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Wilson v. Evans

August 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alfred T. Goodwin United States Circuit Judge


Petitioner Willie Curtis Wilson ("Wilson" or "Petitioner") is in custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation following his convictions for murder and second degree robbery. In his petition, he does not challenge the validity of his conviction; instead, Wilson challenges the constitutionality of a prison disciplinary action taken against him for possession of an inmate manufactured weapon. Wilson argues that he was denied the right to call a witness at his disciplinary hearing, although in his administrative appeal following the hearing, he made no such claim. For the reasons stated below, Wilson's petition is DENIED.


On April 14, 2005, during routine cell searches, prison staff uncovered an inmate-made weapon in Wilson's cell, which he shared with one other individual. The weapon was a piece of black plastic sharpened to a point and it was hidden within the mattress' stuffing. Wilson was issued a Rules Violation Report, also referred to as an RVR or CDC-115, for Possession of an Inmate Manufactured Weapon. Records show that Wilson did not request any witnesses at the time the RVR was issued, or at the hearing itself. (Opp'n to Pet'n, Ex. 3). At the hearing, which was held on May 26, 2005, Wilson pled not guilty and stated only that he never slept on the mattress in his cell but instead slept on the steel because it "helped his back." (Opp'n to Pet'n, Ex. 3). The Senior Hearing Officer ("SHO") at the hearing found Wilson guilty, based on a preponderance of the evidence, and Wilson was assessed a 360-day credit loss. Wilson appealed the decision, first to the Second Level of Review (SLR) and then to the Director's Level Review (DLR). Wilson claimed that based on statements made by his cellmate Antonio Leevy, the RVR should have been dismissed. At both the SLR and DLR, Wilson's appeals were denied because Wilson did not make the requisite showing that he was not provided a fair and unbiased hearing.

On May 12, 2006, Wilson filed in Sacramento County Superior Court a petition challenging his punishment. On September 13, 2006, the petition was denied. First, the court found that Wilson had not properly exhausted his administrative remedies because his appeal never raised the claim that the SHO had refused to allow inmate Leevy to testify at the hearing. Second, the court dismissed Wilson's claim that the SHO refused to consider evidence that Leevy accepted responsibility for the weapon, noting that there was no evidence showing that Wilson had presented the SHO with Leevy's statement, and in any case, since the SHO's decision was supported by "some evidence" to support the disciplinary decision, Wilson was not entitled to any relief.

On August 31, 2006, Wilson filed an appeal in California's Third Appellate District. The petition was summarily denied on September 13, 2006. On March 13, 2007, Wilson appealed the decision to the California Supreme Court. That petition was also summarily denied, on July 11, 2007. Wilson's timely filing in this court followed.


Title 28, United States Code, § 2254(a), sets forth the following standard of review for federal habeas corpus claims:

The Supreme Court, a Justice thereof, a circuit judge, or a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (West 2008).

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") creates a "highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt. " Womack v. Del Papa, 497 F.3d 998, 1001 (9th Cir.2007) (internal quotations and citations omitted). To obtain federal habeas relief, Wilson must satisfy either § 2254(d)(1) or § 2254(d)(2). See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 403 (2000). The Supreme Court interprets § 2254(d)(1) as follows:

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 this Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-13; see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73-74 (2003). The "objectively unreasonable" standard is not met by a showing of error or of an incorrect application (as opposed to an objectively unreasonable application) of the governing federal law. Andrade, 538 U.S. at 75; Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694, 699 (2002) (stating "it is not enough to convince a federal habeas court that, in its independent judgment, the state court decision applied [the Supreme Court precedent] incorrectly"). As the Supreme Court explained, this standard is different from the "clear error" standard in that "[t]he gloss of clear error fails to give proper deference to state court by conflating error (even clear error) without unreasonableness." Andrade, 538 U.S. at 75.

When there is no reasoned decision from the highest state court, this court "looks through" to the underlying appellate court decision. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 801-06, (1991). A state court need not cite Supreme Court precedent when resolving a habeas corpus claim. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). "[S]o long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts [Supreme ...

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