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Johnson v. Hornbeak

September 16, 2009

MBULU MAHKI JOHNSON, PETITIONER,
v.
TINA HORNBEAK,*FN1 WARDEN, VALLEY STATE PRISON FOR WOMEN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner Mbulu Mahki Johnson, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, initiated a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Johnson is currently incarcerated at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, California. Respondent has answered the petition. Johnson has not replied.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On January 25, 2000, an amended information was filed in the Sacramento County Superior Court charging Johnson with the murder of Christie Young.*fn2 The circumstances leading up to the charge are as follows. Johnson and Young were involved in a romantic relationship.*fn3

On or about September 5, 1999, after leaving a nightclub together in Young's vehicle, the pair began to argue.*fn4 They continued to argue while Young, the passenger, exited the vehicle and began to walk down the sidewalk.*fn5 Young had walked approximately five feet when Johnson drove the car up onto the sidewalk, striking Young.*fn6 Young's body landed in the street.*fn7 Johnson then made a U-turn and ran over Young a second time.*fn8

Johnson was convicted after a jury trial in the Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento, of one count of second degree murder (California Penal Code § 187(a)). On May 16, 2001, Johnson was sentenced to an indeterminate term of 30 years to life with possibility of parole.

Johnson timely appealed her conviction to the Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, which modified the judgment and affirmed the conviction.*fn9 The California Court of Appeal denied Johnson's Petition for Rehearing on April 7, 2003,*fn10 and the Supreme Court of California denied her Petition for Review on May 21, 2003.*fn11

On February 4, 2004, Johnson filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Sacramento County Superior Court, which was denied on March 22, 2004.*fn12 On June 9, 2004, Johnson filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the California Supreme Court.*fn13 The court denied her petition on April 27, 2005.*fn14 Johnson timely filed her petition for relief in this Court on September 22, 2005.*fn15

II. GROUNDS PRESENTED/DEFENSES

In her petition Johnson raises four grounds: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) failure of the trial court to instruct the jury on manslaughter; (3) denial by trial counsel of her right to testify at trial; and (4) failure of trial counsel to present a "battered woman" defense. Respondent asserts as its only affirmative defense that Ground 1 is unexhausted.*fn16

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because Johnson filed her petition after April 24, 1996, it is governed by the standard of review set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Consequently, this Court cannot grant relief unless the decisions of the California courts were "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" at the time the state court rendered its decision or were "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn17 As the Supreme Court has explained, "clearly established Federal law" "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision."*fn18 Thus, where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, "it cannot be said that the state court 'unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.'"*fn19

When a claim falls under the "unreasonable application" prong, a state court's application of Supreme Court precedent must be objectively unreasonable, not just incorrect or erroneous.*fn20

The Supreme Court has made it clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is a substantially higher threshold than simply believing the state court determination was incorrect.*fn21 In a federal habeas proceeding, the standard under which this Court must assess the prejudicial impact of constitutional error in a state-court criminal trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.*fn22 In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn23 Under AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn24

IV. DISCUSSION

As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Johnson did not file a traverse to the Respondent's Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. Thus, the Court must accept the Respondent's allegations as true. 28 U.S.C. § 2248 provides:

The allegations of a return to the writ of habeas corpus or of an answer to an order to show cause in a habeas corpus proceeding, if not traversed, shall be accepted as true except to the extent that the judge finds from the evidence that they are not true.

Under § 2248, where there is no denial of the respondent's allegations in the answer, or the denial is merely formal, unsupported by an evidentiary basis, the court must accept the respondent's allegations.*fn25 Where a petitioner has not disputed a contention in the response and it does not appear from the record before ...


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