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April 28, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles R. Breyer, United States District Judge.


Petitioner was convicted by a jury on February 11, 1999, in the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Contra Costa of possession of ephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine. On the same day, the jury found true the enhancements related to three prior drug-related convictions. On June 17, 1999, petitioner was sentenced to an aggravated term of six years for the substantive offense and a consecutive term of three years for the first prior conviction enhancement. The court struck the remaining two enhancements.

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal, claiming that evidence of his prior convictions should not have been admitted during trial. The state court of appeal affirmed the conviction on July 20, 2000. A petition for review by the California Supreme Court was denied on September 27, 2000.

On September 8, 2000, while his petition for review was still pending, petitioner filed a state petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Court of Appeal. The petition was denied on September 14, 2000, without prejudice to re-filing in the Contra Costa County Superior Court. Petitioner then filed a state petition for writ of habeas corpus in the superior court on the grounds that his trial counsel had been constitutionally ineffective by failing to inform him that his prior convictions could be admitted. An evidentiary hearing was held on March 12, 2001, after which the petition was denied from the bench. Finally, petitioner exhausted his pursuit of relief from the state courts by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court, which was denied without comment on November 28, 2001.

Petitioner then filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. An order to show cause why a writ of habeas corpus should not be granted was issued to respondent on April 15, 2002. Respondent filed an answer. Petitioner then filed a traverse.


The California Court of Appeal summarized the facts of the case as follows:

Richmond Police Officer La Raunce Robinson testified that on the night of September 22, 1998, he stopped [petitioner], who was driving alone in a red Acura, for driving without a license p late. On the passenger seat next to [petitioner] the officer observed a cellular phone and a pager that was vibrating and moving around. At the officer's request, [petitioner] consented to a personal search and to a search of the car. Officer Robinson, who had been joined at the scene by other officers and a canine unit, proceeded to search [petitioner] and found $2,085 in cash. The dog from the canine unit was trained in drug detection, and was set free to search the car. The do detected nothing in the interior of the car, but did alert on a red and black duffel bag in the trunk. Inside the bag the police found aluminum foil, a pie cutter, Ziplock Bags, a portable scale, and a brown paper bag containing a white crystal substance that later tested positive for ephedrine or pseudoephedrine weighing 22.22 grams. A forensic toxicologist later testified that ephedrine is used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
There was another bag in the trunk with clothing and other items, including several receipts with [petitioner's] name on them. The dog alerted a second time to the area around one of the car's brake lights, behind which the officers found a brown bag containing $8,000 in cash. The dog handler testified that do was trained to alert to several illegal drugs including methamphetamine, but not ephedrine. The handler concluded there must have been a trace of an illegal drug on the bag containing the ephedrine and on the money.
The prosecution called two law enforcement experts on methamphetamine manufacturing. Each was given a hypothetical scenario paralleling [petitioner's] case, and asked to form an opinion whether the ephedrine was possessed for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine. Both were of the opinion that given the circumstances of the hypothetical, the ephedrine was possessed for that purpose. One of the experts testified the amount of ephedrine found in the car was substantial, and could be used to produce 11 grams of methamphetamine.
The defense also called an expert in the manufacture of methamphetamine, who was given a hypothetical similar to the one given the prosecution's experts and asked to form an opinion regarding whether the ephedrine was possessed with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine. In his opinion it was "not convincing or compelling . . . that it has to do with manufacture of methamphetamine." He based his opinion in part on the fact that many items necessary for the manufacture of methamphetamine were missing, such as a cooker, heater, boiler, thermostat and funnel. He also testified that the quantity of ephedrine found was enough to make $400 worth of methamphetamine, which was the amount one might use in a week.
In addition to its expert, the defense called [petitioner's] father, brother, and girlfriend. His father, Gus Aragon, testified that [petitioner] lived with him from September 1997 to September 1998. During some of that time [petitioner] worked for All American Roofing. [Petitioner] also worked for someone named Kent, helping him fix up wrecked cars. Kent owned the red Acura [petitioner] was driving when he was arrested. [Petitioner] was working on the Acura for Kent, and drove it sometimes, but he regularly drove a truck his father had bought him.
[Petitioner's] brother, Steve Aragon, also lived with his father. He testified that [petitioner] helped do heavy work around the house, and worked for All Amencan Roofing for the last half of 1997, earning around $8,500. Starting in January 1998 [petitioner] worked on cars for Kent Keating, who bought damaged cars at auction and repaired them for resale. The Acura was one of Keating's cars. Keating had dropped the car off at [petitioner's] father's house several times so [petitioner] could work on it, and [petitioner] sometimes drove it. During this same time period, [petitioner] was gambling in local card rooms. About a week and a half before his arrest he won $1,100.
[Petitioner's] girlfriend, Stacy Ann Darby, testified that she saw [petitioner] three or tour times a week, and that he almost always drove a truck. he testified that [petitioner] worked for All American Roofing, then for Kent Keating. She saw [petitioner] driving the red Acura three or four times. She also testified that [petitioner] gambled frequently in a local casino, and that he "won a lot the two days before" he was arrested.
On rebuttal, and over a defense objection, the prosecution was allowed to p resent evidence of two prior incidents involving [petitioner]. Richmond Police Officer Mitchell Peixoto testified that on March 23, 1995, he stopped [petitioner] for a traffic violation. [Petitioner] was driving a truck registered in his brother's name. A search of [petitioner] uncovered 7 grams of methamphetamine in a Ziplock bag, a pager, and $117 cash. A search of the truck uncovered 2 more baggies containing 28 grams and 27 grams of methamphetamine and 17 empty Zip lock bags. [Petitioner] admitted that the drugs belonged to him, and not his brother. He was arrested for transporting a controlled substance and possession for sale of methamphetamine.
Pinole Police Officer David Spencer testified that he stopped [petitioner] for a traffic violation on August 11, 1994. The officer smelled marijuana and asked [petitioner] if he had been smoking, which [petitioner] admitted. [Petitioner] told the officer that the pick-up he was driving did not belong to him, and that he had been driving it only a few days. He consented to a search, which uncovered an envelope stuck in a hole in the driver's door, containing 23.9 grams of methamphetamine in a Ziplock bag. [Petitioner] told the officer that he had borrowed the car and had not noticed the envelope protruding from the door panel. [Petitioner] was arrested for possession for sale of methamphetamine.
After the two officers testified on rebuttal, the trial court instructed the jury to consider their testimony only for the purpose of showing [petitioner's] intent or his knowledge of the nature of the items found in the car, and not to show him to be a person of bad character or criminal disposition.
People v. Aragon, No. A087486, slip op. at 2-4 (Cal. Ct. App. July 20, 2000) (footnotes omitted) (Resp't Ex. 9).


I. Standard of Review

This court may grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

The writ may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's 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." Id. § 2254(d).

"Under the `contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). "Under the `reasonable application clause,' a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413.

"[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 application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 411. A federal habeas court making the "unreasonable application" inquiry should ask whether the state ...

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