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Williams v. Finn

February 26, 2009

NATHANIEL WILLIAMS, PETITIONER,
v.
CLAUDE E. FINN, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding through counsel with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges a 2005 conviction for the prison disciplinary of unlawful influence of staff in violation of Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3013. Petitioner alleges that he was denied witnesses, the hearing officer was biased and that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. After carefully considering the record, the court recommends that the petition be denied.

II. Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) applies to this petition for habeas corpus which was filed after the AEDPA became effective. Neelley v. Nagle, 138 F.3d 917 (11th Cir.), citing Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 117 S.Ct. 2059 (1997). The AEDPA "worked substantial changes to the law of habeas corpus," establishing more deferential standards of review to be used by a federal habeas court in assessing a state court's adjudication of a criminal defendant's claims of constitutional error. Moore v. Calderon, 108 F.3d 261, 263 (9th Cir. 1997).

In Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495 (2000), the Supreme Court defined the operative review standard set forth in § 2254(d). Justice O'Connor's opinion for Section II of the opinion constitutes the majority opinion of the court. There is a dichotomy between "contrary to" clearly established law as enunciated by the Supreme Court, and an "unreasonable application of" that law. Id. at 1519. "Contrary to" clearly established law applies to two situations: (1) where the state court legal conclusion is opposite that of the Supreme Court on a point of law, or (2) if the state court case is materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court case, i.e., on point factually, yet the legal result is opposite.

"Unreasonable application" of established law, on the other hand, applies to mixed questions of law and fact, that is, the application of law to fact where there are no factually on point Supreme Court cases which mandate the result for the precise factual scenario at issue. Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 407-08, 120 S.Ct. at 1520-1521 (2000). It is this prong of the AEDPA standard of review which directs deference to be paid to state court decisions. While the deference is not blindly automatic, "the most important point is that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of law....[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that 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." Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 410-11, 120 S.Ct. at 1522 (emphasis in original). The habeas corpus petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating the objectively unreasonable nature of the state court decision in light of controlling Supreme Court authority. Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 123 S.Ct. 357 (2002).

The state courts need not have cited to federal authority, or even have indicated awareness of federal authority in arriving at their decision. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 123 S.Ct. 362 (2002). Nevertheless, the state decision cannot be rejected unless the decision itself is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, established Supreme Court authority. Id. An unreasonable error is one in excess of even a reviewing court's perception that "clear error" has occurred. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 1175 (2003). Moreover, the established Supreme Court authority reviewed must be a pronouncement on constitutional principles, or other controlling federal law, as opposed to a pronouncement of statutes or rules binding only on federal courts. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. at 9, 123 S.Ct. at 366.

However, where the state courts have not addressed the constitutional issue in dispute in any reasoned opinion, the federal court will independently review the record in adjudication of that issue. "Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003).

The San Joaquin Superior Court was the last state court to issue a reasoned opinion addressing the claims. See Exhibits attached to petition. Accordingly, this court considers whether the denial of the claims by the Superior Court was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court authority. Shackleford v. Hubbard, 234 F.3d 1072, 1079 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2000) (when reviewing a state court's summary denial of a claim, the court "looks through" the summary disposition to the last reasoned decision).

III. Discussion

A. Denial of Witnesses

To put this claim in context, the court will set forth the information contained in the rules violation report. Dr. Prine, the reporting employee, described the offense as follows:

On Friday, May 13, 2005, at approximately 1000 hours, Inmate WILLIAMS, C-41352, L-332, tried to manipulate me into bringing him a cell phone. Approximately 6 or 7 months ago, WILLIAMS made a comment about getting something for his birthday and mentioning a cell phone. Sometime around Christmas he mentioned again that he would like to have a cell phone. More recently he has been bringing the subject up more frequently. I believe he is very serious about wanting a cell phone. My concern for the safety and security of the institution and the community at large, as well as over familiarity issues prompt a report at this time. Inmate WILLIAMS is not a participant in the Mental Health Delivery System. Positive Identification was made by State issued ID card. Inmate WILLIAMS is aware of this report.

Answer, Exhibit B. The Supplemental Rules Violation Report prepared by Officer Merilles states, On Friday, May 13, 2005, at approximately 1400 hours, Inmate WILLIAMS, C-41352, L-332, tried to manipulate D.W. Prine PsyD. by asking Prine to bring in a cell phone and breach institutional security. WILLIAMS told Prine he had $200.00 in stamps to facilitate getting him the cell phone. On Monday, May 16, 2005, I conducted a search of WILLIAMS cell, L-332, during the search I discovered and took control of approximately 1300 U.S. stamps worth approximately $480.00. I secured the stamps in the D.V.I. evidence chute per procedure. WILLIAMS was identified by his state issued I.D. card and is aware of this CDC rules violation report.

Answer, Exhibit B.

At the hearing, petitioner testified as follows:

Q: At anytime did you talk to Dr. Prine about a cell phone?

A: No.

Q: Did you ever say you had $200.00 in stamps that you would give him?

A: No.

Q: Did you tell Dr. Prine you were getting a cell phone for Christmas?

A: No.

Q: Did you ever imply that Dr. Prine bring you a cell phone?

A: No.

Answer, Exhibit B.

At the hearing, Officer Merilles testified as follows:

Q: On your report you said that Inmate WILLIAMS requested Dr. Prine to bring in a phone. Is this something you saw or were you informed?

A: I was informed about 1400 hours that this ...


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