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Garcia v. Woodford

June 20, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Napoleon A. Jones, Jr. United States District Judge



Before the Court is Magistrate Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo's Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending the Court deny Petitioner Alfred Garcia's ("Petitioner") First Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Petition") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, timely filed objections to the R&R. [Doc. No. 56.] Respondent has not filed a reply. For the reasons set forth below, this Court ADOPTS the R&R and DENIES the Petition in its entirety.

Legal Standard

A federal court may grant a habeas petition if it shows the applicant is in custody "in violation of the Constitution or other laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). State interpretation of state laws and rules cannot serve as the basis for a federal habeas petition, as no federal or constitutional question would be implicated. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991). Habeas petitions are governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997).

Pursuant to AEDPA, a federal court may grant habeas corpus relief from a state court judgment only if the adjudication was (1) contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or (2) was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7-8 (2002).

A state court decision is "contrary to clearly established federal law" if it (1) applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or (2) confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at the opposite result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). A state court decision is an unreasonable application of the facts "if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413. If there is no clearly established federal precedent, then a state court decision cannot be contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, federal law. Brewer v. Hall, 378 F.3d 952, 955-56 (9th Cir. 2004). Thus, there can be no further discussion of whether the state court decision is legally incorrect. Id.


Because Petitioner has filed objections to the R&R, the Court must review Petitioner's objections de novo. Petitioner's objects to the R&R by claiming: 1) the San Diego Superior Court made an unreasonable determination of facts by admitting prejudicial and unreliable evidence of past domestic violence and 2) the trial court improperly instructed the jury using California Jury Instruction 17.41.1 ("CALJIC"), an anti-nullification instruction. (See Pet'r's Objs. at 1-2.)

I. Prior Crimes Evidence

Petitioner argues that the state court decision was an unreasonable determination of the facts under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2) because the court allowed an ex-girlfriend's testimony of past domestic violence to be admitted. (Pet'r's Objs. at 1-2.) Petitioner contends that his exgirlfriend's testimony of his past conduct violates California Evidence Code § 1109(e) because his relationship with the witness existed more than ten years prior to the incident. Id. at 2. Section 1109(e) does not allow evidence older than ten years to be admitted at trial unless its admission is in the interest of justice. CAL. EVID. CODE § 1109(e). Petitioner also argues that the testimony is unreliable and prejudicial. (Pet'r's Objs. at 2.) Respondent counters that 1) there is no clearly established United States Supreme Court precedent regarding the admission of propensity evidence; 2) Petitioner fails to state a federal question with regard to the admissibility of propensity evidence under California law; and 3) the admission of propensity evidence did not deprive Petitioner of due process. (Doc. No. 50 at 14).

Federal courts cannot overrule a state court's action concerning the admission of evidence unless the ruling renders the trial fundamentally unfair. See Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127, 147. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has not decided whether a state law allowing propensity evidence is a violation of federal due process. Estelle, 502 U.S. at 75, n.5. In Estelle, the state court followed California law and allowed evidence of the victim's prior injuries to prove battered child syndrome. Id. at 68. The Court held that the petitioner's due process rights were not violated because the prior injury evidence was "relevant to an issue in the case." Id. at 70. More precisely, the evidence was relevant to the element of intent. Id.

Estelle supports Respondent's argument that Petitioner has not posed a federal question.

There is no U.S. Supreme Court authority ruling on whether introducing propensity evidence can give rise to a federal claim. See id. Furthermore, the federal court should not examine state court decisions on state law questions. Id. at 68. In Alberni v. McDaniel, the Ninth Circuit held that a state supreme court did not act unreasonably when ruling that admission of propensity evidence did not violate due process because the U.S. Supreme Court reserved the right to rule on whether use of propensity evidence gives rise to a federal due process violation in Estelle. 458 F.3d 860, 866 (9th Cir. 2006). Section 2254(d) requires the petitioner's contended right be clearly established by ...

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