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Williams v. Curry

February 3, 2009

DANNY TERRANCE WILLIAMS, JR., PETITIONER,
v.
BEN CURRY,*FN1 WARDEN, CORRECTIONAL TRAINING FACILITY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John W. Sedwick United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner Danny Terrance Williams, Jr., a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Williams is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the Correctional Training Facility, Soledad, California.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Williams was convicted after a jury trial in the Sacramento County Superior Court of attempted oral copulation in concert (Cal. Pen. Code §§ 288a(d), 664) and five counts of rape in concert (Cal. Pen. Code § 264.1), and found that he personally used a firearm in the commission of all counts (§ 12022.3(a)). Williams was tried with his co-defendants in a single trial to two different juries. Williams' co-defendants were acquitted. Williams was sentenced to state prison for forty years and six months.

Williams timely appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, which affirmed his conviction in an unpublished reasoned decision on June 18, 2004.*fn2 The California Supreme Court summarily denied review without opinion or citation to authority on September 1, 2004. Williams' conviction became final 90 days later, December 1, 2004, when his time for petitioning for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court lapsed.

On May 27, 2005, Williams filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court, which the Supreme Court denied, citing In re Dixon (1953) 41 Cal.2d 756, on April 21, 2006. On May 22, 2006, Williams filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Sacramento County Superior Court, which denied his petition in a reasoned decision on August 10, 2006. Williams timely filed his petition for relief in this Court on June 19, 2005. This Court stayed and held the petition in abeyance pending exhaustion of Williams' state court remedies.

II. GROUNDS RAISED/DEFENSES

In his petition Williams raises five grounds: (1) trial court erred in failing to instruct sua sponte that he was entitled to acquittal if he, in good faith, believed the victim had consented to sexual contact; (2) insufficiency of the evidence to support conviction for using firearms in the commission the alleged sexual assault; (3) the failure to instruct on his affirmative defense denied him his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments; (4) improper conviction of acting in concert by reason of the acquittal of his co-defendants; and (5) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failing to discover and raise on direct appeal his fourth ground.

Respondent contends that Williams has failed to exhaust his state court remedies as to his fifth (ineffective assistance of counsel) claim and his fourth claim (inconsistent verdicts) is procedurally barred.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because Williams 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 or erroneous."*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. 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.*fn10

When there is no reasoned state court decision denying an issue presented to the state court and raised in a federal habeas petition, this Court must assume that the state court decided all the issues presented to it and perform an independent review of the record to ascertain whether the state court decision was objectively unreasonable.*fn11 The scope of this review is for clear error of the state court ruling on the petition:

[A]lthough we cannot undertake our review by analyzing the basis for the state court's decision, we can view it through the "objectively reasonable" lens ground by Williams. . . . Federal habeas review is not de novo when the state court does not supply reasoning for its decision, but an independent review of the record is required to determine whether the state court clearly erred in its application of controlling federal law. Only by that examination may we determine whether the state court's decision was objectively reasonable.*fn12

To the extent that Williams 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.*fn13 A federal court must accept that state courts correctly applied state laws.*fn14 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."*fn15 This principle applied to federal habeas review of state convictions long before AEDPA.*fn16 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.*fn17 It does not matter that the state supreme court's statement of the law was dictum if it is perfectly clear and unambiguous.*fn18

A determination of state law by a state appellate court is also binding in a federal habeas action.*fn19 This is especially true where the highest court in the state has denied review of the lower court's decision.*fn20

IV. DISCUSSION

Ground 1: Failure to Sua Sponte Instruct on Reasonable Belief of Consent

Ground 3: Failure to Instruct on Theory of Defense Violated Sixth and ...


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