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Hunt v. Finn

May 22, 2009

RICHARD DEWAYNE HUNT, PETITIONER,
v.
CLAUDE FINN, WARDEN, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



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

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

I. SUMMARY

Petitioner Richard Dewayne Hunt is currently incarcerated at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, California. He pled guilty to second degree murder in Trinity County Superior Court on December 10, 1990, and is currently serving a sentence of 15-years-to-life with the possibility of parole. He has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his 2006 denial of parole by the Board of Parole Hearings of the State of California (the "Board").*fn1 (See Docket 1.) Petitioner also requests that the Court take judicial notice of a Santa Clara County Superior Court Order entered in an unrelated state habeas case. (See Dkt. 8.) Respondent has filed an answer to the petition together with relevant portions of the state court record, as well as an opposition to petitioner's request for judicial notice. (See Dkt. 6 and 9.) Petitioner has filed a traverse in reply to the answer, and filed a response to the opposition to his request for judicial notice. (See Dkt. 7 and 10.) 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 Court strike the request for judicial notice as moot, deny the petition, and dismiss this action with prejudice.

II. BACKGROUND

Petitioner began participating in a marijuana-growing operation at a sheepshank ranch in southern Trinity County in April 1987 in exchange for ten percent of the profits from the crop. (See Dkt. 1, Exhibit A at 9-10.) On June 22, 1987, petitioner was checking marijuana gardens with another ranch worker, Carl Rogers, when they discovered that an underground water tank was empty. (See id. at 10.) Rogers became irate and ordered petitioner to fix the waterline and finish the work in the garden. (Id.) Petitioner asserts that he was afraid of Rogers, who was always armed with a .30 caliber revolver. (Id.) After working on the waterline and garden, petitioner returned to the ranch house due to the heat. (See id. at 10-11.) Inside the house, petitioner told a witness that he thought Rogers was going to physically assault him for not finishing his work in the garden. (See id. at 11.) Petitioner then armed himself with his own .12 gauge shotgun, and loaded it with five shells. (Id.) When Rogers returned to the ranch house, petitioner confronted him. (Id.) The two men began cursing at each other. (Id.) Without warning, petitioner shot at Rogers, who sought shelter behind a pickup truck. (Id.) A shootout ensued. (Id.) When petitioner ran out of ammunition, he heard Rogers yell either "you got me, it's over," or "give it up, you got me." (Id.) Despite hearing Rogers surrender, petitioner entered the ranch house, reloaded his shotgun, and then returned to the truck, where he observed Rogers lying face down with his gun in his hand. (Id.) Petitioner shot Rogers again in the back at close range. (Id.) He dragged the body behind the house, and buried it on the property the next day. (Id. at 11-12.)

Petitioner pled guilty to second degree murder in Trinity County Superior Court on December 10, 1990, and began serving his sentence of 15-years-to-life with the possibility of parole on February 1, 1991. (See id. at 1.) His minimum eligible parole date was November 4, 2000. (Id.) Thus, petitioner has been incarcerated for the past eighteen years.

The parole denial which is the subject of this petition took place after a parole hearing held on November 14, 2006. This was petitioner's fourth application. (See Dkt. 1 at Attachment 1.) His previous applications were also denied. After denial of his 2006 application, petitioner filed habeas corpus petitions in the Trinity County Superior Court, California Court of Appeal, and California Supreme Court. Those petitions were unsuccessful. This federal habeas petition followed. Petitioner contends his 2006 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 2006 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 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Powell v. Ducharme, 998 F.2d 710, 713 (9th Cir. 1993)).

IV. FEDERAL HABEAS CHALLENGES TO STATE ...


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