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Calderon v. Scribner

June 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John C. Coughenour United States District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Jose Calderon's petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Dkt. No. 1); Respondent Larry Scriber's Answer (Dkt. No. 11); and Petitioner's Traverse (Dkt. No. 15). Having reviewed the relevant documents, the governing law, and the balance of the record, the Court DENIES the Petition for the reasons that follow.


Petitioner is a state prisoner at Calipatria State Prison in California, serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole, plus one year. (Pet. 2 (Dkt. No. 1 at 1).) Petitioner was convicted by a jury on December 16, 2003, on four counts: (1) kidnapping for ransom, (2) robbery, (3) false imprisonment, and (4) assault with a firearm. (Id.) The jury found that Petitioner was armed with a handgun during the commission of all counts, and also found that the victim of the kidnapping suffered bodily harm and was "intentionally confined in a manner which exposes [him] to a substantial likelihood of death." (Answer 9 (Dkt. No. 11)); see CAL. PENAL CODE § 209(a).

Petitioner timely appealed to the California Court of Appeal on January 20, 2004. (Pet. 3 (Dkt. No. 1 at 2).) The appellate court issued an unpublished opinion on October 27, 2005, reversing the third count of false imprisonment but affirming the convictions for the remaining three counts and leaving his sentence unchanged. (Answer 9 (Dkt. No. 11).) Petitioner then sought further review with the California Supreme Court, which denied his Petition for Review on January 18, 2006. (Id.) On April 16, 2007, Petitioner filed this habeas petition with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. (Pet. (Dkt. No. 1).)


Federal law requires that a state prisoner provide the state court with the opportunity to rule on federal habeas claims before presenting those claims to the federal court. See Picard v.Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275 (1971); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). Because Petitioner raises the same four issues in his habeas petition that he raised at the California Court of Appeal and in the California Supreme Court, Respondent agrees that Petitioner has properly exhausted his available state remedies. (Answer 9 (Dkt. No. 11).)

A state prisoner may collaterally attack his detention in federal district court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 if he is being held in violation of the Constitution or laws and treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Review of state court decisions, however, is sharply limited. A federal court may not grant a state prisoner's habeas petition unless the state court's adjudication (1) "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court"; or (2) "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Under the first prong of § 2254(d), a state court decision is "contrary to" federal law if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law from Supreme Court precedent or decides the case differently from a Supreme Court case with materially indistinguishable facts. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405--06 (2000). A state court decision is an "unreasonable application" of federal law if the state court correctly identifies the governing law but unreasonably applies the rule to the facts of the petitioner's case. See id. at 413. An unreasonable application means more than that the district court, in its independent judgment, believes that the relevant state court decision applied the law incorrectly or clearly erroneously; rather, the application must be "objectively unreasonable." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75--76 (2003) (citations omitted).

Under the second prong of § 2254(d), to show that the state court unreasonably determined the facts, the petitioner must overcome a presumption that the state court correctly determined factual issues. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), (e)(1). The petitioner carries the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. Id.


The Court begins with a general overview of the facts here, reserving discussion of certain particular facts for more complete treatment in later discussion of the related claims.

Humberto Arreola owned a landscaping company that employed around sixty-five people, including Petitioner Jose Calderon and his brother, Enedino Calderon. (Ct. App. Op. 2 (Dkt. No. 12).)*fn1 Petitioner had worked for Arreola for about a year and Enedino had worked there for about six months. (Id.) Arreola interacted with both men on numerous occasions during the course of their employment, even loaning them money on several instances to help them bring relatives over from Mexico and to help them in purchasing a car. (Id.)

In December 2002, Enedino got into a heated argument with Arreola's brother, and as a result, Enedino was fired from the landscaping company. (Id. at 3.) Petitioner was also fired later that same month for drinking alcohol and as a result of the shortage of work. (Id.) Following his termination, Petitioner aggressively demanded repayment of the deposit he had paid for his company uniforms. (Id.)

The kidnapping took place several weeks later on the morning of January 9, 2003. (Id.) Arreola arrived to work at 6:00 a.m., parked his truck, and began walking towards the entrance to the business. (Id.) Suddenly, three men clad in dark clothing ran at him and started beating him. Two of the men wore masks, one of which was wielding a gun. (Id.) At one point in the struggle, the man with the gun pointed it at Arreola and Arreola heard what he thought to be a gunshot. (Id.) Arreola tried to run, but his assailants caught him and continued beating him, striking him in the head and face with their fists and with the gun. (Id.) During the struggle, Arreola was able to unmask the two men, and he immediately recognized them as Enedino and Jose Calderon, his former employees. (Id.)

Enedino told Arreola that nothing would happen to him if he behaved, and then the three assailants set about tying Arreola up with red tape. (Id.) At that point, Arreola had several minutes to observe Enedino and Jose before a small blue car pulled up. The assailants then taped over Arreola's eyes, placed him into the trunk of the car, and drove away from the parking lot. (Id.) Jason Dill, an employee of a neighboring company, observed the attack. (Id.) He testified that on three prior occasions, he had seen three or four Mexican males in the same four-door Honda Civic drive up, park near Arreola's business, look around, and then drive off. (Id. at 3--4). After the attack, Dill observed a puddle of blood on the ground where Arreola had been beaten, and then called 9-1-1. (Id. at 4). The responding police officer also observed the blood and some unspent .22-caliber and .38-caliber ammunition on the ground. (Id.)

Arreola was bound in the trunk of the car for what he estimated to be twenty minutes before his assailants took him out of the trunk and led him to a room. (Id.) He could not see anything and feared for his life. (Id.) Enedino informed Arreola that he was being kidnapped for a ransom of $500,000, though Arreola responded that he could not come up with that amount of money. (Id.) Arreola heard Petitioner tell Enedino to remove Arreola's cell phone and pager, and someone took his pager and wallet, including $700 in cash. (Id.)

Finally, Arreola's assailants left the room and he was alone. (Id.) Arreola did not immediately try to free himself, assuming someone would be there with him, but after an hour had passed, he began trying to untie his bonds and succeeded about twenty-five minutes later. (Id.) He discovered he was in a rundown old farmhouse. Arreola then left through an open window, started walking up the road, and around 7:40 a.m., a woman driving by stopped and called 9-1-1 on his behalf. (Id. at 4--5.) An investigating ...

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