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Anderson v. Sisto

January 13, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Timothy M. Burgess United States District Judge


Petitioner Carl Anderson, a state prisoner appearing through counsel, has petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Anderson is presently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the California State Prison, Solano, California. Anderson is serving an indeterminate sentence of 15 years to life.


Anderson was issued a citation for violation of California Code of Regulations, title 15, § 3005 regarding a threatening handwritten letter. Although he admitted mailing the letter, Anderson denied that he had written it. After a hearing in August 2005 Anderson was found guilty. During the course of the disciplinary proceedings Anderson requested that he be provided a copy of the threatening letter. This request was refused and, according to Anderson, he has never received a copy. Anderson exhausted his administrative appeals and timely filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the California Superior Court, which denied his petition in a reasoned decision. Anderson then filed identical petitions in the California Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court, both of which summarily denied his petitions without opinion or citation to authority. The California Supreme Court denied his petition on October 30, 2007.

Anderson timely filed his petition for relief in this Court on March 10, 2008.


In his petition Anderson raises a single ground: that the failure of the prison authorities to provide him with a copy of the handwritten letter violated his due process rights by denying him the ability to present an effective defense, i.e., that he did not write the letter. Respondent has asserted no affirmative defenses.


Because Anderson 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 California Court of Appeal 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."*fn1 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."*fn2

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.'"*fn3 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 or erroneous."*fn4 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.*fn5 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.*fn6

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court,*fn7 which in this case was that of the California Superior Court.*fn8 Under AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn9


Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution; therefore, the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such a proceeding does not apply.*fn10 In the context of prison disciplinary proceedings the minimum requirements of due process are: (1) advance written notice of the charges brought against the inmate; (2) the right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense; (3) a written statement of the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action taken,*fn11 and (4) the findings must be supported by some evidence in the record.*fn12 Inmates do not, however, have a right of confrontation and cross-examination.*fn13

The Rules Violation Report (RVR) submitted by the reporting officer stated that the reporting officer "[b]ased upon my training and experience, the handwriting on the anonymous note is consistent with the handwriting from the known handwriting exemplars from Anderson." Anderson argues that because of this he should have been furnished a copy of the letter. The fatal flaw in Anderson's position is, as noted by the California Superior Court, that ...

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