The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lonny R. Suko Chief United States District Judge
ORDER DENYING §2254 PETITION
BEFORE THE COURT is the Petitioner's Petition for Habeas Corpus Reliefpursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 (Doc. 1), filed on February 26, 2007; Respondent's Answer to Amended Petition For Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 39), filed June 18, 2009; and Petitioner's Traverse to Respondent's Answer to Petitioner's Amended Petition (Doc. 44), filed on September 3, 2009, pursuant to the Court's Order granting Petitioner an extension of time (Doc. 41).
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 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 proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
Under Section 2254(d)(1), a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a different result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). The term "unreasonable application" has a meaning independent from that of the term "contrary to." A state court's decision is an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent "if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. A federal habeas court "may not issue the writ simply because that court 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 unreasonable." Id. at 411. A federal habeas court making an "'unreasonable application' inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409. This is a "highly deferential standard for evaluating state court rulings" and "demands that state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1067 (9th Cir. 2003)(citations omitted).
In determining whether a state court decision is "contrary to" or an "unreasonable application" of federal law under §2254(d)(1), the federal court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1091-92 (9th Cir. 2005); Avila v. Galaza, 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002). In the captioned matter, the last reasoned state court decision is that rendered by the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, in People v. Brummett, 2005 WL 1394763 (June 14, 2005). The California Supreme Court subsequently and summarily denied Petitioner's petition for review without prejudice to any relief to which Petitioner might be entitled upon finality of People v. Black, 35 Cal. 4th 1238 (2005).
A. Due Process Violation (Ground 1)
In his amended Ground One, Petitioner alleges that sentencing him under California's Three Strikes law violated his federal constitutional right to due process because it violated the terms of his 1984 and 1988 plea agreements. (Doc. 34 at 11-31.) Petitioner acknowledges that California's Three Strikes law was not in existence at the time he entered his prior pleas ( Doc. 34 at 17-19), but he claims that using his prior convictions to sentence him under the Three Strikes law violated his federal constitutional right to due process because he had been informed and promised that his prior convictions could be used to enhance a future sentence for one or five years in the event of reoffense. (Doc. 34 at 12-18.) Petitioner further claims that his sentence is unconstitutional because a change in law cannot alter a fully executed contract (Doc. 34 at 18-23), and because his 1984 and 1988 plea agreements violate section 1192.7 as well as the California Constitution's prohibition against plea bargaining in cases involving serious felonies (Doc. 34 at 26-31).
More specifically, Petitioner states that his plea agreement for his 1984 conviction included a stipulation that his conviction could be used as a five-year enhancement in a subsequent prosecution for a serious felony. (Doc. 34 at 7; see also Doc. 20-2 at 37-38, 40, 79.) Petitioner also states that his plea agreement for his 1988 conviction included a stipulation that his conviction could be used as a one-year enhancement in a subsequent prosecution for a serious felony. (Doc. 34 at 7; see also Doc. 20-2 at 37-38, 40, 79.) Petitioner argues that he would not have entered pleas had he known that his prior convictions could be used as strikes.
Respondent asserts that Petitioner raised a similar claim on habeas corpus to the California Supreme Court (LD*fn1 11 at 52-62), which the Supreme Court denied (LD 12). To the extent Petitioner separately argues his sentence is unconstitutional because a change in law cannot alter a fully executed contract, Respondent argues his claim is unexhausted. Even if it were exhausted, Respondent states Petitioner is not entitled to federal habeas relief because the California Supreme Court's rejection of this claim did not contradict or unreasonably apply clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court.
Respondent explains that Petitioner's claim that his prior convictions are invalid because he was not informed they would be used in subsequent criminal proceedings to enhance his sentence to a term of twenty-five years to life under the Three Strikes law, is barred by Lackawanna County Dist. Attorney v. Coss, 532 U.S. 394 (2001). In Lackawanna, the Supreme Court held that where a petitioner's state court conviction was later used to enhance a criminal sentence, "the defendant generally may not challenge the enhanced sentence through a petition under [28 U.S.C.] § 2254 on the ground that the prior conviction was unconstitutionally obtained." Id. at 403-04. The only recognized exception to this general rule is for a failure to appoint counsel in violation of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). Lackawanna, 532 U.S. at 404. Petitioner's collateral attack on his prior convictions, however, does not involve the Gideon exception. Respondent concludes, and the Court agrees, that Petitioner is precluded from collaterally attacking his 1984 and 1988 convictions on federal habeas. Petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief under Ground 1.
B. Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel (Ground 2)
Related to Ground 1 in part, Petitioner claims that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment by failing to adequately investigate his prior plea agreements to determine whether "those prior waivers and agreements created a due process guarantee that the petitioner could only be charged with the enhancement terms agreed upon, informed of, and by the current law at the time of the prior contract plea agreements." Petitioner also claims that his attorney failed to investigate and present evidence of Petitioner's mental health at trial and sentencing after Petitioner told trial counsel that he had "an extensive mental health history, and that he had been being treated by a psychiatrist and had been on several different psychotropic medications." Finally, Petitioner alleges his attorney failed to timely inform him of a plea offer that had been made by the prosecutor, which included a total state prison term of eighteen years and which he would have accepted had it not been withdrawn. (Doc. 20-2 at 8.) Petitioner raised this same claim in a habeas petition to the California Supreme Court (LD 11 at 3-12.1), which the court silently denied (LD 12).
In addressing the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel, the Court is guided by the now-familiar construct of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). As required by that analytical framework:
First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.
Establishing these two elements is not easy: "the cases in which habeas petitioners can properly prevail on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel are few and far between." Waters v. Thomas, 46 F.3d 1506, 1511 (11th Cir.1995) (en banc) (quoting Rogers v. Zant, 13 F.3d 384, 386 (11th Cir.1994)).
In claims involving a failure to investigate, the Supreme Court has explained:
[S]trategic choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are virtually unchallengeable; and strategic choices made after less than complete investigation are reasonable precisely to the extent that reasonable professional judgments support the limitations on investigation. In other words, counsel has a duty to make reasonable investigations or to make a reasonable decision that makes particular investigations unnecessary. In any ineffectiveness case, a particular decision not to investigate must be directly assessed for reasonableness in all the circumstances, applying a heavy measure of deference to counsel's judgments.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690-91.
Under the circumstances of this case, competent counsel could reasonably conclude that there was a factual basis for the prior convictions. The facts which do appear in the record amply support the conclusion that Petitioner's trial counsel conducted a thorough investigation of Petitioner's prior convictions. To illustrate, trial counsel successfully argued that Petitioner's 1994 conviction could not be used as a strike, and its use was limited to a one-year enhancement under the terms of the plea agreement. (Doc. 39 at 20.) Thus, the record fails to show that counsel was required to investigate Petitioner's prior convictions beyond what had already been done. In addition, Petitioner fails to show sufficient prejudice as to this portion of his ineffective assistance claim.
As to Petitioner's claim that trial counsel failed to investigate a mental health defense, Respondent asserts that evidence of Petitioner's mental condition at trial is inadmissible to prove the absence of general intent. (Doc. 39 at 22.) Respondent points out that trial counsel argued Petitioner had been "drunk" the night of the incident, and that the trial court should exercise its discretion to strike one or more of Petitioner's prior convictions for sentencing purposes. (Id. at 23, citations to record omitted.) Respondent also points out that Petitioner was provided the opportunity to make a statement to the probation officer to include in the probation report but Petitioner declined to do so. Further, respondent notes that ...