The opinion of the court was delivered by: John L. Weinberg United States Magistrate Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Petitioner Elmo Chattman is currently incarcerated at the California State Prison, Solano in Vacaville, California. He was convicted by a jury of first degree murder with a firearm enhancement in Ventura County Superior Court on May 30, 1979, and sentenced to 7-years-to-life with the possibility of parole. (See Docket 7, Exhibit 1 at 1.) He has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his 2004 denial of parole by the Board of Parole Hearings of the State of California (the "Board").*fn1 (See Dkt. 1, Attachment D.) 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. (See Dkts. 7, 8, and 9.) 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 deny the petition, and dismiss this action with prejudice.
On July 31, 1978, petitioner Elmo Chattman's brother, Kenneth Chattman, got into an argument with the victim, L.B. Jackson, at a local park. (See Dkt. 7, Ex. 2 at 14.) Kenneth, who was high on PCP, then went to petitioner's house in search of a gun to use to confront the victim, who he claimed had brandished a knife during the altercation. (See id. at 16-17.) Petitioner claims he successfully persuaded Kenneth not to take a gun from the house, and decided to intervene in an attempt to calm the dispute. (See id. at 14, 16-17, and 80-81.) The brothers then drove around in their car looking for the victim. (See id. at 14-15.) When they failed to locate him, they drove to their father's bar, where they found the victim sitting in his parked car in the rear parking lot. (See id. at 15.)
At first, only petitioner exited the vehicle, and he walked to the victim's car window. (See id.) The two men began arguing, and petitioner became angry. (See id.) Petitioner told the victim to get out of the car, and opened the victim's car door because he expected to fight. (See id.) Kenneth then exited the other vehicle carrying a rifle he had concealed either in the trunk or backseat of his car wrapped in a blanket. (See id. at 16.) Kenneth jumped on top of another vehicle parked next to the victim's car, and although the victim was still seated in the driver's seat, Kenneth fired one round into the victim's right temple area. (See id. at 14.) The two brothers then got back in their vehicle, and petitioner drove away at a high rate of speed. (See id.)
Petitioner was convicted by a jury of first degree murder with a firearm enhancement in Ventura County Superior Court on May 30, 1979, for serving as his brother's accomplice.
(See id., Ex. 1 at 1 and 16.) At the time of the murder, petitioner was twenty-years-old. (See id. at 25.) His minimum eligible parole date was set for December 28, 1985. (See id. at 1.) The parole denial which is the subject of this petition took place after a parole hearing held on December 29, 2004. (See Dkt. 1, Att. D at 1.) This was petitioner's ninth parole consideration hearing. (See id.) As of the date of the 2004 parole hearing, petitioner had been in custody for approximately twenty-five years.
After denial of his 2004 application, petitioner filed habeas corpus petitions in the Ventura County Superior Court, California Court of Appeal, and California Supreme Court. (See Dkt. 7, Exs. 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10.) Those petitions were unsuccessful. (See id., Exs. 5, 8, and 11.) This federal habeas petition followed. Petitioner contends the 2004 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 2004 decision finding him unsuitable for parole.
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 normally looks to the last reasoned state court decision. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803-04 (1991); Medley v. Runnels, 506 F.3d 857, 862 (9th Cir. 2007). Where, as in this case, the state courts issue summary denials without explaining their reasons, see infra, this Court must conduct an independent review of the record to determine whether the state courts' decisions were contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of Supreme Court holdings. See Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 981-82 (9th Cir. 2000).
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. PRIOR STATE COURT PROCEEDINGS
Petitioner's three state court habeas petitions filed in the Ventura County Superior Court, California Court of Appeal, and California Supreme Court contained identical claims, and all three petitions were summarily denied. (See Dkt. 1 at 1; id., Atts. A, B, and C; Dkt. 7, Exs. 5, 8, and 11.) The parties agree that petitioner has properly exhausted his state court remedies, and timely filed the instant petition. (See Dkt. 1 at 1; Dkt. 7 at 3-4.)
Typically, this Court looks to the state court's orders upholding the Board's decision to determine whether they meet the deferential AEDPA standard. See Ylst, 501 U.S. at 803-04. As discussed supra, when a state court issues a decision on the merits but does not provide a reasoned decision, we review the record independently to determine whether that decision was objectively reasonable. See Delgado, 223 F.3d at 982. Although our review of the record is conducted independently, we continue to show deference to the state court's ultimate decision. See Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002).
V. FEDERAL HABEAS CHALLENGES TO STATE ...