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Mondragon v. Subia

May 15, 2009

LARRY MONDRAGON, PETITIONER,
v.
R.J. SUBIA, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John L. Weinberg United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

I. SUMMARY

Petitioner Larry Mondragon is currently incarcerated at the Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. He was convicted by a jury of second degree murder in Contra Costa County Superior Court on April 7, 1983, and is currently serving a sentence of 20-years-to-life with the possibility of parole.*fn1 He has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his 2005 denial of parole by the Board of Parole Hearings of the State of California (the "Board").*fn2 Respondent has filed an answer to the petition together with relevant portions of the state court record, and petitioner has filed a traverse in reply to the answer. The briefing is now complete and this matter is ripe for review. The Court, having thoroughly reviewed the record and briefing of the parties, recommends the petition be denied and this action be dismissed with prejudice.

II. BACKGROUND

In September 1982, petitioner observed his estranged wife's babysitter, Margaret Rivera, slap his five-year-old daughter on the hand. (See Dkt. 7, Ex. 2 at 12-13.) Petitioner, who was intoxicated, began shouting insults and threatening to kill Rivera for striking his child. (See id. at 13.) When his wife, who was also intoxicated, attempted to intervene, petitioner pushed her to the ground. (Id.) Rivera attempted to leave the apartment, but petitioner slapped her and continued to threaten her with bodily harm. (Id.) In an attempt to stop petitioner's behavior, petitioner's brother-in-law, Frank De La Cruz, pushed him. (Id.) Although De La Cruz was unarmed, petitioner pulled a knife he was carrying and stabbed De La Cruz on his right side. (Id. at 14.) A witness handed De La Cruz a crowbar to help him defend himself, but petitioner then stabbed De La Cruz in the chest. (Id.) When the fight ended, petitioner had knocked De La Cruz to the ground with a chair, stabbed him a total of four times, and struck him twice in the head with the crowbar. (Id.) De La Cruz was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. (Id.)

Petitioner was convicted by a jury of second degree murder in Contra Costa County Superior Court on April 7, 1983. He is currently serving a sentence of 20-years-to-life with the possibility of parole. (See id., Ex. 1 at 1; Ex. 2 at 1, and 22-25.) His minimum eligible parole date is July 22, 1993. (See id., Ex. 2 at 1.) Thus, petitioner has been incarcerated for the past twenty-six years.

The parole denial which is the subject of this petition took place after a parole hearing held on August 24, 2005. This was petitioner's fifth application. (See Dkt. 7, Ex. 4 at 1.) His previous applications were also denied. After denial of his 2005 application, petitioner filed habeas corpus petitions in the Contra Costa County Superior Court, California Court of Appeal, and California Supreme Court. Those petitions were unsuccessful. This federal habeas petition followed. Petitioner contends his 2005 denial by the Board violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights. Thus, petitioner does not challenge the validity of his conviction, but instead challenges the Board's 2005 decision finding him unsuitable for parole.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") governs this petition because it was filed after the enactment of AEDPA. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326-27 (1997). Because petitioner is in custody of the California Department of Corrections pursuant to a state court judgment, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 provides the exclusive vehicle for his habeas petition. See White v. Lambert, 370 F.3d 1002, 1009-10 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 991 (2004) (providing that § 2254 is "the exclusive vehicle for a habeas petition by a state prisoner in custody pursuant to a state court judgment, even when the petitioner is not challenging his underlying state court conviction."). Under AEDPA, a habeas petition may not be granted with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless petitioner demonstrates that the highest state court decision rejecting his petition was either "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2).

As a threshold matter, this Court must ascertain whether relevant federal law was "clearly established" at the time of the state court's decision. To make this determination, the Court may only consider the holdings, as opposed to dicta, of the United States Supreme Court. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). In this context, Ninth Circuit precedent remains persuasive but not binding authority. See id. at 412-13; Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1069 (9th Cir. 2003).

The Court must then determine whether the state court's decision was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law." See Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71 (2003). "Under the 'contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-13. "Under the 'unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413. At all times, a federal habeas court must keep in mind that it "may not issue the writ simply because [it] 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 [objectively] unreasonable." Id. at 411.

In each case, the petitioner has the burden of establishing that the state court decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

See 28 U.S.C. § 2254; Baylor v. Estelle, 94 F.3d 1321, 1325 (9th Cir. 1996). To determine whether the petitioner has met this burden, a federal habeas court looks to the last reasoned state court decision because subsequent unexplained orders upholding that judgment are presumed to rest upon the same ground. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803-04 (1991); Medley v. Runnels, 506 F.3d 857, 862 (9th Cir. 2007).

Finally, AEDPA requires federal courts to give considerable deference to state court decisions, and state courts' factual findings are presumed correct. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Federal courts are also bound by a state's interpretation of its own laws. See Murtishaw v. Woodford, 255 F.3d 926, 964 ...


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