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McCart v. Lamarque

March 31, 2009

JONATHAN LYNN MCCART, PETITIONER,
v.
A.A. LAMARQUE, RESPONDENT.



FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this action seeking a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of his 2001 convictions for assault, aggravated mayhem, torture, and making a criminal threat. Petitioner contends that (1) the state trial court erred in admitting certain expert testimony during his trial, (2) the trial court erred in denying a post-trial defense motion requesting juror identifying information, and (3) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for aggravated mayhem. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned recommends that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2001, a jury found petitioner guilty in Sacramento County Superior Court of two counts of assault, one count of aggravated mayhem, one count of torture, and one count of making a criminal threat. Pet., P. & A. at 3. As a result, petitioner was sentenced to a state prison term of life with the possibility of parole on the mayhem conviction, to be served consecutively to an aggregate determinate term of four years and eight months. Id.

Petitioner appealed his convictions and sentence to the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District. Id. at 4. On March 26, 2003, the appellate court denied petitioner relief and affirmed his convictions and sentence. Id. Petitioner then filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which was denied on June 11, 2003. Id. Petitioner's federal habeas petition was received for filing by this court on April 30, 2004.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

The offenses [underlying petitioner's convictions] comprised two episodes of domestic violence. The victim was [petitioner]'s girlfriend, Paula H. (Paula).

The first episode occurred in August 2000, and encompasses the convictions for simple assault and making a criminal threat. As Paula reported to a police officer, [petitioner] was armed with a knife and a sock full of batteries. [Petitioner] accused Paula of being unfaithful, demanded that she disrobe so he could see if she had been having sex, and threatened to kill her. During this encounter, [petitioner] pushed Paula, hit her with the sock of batteries, and poked her with the knife. The next day, Paula obtained a restraining order against [petitioner]. After seeing [petitioner] a week later, however, Paula had the order dismissed. The second episode occurred on October 9, 2000, and encompasses the remaining convictions against [petitioner]. Paula reported this episode to three individuals: to a police officer and to an emergency room physician on October 12, 2000; and to a domestic violence counselor with the district attorney's office on October 18, 2000.

Paula summarized the October 9 episode by stating that [petitioner] "had set her on fire and beaten her with a bar." The episode unfolded as follows. She and [petitioner] had been driving in his car (a Toyota Tercel) on October 9 when he accused her of cheating on him. Fearing that [petitioner] would hit her, Paula told [petitioner] to stop the car. [Petitioner] did, and the two of them got out. The argument continued. [Petitioner] then removed a tire iron from the car and began striking Paula's abdomen and legs with it. Paula "agreed" to get back in the car.

Back in the car, [petitioner] threatened to kill Paula if she cheated on him. Then he reached behind the seat and grabbed a five-gallon gasoline container. He opened the container, "dumped gasoline" on Paula, and then lit a "torch lighter" with a "three or four inch[]" flame. Paula begged him to put the lighter away, and he put it in his pocket.

Shortly thereafter, however, [petitioner] again accused Paula of cheating, and he relit the lighter. Panicked, Paula tried to kick the lighter out of [petitioner's] hand. Her foot ignited, and the fire spread up her body. Paula jumped from the car and started running. [Petitioner] yelled for her to stop, drop and roll; she did, and the fire was extinguished. Paula told the domestic violence counselor that she feared that [petitioner] would hurt her more if she told the truth; she added that she did not think [petitioner] was intentionally trying to set her on fire but only trying to scare her. [Petitioner] drove Paula to his mother's house, where he and Paula had been staying in the garage. [Petitioner] left Paula there. Paula remained with [petitioner's] mother for four days without receiving any professional medical care; Paula finally called her grandmother who took her to the hospital.

Paula sustained third-degree burns to her right arm and to her left leg and thigh, and she underwent skin graft surgery. The burns caused permanent scarring. Paula also had bruises on her abdomen and legs. [Petitioner's] mother, meanwhile, retrieved the Toyota Tercel, which had been impounded, and threw all of its contents into a dumpster bin at her daughter's apartment. Previously, an investigating officer had found a gasoline container and a tire iron on the Tercel's back seat.

While [petitioner] was in custody during the legal proceedings in this matter, he and Paula wrote love letters to each other. Paula often rode with [petitioner's] mother to attend [petitioner's] court hearings. One evening, after the trial had begun and Paula was to resume the stand the next day, [petitioner's] mother visited him in jail. During that visit, [petitioner] held up a note which stated: "Tell her [i.e., Paula] she did great. Tell her to say she fought with Tina [petitioner's sister] on the 17th of August. Tell Paula to say bruises from October 9th came from rolling on the ground. Tell Tina to say she got in a fight with Paula on several occasions. Tell Paula it is okay to say I don't remember."

At trial, Paula testified that [petitioner] did not hit her or otherwise physically abuse her in August 2000. She also denied that [petitioner] had hit her or intentionally caused her to be burned on October 9, 2000.

DISCUSSION

I. Standards of Review Applicable to Habeas Corpus Claims

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a person in custody under a state court judgment may apply for a writ of habeas corpus "on the ground he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Because petitioner filed his application for a writ after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), the writ may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's adjudication of the claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

Id. § 2254(d) (referenced herein as § 2254(d) or AEDPA); see also Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792-93 (2001); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000); Lockhart v. Terhune, 250 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2001).

Under the "contrary to" clause of § 2254(d)(1), a writ may be granted if the state court "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, 'or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision' of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a different result." Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06). Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a writ may be granted 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. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413.

In determining whether the state court's decision is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, a federal court looks to the last reasoned state court decision addressing the merits of the petitioner's claim. Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). Here, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District issued a reasoned opinion addressing the merits of petitioner's claims; ...


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