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Guerrero v. Sisto

April 17, 2009

JAMES A. GUERRERO, PETITIONER,
v.
D.K. SISTO, RESPONDENT.



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

ORDER

I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se on an original petition for writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner challenges his 2006 conviction for one count of felony possession of a fictitious note (counterfeit money) with intent to defraud (Cal. Penal Code § 476), felony assault (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1)) and giving false information to a peace officer (Cal. Penal Code § 148.9), a misdemeanor. The jury also found that defendant had four prior strike convictions and that he was sane at the time of the offense. Petitioner was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 25 years to life.

II. Petition

Petitioner's writ of habeas corpus is quite brief. It contains three claims and is only half a page with six sentences. The court, by reviewing the trial record and the state pleadings and appeals, has attempted to accurately construe petitioner's arguments.

Petitioner raises the following claims in his challenge: 1) the trial court erred by denying petitioner's request to order the prosecution to discover and disclose the criminal history of a defense witness; 2) the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the prosecution's failure to produce evidence; and 3) the jury was improperly instructed that hands and feet could be construed as deadly weapons. Petition (Pet.) at 6.

After carefully considering the record, the court orders that the petition be denied.

III. 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 495, 117 S.Ct. 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).

IV. Background

The opinion of the California Court of Appeal contains a factual summary. After independently reviewing the record, the court finds this summary to be accurate and adopts it below.

As of May 1, 2006, petitioner had been living in a spare bedroom in the residence of Marc and Michelle Turnovsky. On May 1 petitioner, accompanied by a neighbor and his son, went to a Sears store to purchase a plug for the son's electronic system. Petitioner selected an item of merchandise and gave it to a clerk, asking him to ring it up. As the clerk began scanning the item, petitioner struck him on the side of the ...


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