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Rhines v. Young

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 3, 2018

Charles Russell Rhines Petitioner - Appellant
Darin Young Respondent - Appellee

          Submitted: January 11, 2018

          Appeals from United States District Court for the District of South Dakota - Rapid City

          Before LOKEN, GRUENDER, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.


         Charles Russell Rhines brutally murdered Donnivan Schaeffer while burgling a donut shop in Rapid City, South Dakota, on March 8, 1992. A state court jury convicted Rhines of murder and burglary and sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of South Dakota affirmed the conviction and sentence, State v. Rhines, 548 N.W.2d 415, 424 (S.D.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1013 (1996), and subsequently affirmed the denial of state post-conviction relief. Rhines v. Weber, 608 N.W.2d 303, 305 (S.D. 2000). The district court[1] denied his federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus but issued a certificate of appealability on multiple claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c). On appeal in Case No. 16-3360, Rhines argues six issues, one relating to the guilt phase and five to the penalty phase of the trial. We affirm.

         I. A Guilt Phase Issue.

         Rhines argues that the state courts violated his federal constitutional privilege against self-incrimination by admitting at trial prejudicial inculpatory statements he made after warnings that he claims did not comply with Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Miranda held that, before a person in custody can be interrogated, he must be warned:

that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires. Opportunity to exercise these rights must be afforded to him throughout the interrogation.

Id. at 479. The Supreme Court of South Dakota considered this issue at length on direct appeal and denied relief, concluding that Rhines was given constitutionally adequate warnings. Rhines, 548 N.W.2d at 424-29.

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), when a claim has been "adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings," a federal writ of habeas corpus will not be granted:

unless the adjudication of the claim -- (1) 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; or (2) resulted in a decision that 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). Rhines argues, as he did to the district court, that the South Dakota Supreme Court's determination that the warnings were adequate was an objectively unreasonable application of Miranda.

         We recite the relevant facts as detailed in the Supreme Court of South Dakota's opinion. In February 1992, Rhines was terminated as an employee at the Dig 'Em Donuts Shop in Rapid City. On March 8, the body of employee Schaeffer was found in the Dig 'Em Donut Shop storeroom with his hands bound and stab wounds. Approximately $3, 300 was missing from the store. On June 19, Rhines was arrested in Seattle for a burglary in Washington State. After a local police officer read a Miranda warning, Rhines asked, "Those two detectives from South Dakota are here, aren't they?" He was placed in a holding cell without questioning.

         That evening, Rapid City Police Detective Steve Allender and Pennington County Deputy Sheriff Don Bahr arrived to question Rhines about the Dig 'Em Donuts burglary and the murder of Schaeffer. During a suppression hearing prior to trial, Detective Allender recalled informing Rhines of his Miranda rights as follows:

[Allender]: You have the continuing right to remain silent. Do you understand that?
[Rhines]: Yes.
[Allender]: Anything you say can be used as evidence against you. Do you understand that?
[Rhines]: Yes.
[Allender]: You have the right to consult with and have the presence of an attorney, and if you cannot afford an attorney, an attorney can be appointed for you free of charge. Do you understand that?
[Rhines]: Yes.
[Allender]: Having these rights in mind, are you willing to answer questions?
[Rhines]: Do I have a choice?
[Allender]: Yes [you do] have a choice, in fact [you do] not have to talk with us at all.
[Allender again asked Rhines if he wanted to talk with the detectives]
[Rhines]: I suppose so, I'll answer any questions I like.

         After these warnings, Rhines gave the officers permission to tape record his statement and made a chilling confession to committing the Dig 'Em Donuts burglary and killing Schaeffer. On June 21, after Allender and Bahr gave the same warnings, Rhines again confessed to the burglary and killing.

         At trial, over Rhines's objections, the prosecution introduced Detective Allender's testimony regarding Rhines's statements during the untaped portion of the June 19 interview, and recordings of the June 19 and June 21 interviews. From the recordings, the jury heard that Rhines broke into Dig 'Em Donuts to burglarize it. During the burglary, Schaeffer entered the store to retrieve money and supplies for another store. Rhines stabbed Schaeffer in the stomach. With Schaeffer "thrashing around and screaming," Rhines stabbed him in the upper back, then "help[ed] him up and walk[ed] him into the back room and s[a]t him down on the pallet and walk[ed] him forward, he goes rather willingly like he's decide it's time to go." In the back room, Rhines stabbed Schaeffer in the head, attempting to "stop bodily function." After that, with Schaeffer still breathing, Rhines "tied his hands behind him" and went back to the office to finish collecting money. A medical examiner testified that Schaeffer's wounds were consistent with Rhines's confession.

