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Lechuga v. Haviland

December 10, 2009




Petitioner Larry Lechuga is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Lechuga attacks his conviction in the Sacramento County Superior Court, case number 04F09812, for first degree burglary.


The petition raises four issues as follow, verbatim:

A. Petitioner was denied due process and a fair trial by the exclusion of evidence of his spontaneous declaration uttered while he was being beaten immediately after running from the residence.

B. The imposition of a 45 years to life sentence on this mentally retarded defendant who did nothing violent, violates the prohibitions of the Eight [sic] and Fourteenth Amendments and Article 1, §17.

C. The court abused its discretion when it denied petitioner's Romero motion to strike seven of eight strikes.

D. Petitioner was denied a fair trial when the court refused to instruct the jury in the language of CALJIC No. 2.21.2 that a witness who is willfully false in one material part of his testimony is to be distrusted in other parts of his testimony.

Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend that petitioner's petition for habeas corpus relief be denied.


A. Facts*fn2

On November 7, 2004, at around 4:00 a.m., Howard Meadows was at his home in Sacramento. Meadows's parents were asleep and he was in his bedroom watching a movie. Meadows's dog was with him. The bedroom door was open, and the back door of the house was unlocked.

Meadows saw his dog turn her head and make a strange gesture. He looked up and saw a low, dim light illuminating the hallway in a panning motion. Meadows got up to investigate and saw defendant in the hallway. Defendant was unknown to Meadows and did not have permission to be in his house. Defendant turned and ran out the back door. Meadows chased him and caught him when he reached the fence of a house across the street. Meadows tackled defendant and wrestled him to the ground. Defendant dropped a pair of cotton gardening gloves by the fence. Meadows dragged defendant back to his front yard and yelled for his parents to help him. Although defendant resisted, Meadows held defendant down.

Meadows's father came outside and retrieved some plastic zip ties to restrain defendant. Meadows tied up defendant's ankles and Meadows's stepmother telephoned 911.

Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Duncan Brown arrived at Meadows's residence and saw defendant lying in the street. Officer Brown followed Meadows as he retraced his pursuit of defendant. Officer Brown located a pair of tan gloves lying near a fence across from the Meadows's home. Officer Brown retrieved from defendant's belt a small flashlight with a minimal light beam. Officer Brown opined that such a flashlight was preferable to an ordinary flashlight, which would draw too much attention to the perpetrator.

Defendant did not testify.

Opinion at 2-3.

A jury convicted Lechuga of first degree burglary. Id. at 1. The trial court found true allegations that Lechuga suffered four prior serious felony convictions and eight strikes, arising from eight prior first degree burglary convictions. Id. The trial court declined to strike any of Lechuga's prior convictions for purposes of sentencing and imposed a term of 25 years to life, plus 20 years. Id.

B. Post Trial Proceedings

Respondent acknowledges that all issues raised in this petition were exhausted in state court proceedings. Lechuga timely appealed to the California Court of Appeal, filing his opening brief on September 9, 2005. Answer, Lodged Doc. 1. That appeal was denied in a reasoned opinion on October 30, 2006. Answer, Lodged Doc. 4.

Lechuga then timely petitioned the California Supreme Court for review on November 21, 2006. Answer, Lodged Doc. 5. That petition was summarily denied on January 3, 2007. Answer, Lodged Doc. 6. Lechuga then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court on October 25, 2007.*fn3 Answer, Lodged Doc. 7. That petition was summarily denied on April 16, 2008, with a citation to In re Waltreus, 62 Cal.2d 218 (Cal. 1965) (holding contentions raised and rejected on appeal cannot be renewed in state petition for habeas corpus).


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).

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).

Although "AEDPA does not require a federal habeas court to adopt any one methodology," Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S 63, 71 (2003), there are certain principles which guide its application.

First, the "contrary to" and "unreasonable application" clauses are different. As the Supreme Court has explained:

A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the "contrary to" clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. The court may grant relief under the "unreasonable application" clause if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from our decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case. The focus of the latter inquiry is on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable, and we stressed in Williams [v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000)] that an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one.

Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). It is the habeas petitioner's burden to show the state court's decision was either contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal law. Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 123 S.Ct. 357, 360 (2002). It is appropriate to look to lower court decisions to determine what law has been "clearly established" by the Supreme Court and the reasonableness of a particular application of that law. See Duhaime v. Ducharme, 200 F.3d 597, 598 (9th Cir. 2000).

Second, the court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Avila v. Galaza, 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002). So long as the state court adjudicated petitioner's claims on the merits, its decision is entitled to deference, no matter how brief. ...

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