Riley v. McDaniel, No. 11-99004 [May 15, 2015]
The district court found that the state trial court committed constitutional error by instructing the jury that if they found “premeditation,” it had necessarily found “deliberation” in petitioner’s murder trial, as Nevada law, at the time, treated each as distinct elements of first –degree murder. The court found the error was not harmless, as found by the district court, because of significant evidence that Riley’s cocaine intoxication and emotional agitation might well have created a reasonable doubt as to “whether the murder was committed with deliberation as well as with premeditation.” The prosecution’s use of the instruction in closing argument bolstered the finding that the error was not harmless. Further, the court was not able to conclude if the jury had convicted on a felony murder theory as the verdict was a general one and the prosecution extensively argued the premeditated theory.