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MOLINAR v. NEWLAND

March 22, 2001

ANTONIO MOLINAR, PETITIONER,
V.
A.C. NEWLAND, WARDEN, CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON, AT VACAVILLE, CALIFORNIA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Illston, District Judge.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

On August 11, 1999, Antonio Molinar ("Molinar"), a prisoner at California Department of Corrections, at Vacaville, California, filed a timely Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On February 29, 2000, this Court ordered respondents to show cause why the writ should not be issued. On May 9, 2000, respondent filed an Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. Petitioner did not file a traverse.

BACKGROUND

On May 23, 1996 in the Superior Court of Contra Costa County, Molinar was convicted of numerous counts of sexual abuse of four female minors.*fn1 He was sentenced to 23 years in prison. CT 350-351, 353-354.*fn2 He appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which affirmed the conviction on March 26, 1997. The California Supreme Court denied review on June 11, 1997.

Beginning on June 29, 1998, petitioner filed petitions for a writ of habeas corpus in the Contra Costa County Superior Court, alleging that he was denied his due process right to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a sentence of 10 years, 6 months initially offered by the Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge.*fn3 Petition ("Pet."), ¶. 5-6. The petition was denied in a written decision by the Superior Court on October 7, 1998. Id. Subsequent petitions on the same grounds were pursued in the California Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court, and finally denied on June 30, 1999. Id.

Molinar filed the instant petition on August 11, 1999. The petition alleges that Molinar was denied his due process right to plead guilty to the charges against him. Pet., ¶. 1-2. Molinar alleges that Superior Court Judge Grant offered Molinar a maximum sentence of 10 years and 6 months, if petitioner would plead guilty. RT 726:28-727:4; CT 313:4-6. Molinar argues that he attempted to accept the offer at the readiness conference, and told Judge Grant that he was "entering a plea of guilty to everything." RT 727:12-13. However, Judge Grant told Molinar to wait, and that he wanted to discuss this further in his chambers with Molinar's trial counsel and the deputy district attorney. RT 727:13-16; CT 313:6-8. One of the issues discussed was whether the prosecution could use an uncharged event that occurred prior to the plea to later charge Mr. Molinar under the "Three Strikes" law. RT 727:17-20; CT 313:8-11.

Molinar's trial counsel believed that there was the potential that a police report statement by a woman who claimed that she was touched on the breast by Molinar could be charged as a felony sexual battery. See RT 727:21-28. The parties consulted others familiar with the "Three Strikes" law and found that the issue of whether a prior event could be filed as a "Three Strikes" offense had not been decided and that no case was pending on the issue at the time. See CT 313:20-24; RT 727:17-20, 728:7-10. Molinar's trial counsel was concerned that by entering the plea without a stipulation from the deputy district attorney not to charge Molinar for his preplea conduct, Molinar "would, in essence, be pleading himself to life in prison." See RT 727:24-27. Molinar then "agreed to enter a plea of everything if the D.A. would just say they would not file the preplea stuff and call it a third strike." RT 727:28-728:2; see also CT 313:24-26. The deputy district attorney refused to enter into such an agreement. RT 728:2-4; CT 313:26. Molinar argues that at this point, the Judge refused to allow Molinar to plead guilty to the charges. Pet., p. 5. Molinar's trial counsel explained that when the "Three Strikes" issue was not resolved and the deputy district attorney continued to refuse to agree not to charge a prior offense under "Three Strikes," the Judge then commented to Molinar's trial counsel, "[t]hen you can't plead. There's just no way." RT 730:10-16; see also CT 313:26-27.

After the preliminary hearing, Judge Grant offered Molinar 12 years if Molinar would plead guilty to the charges. RT 728:20-23; CT 314:1-2. The deputy district attorney still would not enter into an agreement that "Three Strikes" would only apply to new offenses. CT 314:2-4. Subsequently, Molinar pled guilty on Counts 7 through 14, and chose to go to trial on the other counts. CT 350. The only issue in dispute at trial concerned the ages of two of the victims. RT 728:18-19, 729:11-15.

In the petition now before the Court, Molinar claims that Superior Court Judge Grant and the deputy district attorney interfered with his due process right to plead guilty.*fn4 Molinar also claims that he accepted Judge Grant's offer of 10 years and 6 months in exchange for his plea of guilty but that the judge would not honor the agreement.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), a federal court may grant a writ of habeas corpus under the "contrary to" test, with respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court, if the state court either (1) fails to apply the correct controlling authority, or (2) if it applies the controlling authority to a case involving facts materially indistinguishable from those in a controlling case but nonetheless arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 1519-1520, 146 L.Ed.2d 389(2000); Tran v. Lindsey, 212 F.3d 1143, 1150 (9th Cir. 2000).

Under the "unreasonable application" test, a federal habeas court may grant a writ of habeas corpus with respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions but applies it to a new set of facts in a way that is objectively unreasonable. See Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1520-1521; Tran, 212 F.3d at 1150. Both prongs of section 2254(d)(1) apply to both questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact. See Tran, 212 F.3d at 1150. In addition, while the "contrary to" and "unreasonable application" clauses have independent meaning, see Williams, 120 S.Ct. at 1519-20, they often overlap which may necessitate examining petitioner's allegations against both standards. See Tran, 212 F.3d at 1143, 1149-50.

"[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because the court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that ...


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