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Decker v. Knowles

September 15, 2009



Petitioner is a California prisoner proceeding with counsel with an application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner stands convicted of several drug related offenses and is serving a sentence of eighteen years' imprisonment.

I. Background

On direct appeal, the California Court of Appeal summarized the evidence presented at petitioner's trial as follows:

About 1:00 a.m., December 30, 1998, Redding Police Officer Dean Adams made a traffic stop of the Chevy Cavalier defendant was driving as it pulled into a driveway and parked near a mobile home. Defendant, who was neatly dressed and had no grease or dirt on him, immediately jumped out of the car and yelled for Adams to turn off his lights because this was his sister's home. When defendant refused to comply with Adams's repeated directives to get back into the car, Adams placed him in the back of the patrol car.

The passenger, whose true name was Sonya Lynn Southard, gave Adams a false name and birth date; she also falsely stated that the car belonged to someone other than herself. Southard had on her person a prescription bottle which contained pills but bore no prescription. When Adams told Southard that her identity could not be verified and she would be taken into custody, she fled. Adams caught her and placed [her] in the patrol car of Officer Morehouse, who had arrived as backup.

A search of defendant disclosed $5,450 in cash, which defendant claimed came from the sale of a car. When the officers opened the door of the Cavalier, they immediately sensed a strong odor of marijuana. Inside a black bag on the floor beneath the steering wheel was a zippered pouch which contained a baggie of marijuana, a bag of methamphetamine, a bottle of Dilaudid, black electrical tape, numerous small baggies, a marijuana pipe with residue, a metal spoon with methamphetamine residue and a set of keys on a ring. Printed on a tag on the key ring was "Scooter's Auto Center in Lake Shasta." [Footnote omitted.]

In the back of the Cavalier the officers located a brown or maroon pouch which contained five syringes, 200 small baggies, and plastic scales with residue. Also found in the car was an address book containing phone numbers of persons known by law enforcement to be involved in drug activity. Southard claimed ownership of the maroon pouch and the address book.

Agent Bruce Bonner, an expert in narcotics activity, testified that when a male and female transport drugs and are stopped, the male will frequently jump out and attempt to distract the officer while the female will hide the drugs. Southard was known to Bonner as a user, not a dealer.

Defendant's father testified that during the past two years defendant had worked for a short time at Scooter's Towing.

Julane Decker, a real estate agent and defendant's mother, testified that just before Christmas she gave defendant $5,000 cash to buy a motorcycle. Defendant was to repay her by selling a Pontiac Trans Am he was fixing. Decker identified defense exhibit D as the loan agreement. [Footnote omitted.] It was dated December 28, 1998. Decker also identified a pair of overalls as defendant's, claiming she had gotten them from Ron Gamble after defendant's arrests. Defendant was working on the Pontiac at Ron Gamble's shop or home.

Defendant's girlfriend, Brenda Hammon, testified she dropped defendant off the morning of December 29 at Gamble's home to work on his car. Mark Tyree, who lived on Gamble's property, saw defendant working on a vehicle during the afternoon and into the late evening of December 29.

Sonya Southard, who had previously been defendant's girlfriend, saw him walking along the side of the road the night of December 29. They spoke and she offered him a ride to his sister's house; however, she wanted him to drive because she was a parolee at large. Southard claimed all of the drugs and keys found in the black bag were hers. She admitted to having pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the drugs. Southard also admitted prior convictions for possession of a controlled substance in 1988, for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm in 1989, and for another controlled substance possession in 1993.

Answer, Ex. C at 2-5.

II. Requirements For Federal Habeas Relief

An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Also, federal habeas corpus relief is not available for any claim decided on the merits in state court proceedings unless the state court's adjudication of the claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that 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) (referenced herein in as "§ 2254(d)" or "AEDPA").*fn1 It is the habeas petitioner's burden to show he is not precluded from obtaining relief by ยง 2254(d). ...

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