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Joseph v. Runnels

March 31, 2009



Petitioner is a state prisoner, proceeding pro se, with an application for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered against him on January 9, 2002 in the Sacramento County Superior Court on the charge of transportation of cocaine base, in violation of California Health and Safety Code § 11352(a), with two prior serious felony convictions and two prior drug convictions. Specifically, on November 7, 2001, petitioner pled no contest to the charge and admitted the prior convictions, while reserving his right to appeal from the denial of his motion to suppress evidence. (Clerk's Transcript on Appeal (hereinafter CT) at 8.) As a result of his plea, petitioner was sentenced to the upper term of five years which was doubled by virtue of the application of California's Three Strike Law. (Reporter's Transcript on Appeal (hereinafter RT) RT at 185-186.) With the addition of consecutive three year enhancements for each prior drug conviction, petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate term of sixteen years in state prison. (Id.; CT 9-10, 189.)

In the petition now pending before the court petitioner alleges that the state trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence recovered as the result of a vehicle stop which he claims was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment. Upon consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.


The following facts were taken from the evidence presented at the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, as summarized by the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District:

Sacramento County Sheriff Deputies Ron Parsons and Michael Rogers were on duty in a marked patrol car the evening of March 7, 2001. Streetlights, headlights, and the lights surrounding businesses illuminated Edison Avenue. They observed an object dangling from the rearview mirror of the vehicle [petitioner] was driving in front of them. The patrol car was directly behind the vehicle approximately half a car length. The deputies followed the car for about one-half block and initiated a vehicle stop. Deputy Rogers, who was driving the patrol car, testified that because he could see the object while he was following the car, it was in violation of [California Vehicle Code] §26708(a)(2), prohibiting obstruction of the windshield.*fn1 Deputy Rogers testified the §26708 violation was the sole reason for stopping [petitioner's] car. Deputy Rogers contacted [petitioner] and informed him of the reason for the stop. [Petitioner] immediately removed the object from the rearview mirror. The deputies' description of the object varied. Deputy Parsons described the object as a chain "wrapped around the rear view mirror and around the chain were a single strand and at the end of the strands were...circular or square beads" approximately three to four inches in diameter. Deputy Rogers' description of the object must be culled from several parts of his testimony. He testified it was a chain or loop-type object, hanging down a bit, smaller than a handicapped placard yet larger than the rearview mirror, big enough to be seen from his position in the trailing patrol car.

Deputy Rogers noticed defendant's pupils were dilated and his speech was rapid and rambling. Deputy Rogers had defendant exit the vehicle so he could examine him further. Defendant fled, and deputies pursued. After the officers caught, handcuffed, and searched defendant, cocaine base was discovered in his pants pocket and subsequently in his car. (Answer, Exh. D (Opinion) at 2-3) (footnote in original).

Petitioner moved the trial court to suppress the evidence seized from his pocket and his car and that motion was denied on July24, 2001. (CT at 5.) Thereafter, on January 9, 2002, petitioner pled no contest while reserved his right to appeal the suppression issue. Following his sentencing, petitioner timely appealed to the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District challenging, as he seeks to do here, the state trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence. (Answer, Exh. A-C.) The California Court of Appeal rejected petitioner's arguments and affirmed his judgment of conviction. (Id., Exh. D.) Petitioner petition for review was summarily denied by the California Supreme Court. (Id. at Exh. E-F.)*fn2


I. Standards of Review Applicable to Habeas Corpus Claims

A writ of habeas corpus is available under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 only on the basis of some transgression of federal law binding on the state courts. See Peltier v. Wright, 15 F.3d 860, 861 (9th Cir. 1993); Middleton v. Cupp, 768 F.2d 1083, 1085 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 119 (1982)). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000); Middleton, 768 F.2d at 1085. Habeas corpus cannot be utilized to try state issues de novo. Milton v. Wainwright, 407 U.S. 371, 377 (1972).

This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997); Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1067 (9th Cir. 2003). Section 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting habeas corpus relief:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the 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 ...

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