         On direct appeal, Rhines argued the Miranda warnings were constitutionally deficient in three ways: (i) he was informed of his "continuing right to remain silent," but not his right to cut off questioning whenever he wished; (ii) he was informed of "the right to consult with and have the presence of an attorney," but not his right to an attorney before and during questioning; and (iii) he was informed that "an attorney can be appointed for you free of charge," but not that an attorney would or must be appointed. The Supreme Court of South Dakota concluded the warnings were sufficient, applying the standard in Duckworth v. Eagan, 492 U.S. 195, 203 (1989) ("[t]he inquiry is simply whether the warnings reasonably convey to a suspect his rights as required by Miranda"). The Court reasoned that the interview transcript demonstrated that Rhines understood his right to cut off questioning at any time; indeed, he turned off the recorder when asked about a topic he did not wish to discuss. 548 N.W.2d at 427. Rhines was told of his right to an attorney at the beginning of each interview, a warning that "plainly communicated the right to have an attorney present at that time." Id. And the totality of the warning given "reasonably conveyed the right to appointed counsel." Id. at 428. The Court noted that "[t]he words of Miranda do not constitute a ritualistic formula which must be repeated without variation in order to be effective." Id. at 426, quoting Evans v. Swenson, 455 F.2d 291, 295 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 408 U.S. 929 (1972).

         The district court, reviewing the decision under AEDPA, concluded that "the South Dakota Supreme Court did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law when it determined that Rhines received effective Miranda warnings prior to his June 19 and 21, 1992 interviews." Relying on Duckworth, the district court concluded that "the initial warnings given to Rhines touched all the bases required by Miranda." In reviewing a district court's denial of a § 2254 petition, we review the district court's findings of fact for clear error and its conclusions of law de novo. Middleton v. Roper, 455 F.3d 838, 845 (8th Cir. 2006) (standard of review).

         Rhines cites no clearly established federal law that the warnings given to him were inadequate under Miranda. He simply disagrees with the South Dakota Supreme Court's application of Miranda and clearly established federal cases interpreting Miranda. That Court carefully considered each alleged deficiency in light of the warnings given and the circumstances surrounding the warnings, applying the proper Supreme Court standard and considering relevant precedent from this court. Rhines makes the conclusory assertion that the warnings did not reasonably convey his rights. But he does not explain why the warnings given were objectively unreasonable in these circumstances. Reviewing de novo, the district court did not err in concluding that Rhines is not entitled to relief on this claim under AEDPA.

         II. Penalty Phase Issues.

         Two of the five penalty phase issues raised on appeal concern claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel (IAC) at the penalty phase. These federal claims have a long and complicated procedural history.

         The trial court appointed three attorneys to represent Rhines at trial -- Joseph Butler and Wayne Gilbert, both in private practice, and Michael Stonefield, a local public defender. After the jury found Rhines guilty of first-degree murder and third-degree burglary, the case proceeded to the sentencing phase. The prosecution incorporated evidence from the guilt phase and rested. The defense presented testimony of Rhines's two sisters. They described his academic, behavioral, and social struggles as a child and teenager. They testified that he dropped out of school in early high school, was not helped by enlisting in the military at age seventeen, and struggled with his sexuality as a gay man who grew up in a conservative, Midwestern family. Consistent with South Dakota law, the jury found that one or more statutory aggravating circumstances existed and sentenced Rhines to death.

         After his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, Rhines applied to the state trial court for a writ for habeas corpus. Represented by new, independent appointed counsel, the Second Amended Application raised forty-six issues, including ten claims of IAC by trial and appellate counsel. The ninth claim was that trial counsel "failed to investigate his background for mitigation evidence." After an evidentiary hearing at which the three trial attorneys testified and the subsequent submission of deposition testimony by a defense attorney expert, the trial court denied the application in a lengthy letter ruling discussing many allegations of trial counsel IAC. With respect to the penalty phase claim, Judge Tice wrote:

(24) Failure to investigate defendant's background to provide effective mitigation.
As discussed earlier, there were substantial efforts made to develop mitigation evidence. Trial counsel used reasonable efforts to do so. There is no evidence to support a belief that any further efforts would have been fruitful.

         Rhines appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court of South Dakota. Regarding the penalty phase IAC claim, Rhines argued that his trial attorneys' billing records "showed that only a cursory amount of work was devoted to mitigation witnesses. The problem is we do not know if there is mitigation evidence favorable . . . because the work was not done." The Supreme Court of South Dakota ...

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