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Hernandez v. People

September 26, 2008

TONY JACKIE HERNANDEZ, PETITIONER,
v.
PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA AND JAMES YATES, WARDEN, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner Tony Jackie Hernandez, a state prisoner appearing through counsel, filed a petition for habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Hernandez is presently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated in the Pleasant Valley State Prison.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Following the denial of his motion to suppress evidence, a Sacramento County Superior Court jury convicted Hernandez of possession of heroin (Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 11350(a)) and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon (Cal. Pen. Code § 12316(b)(1)). In a bifurcated proceeding, the trial court thereafter found that defendant had suffered three prior convictions (which were also strikes) resulting in prison terms. (Cal. Pen. Code §§ 667(b)-(i), 667.5(b), 1170.12.) After denying his motion to strike the priors, the court sentenced Hernandez to two concurrent terms of 25 years to life in state prison.

Hernandez timely appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which affirmed his conviction in a unpublished written decision on November 29, 2005.*fn1 The California Supreme Court summarily denied review without opinion or citation to authority on March 22, 2006.*fn2

Hernandez timely filed his petition for habeas relief in this Court on May 15, 2006 (file stamped May 22, 2006).

II. GROUNDS RAISED/DEFENSES

In his original pro se petition Hernandez raised six grounds: (1) Failure to suppress the evidence based upon an illegal traffic stop was erroneous; (2) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to present the appropriate vehicle code section when arguing the motion to suppress; (3) trial court erred in failing to impose sanctions for failure to preserve evidence; (4) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to raise the issue of failure to preserve evidence; (5) trial court abused its discretion in failing to strike the priors; and (6) ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to move to reduce his conviction as to the possession of bullets to a misdemeanor.

This Court appointed counsel and an Amended Petition was filed. In his Amended Petition, Hernandez abandoned all the grounds raised in his original petition except the second ground, ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to present the appropriate vehicle code section to the trial court at the suppression hearing, and, to the extent applicable by way of the second ground, the first, error in failing to suppress the evidence based on an illegal traffic stop. Respondent concedes that Hernandez has exhausted his available state court remedies as to the remaining grounds.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because Hernandez filed his petition after April 24, 1996, it is governed by the standard of review set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Consequently, this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the state court was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" at the time the state court renders its decision or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn3 The Supreme Court has explained that "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision."*fn4 Thus, where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, "it cannot be said that the state court 'unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.'"*fn5 When a claim falls under the "unreasonable application" prong, a state court's application of the Supreme Court precedent must be "objectively unreasonable, "not just incorrect."*fn6 The Supreme Court has made clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is a substantially higher threshold than simply believing the state court determination was incorrect.*fn7 Finally, in a federal habeas proceeding, the standard under which this Court must assess the prejudicial impact of constitutional error in a state-court criminal trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.*fn8

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court,*fn9 which in this case was that of the California Court of Appeal. In addition, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn10

To the extent that Petitioner raises issues of the proper application of State law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding. It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the States possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law.*fn11 A federal court must accept that state courts correctly applied state laws.*fn12 A fundamental principle of our federal system is "that a state court's interpretation of state law, including one announced on direct appeal of the challenged conviction, binds a federal court sitting in habeas corpus."*fn13 A federal court errs if it interprets a state legal doctrine in a manner that directly conflicts with the state supreme court's interpretation of the law.*fn14

A determination of state law by a state appellate court is also binding in a federal habeas action.*fn15 This is especially true where the highest court in the state has ...


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