Spreitz's history of alcohol and substance abuse, the court said:

The sentencing judge found that defendant's ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct was not impaired on the night of the murder to any significant extent by substance abuse, emotional disorders, situational stress, or by a combination of these. Our review of the record convinces us that the trial court's finding was proper.

Id. at 1281.

         The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with the trial court's aggravation finding that the murder was done in an especially cruel manner, id. at 1279, and then proceeded to reweigh the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors, finding that "the aggravating circumstance of especial cruelty in defendant's murder of Ruby Reid outweigh[ed] all factors mitigating in favor of leniency." Id. at 1282. It affirmed his death sentence. Id. at 1283. Spreitz filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the United States Supreme Court denied. Spreitz v. Arizona, 523 U.S. 1027 (1998) (mem).

         In March 2000, represented again by new counsel, Spreitz filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Arizona Superior Court ("PCR court"). See Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1. Spreitz alleged, inter alia, that the sentencing judge and the Arizona Supreme Court committed error by failing to consider his history of alcohol and substance abuse as a nonstatutory mitigating factor apart from its causal connection to the murder-i.e., Eddings error. He also alleged that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the sentencing judge's Eddings error on appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. Spreitz additionally raised several new claims of trial-counsel-ineffectiveness.

         The PCR court denied all of Spreitz's claims and entered an order dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief. In Part 3 of its order, the PCR court discussed Spreitz's claims of "nexus-error"-that both the trial court and the Arizona Supreme Court erred when they failed to consider Spreitz's longstanding alcohol and substance abuse on the basis that Spreitz had failed to establish a causal nexus between the long-term substance abuse and the murder.[10] The PCR court dismissed the claim[11] as waived, reasoning that Spreitz had failed to raise the issue on direct appeal. Nonetheless, the PCR court addressed the merits of the nexus-error claim in the course of analyzing Spreitz's argument that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise it. In doing so, the PCR court explained that the claim failed because:

[I]t must be demonstrated, under A[riz]. R[ev]. S[tat]. [Ann.] § 13-703(G)(1), that there is a causal link between the history of alcohol or substance abuse and the offense itself. E.g., State v. Stokley, [] 182 Ariz. [505, ] 523 [898 P.2d 454');">898 P.2d 454, 472 (Ariz. 1995)]. Without some basis for explaining or defining the individual's behavior at the time of the offense, the Petitioner's history of alcohol or substance abuse would be inconsequential (which is exactly what the trial court and Supreme Court concluded). State v. Kayer, 194 Ariz. 423, 984 P.2d 81 ([Ariz.] 1999).
At times, the court can and should consider an individual's long-term alcoholism and substance abuse, usually in conjunction with other factors or diagnosis, as non-statutory mitigation. However, the impact or effect of the alcoholism or substance abuse must be substantial and of such severity that it provides a sufficient basis for explaining the defendant's conduct, character or ability to control his behavior at the time of the offense. [Citations omitted].
As previously discussed, there is no evidence in Petitioner's case to suggest that he suffered any long-term effects from his alcohol or drug abuse that precluded him from controlling his behavior. Petitioner did not suffer from any cognitive or emotional deficits that rendered him incapable of controlling his conduct. Therefore, the trial court did not err in failing to find Petitioner's history of alcohol or substance abuse as a separate, non-statutory mitigating factor. [Citation omitted].

         Spreitz filed a petition for review in the Arizona Supreme Court challenging the PCR court's judgment. The Arizona Supreme Court summarily affirmed the PCR court's merits determination with respect to Spreitz's Eddings claims. State v. Spreitz (Spreitz II), 39 P.3d 525, 527 (Ariz. 2002).

         Spreitz filed his federal habeas petition in February 2003. He alleged in claim seven that the sentencing judge and the Arizona Supreme Court had both committed nexus-error with respect to his long-time alcohol and substance abuse, and that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue the sentencing judge's nexus-error on direct appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

         The district court denied all of Spreitz's claims. With respect to the alleged nexus-error by both the sentencing court and the Arizona Supreme Court, the district court found the claims procedurally barred, relying on the PCR court's determination that Spreitz had waived the claims because he could have raised them on direct appeal but failed to do so. The district court concluded that Spreitz had properly exhausted his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim, and thus addressed the alleged nexus-error in that context, ultimately concluding it was not meritorious. Accordingly, the district court concluded that "appellate counsel's failure to raise this issue on appeal does not constitute ineffectiveness."

         Spreitz timely appealed.

         II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

         We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291 and 2253(a), and review de novo the district court's denial of a writ of habeas corpus. Poyson v. Ryan, 879 F.3d 875, 887 (9th Cir. 2018). Because Spreitz filed his federal habeas petition after April 24, 1996, he must satisfy the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"). Under AEDPA, we may not grant habeas relief unless the state's adjudication of Spreitz's claim (1) "was contrary to . . . clearly established federal law[] as determined by the Supreme Court," (2) "involved an unreasonable application of" such law, or (3) "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." (28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). "In making this determination, we look to the last state court decision to address the claim," White v. Ryan, 895 F.3d 641, 665 (9th Cir. 2018) (citing Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018)), which for Spreitz's nexus-error claim is that of the PCR court.

         Spreitz argues that the PCR court's decision was "contrary to" Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982). "A state court's decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if it 'applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [U.S. Supreme Court] cases' or arrives at a different result in a case that 'confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court.'" Castellanos v. Small, 766 F.3d 1137, 1146 (9th Cir. 2014) (alteration in original) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). "If the state court applies a legal standard that contradicts clearly established [Supreme Court] law, we review de novo the applicant's claims, applying the correct legal standard to determine whether the applicant is entitled to relief." Id. (citation omitted).

         III. ...

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