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Harris v. Martel

February 24, 2010

MICAH A. HARRIS, PETITIONER,
v.
M. MARTEL, WARDEN; AND JERRY CORPUS; AND BROWN, THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER: (1) ADOPTING IN PART REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION; (2) DENYING AND DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS (3) GRANTING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY.

Currently before the Court is Micah A. Harris's ("Petitioner") Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition"). Petitioner challenges his conviction in the Superior Court for the County of San Diego, case number SCD 197551, for torture, mayhem, assault with intent to commit a specified sex act (attempted rape), and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. Respondent filed an answer, [Doc. No. 9], and lodged the relevant portions of the state record. The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Anthony J. Battaglia, who issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending the Court deny and dismiss the Petition on the merits. [Doc. No. 14]. Petitioner subsequently filed his objections to the R&R. [Doc. No. 16]. Having considered the R&R and Petitioner's objections, the Court hereby: (1) ADOPTS IN PART the R&R; (2) DENIES and DISMISSES the Petition; and (3) GRANTS a certificate of appealability.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual background

The Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's detailed factual background, (see R&R, at 2-6), which in turn takes the facts from the Court of Appeal's opinion in People v. Harris, No. D049578, 2008 WL 2154401 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008) (hereinafter, "Lodgment 6").As did the Magistrate Judge, the Court presumes these factual determinations are correct pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

II. Procedural background

On August 1, 2006, a jury found Petitioner guilty of torture (count one), mayhem (count two), assault with intent to commit a specified sex act (count three), and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (count five). (Lodgment 2.) The jury found the great bodily injury allegation to be true in count five. (Id.) The jury returned a not guilty verdict on the attempted rape charge and found the great bodily injury allegations in counts three and four not to be true. (Id.) The judge sentenced Petitioner to an indeterminate life term with the possibility of parole on torture, a four year concurrent middle term on mayhem, and a stayed term on the remaining counts. (Lodgment 3.) On October 2, 2006, Petitioner filed a notice of appeal. (Lodgment 4.) The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. (Lodgment 6.) On August 27, 2008, the California Supreme Court denied the petition for review without comment or citation. (Lodgment 7.) Petitioner timely filed his Petition on March 13, 2009, and Respondent answered on August 7, 2009. [Doc. No. 9]. The Court referred the matter to Judge Battaglia, who recommended the Court deny and dismiss the Petition on the merits. [Doc. No. 14]. Petitioner subsequently filed his objections to the R&R. [Doc. No. 16].

III. Petitioner's Claims

Petitioner asserts three grounds for relief: (1) the introduction of evidence of prior uncharged sexual offenses under Section 1108 of the California Evidence Code ("Section 1108") violated his constitutional right to due process and equal protection, and the trial court abused its discretion in admitting that evidence under Section 352 of the Evidence Code ("Section 352"); (2) the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt for torture under Section 206 of the California Penal Code ("Section 206"); and (3) the trial court deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation by improperly restricting his ability to cross-examine an adverse witness.

LEGAL STANDARD

A federal court may grant a petition pursuant to Section 2254 only if the state court's action was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or "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); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 403, 412-13 (2000).

A state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if the state court (1) "arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question of law" or (2) "decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. On the other hand, a state court's decision is an "unreasonable application" 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. The state court's decision has to be more than erroneous or incorrect; rather, the application of federal law must be "objectively unreasonable." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003) (citations omitted).

The "clearly established" federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, "'refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.'" Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 412). However, Section 2254(d) "does not 'require state and federal courts to wait for some nearly identical factual pattern before a legal rule must be applied.'" Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 953 (2007) (quoting Musladin, 549 U.S. at 81 (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment)). Thus, habeas relief may be appropriate under the "unreasonable application" prong when a state court violates the legal principle established by a Supreme Court decision, as long as that legal principle is applicable to petitioner's claims without "tailoring or modification" of the standard. Moses v. Payne, 555 F.3d 742, 753-54 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Panetti, 551 U.S. 930, and Smith v. Patrick, 508 F.3d 1256 (9th Cir. 2007)). Moreover, Ninth Circuit case law may be "persuasive authority for purposes of determining whether a particular state court decision is an 'unreasonable application' of Supreme Court law, and also may help [the Court] determine what law is 'clearly established.'" Duhaime v. Ducharme, 200 F.3d 597, 600 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).

Finally, habeas relief is also available if the state court proceedings "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in state court." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). A state court's decision will not be overturned unless the underlying factual determinations were "objectively unreasonable." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003). A federal court presumes the state court's factual findings are correct, and the petitioner may rebut the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

DISCUSSION

Petitioner objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendations on all three of his claims. The Court reviews de novo those portions of the R&R to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." Id.

In making its determination, the Court looks to the state's last reasoned decision. Avila v. Galaza, 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). Where there is no reasoned decision from the state's highest court, the Court "looks through" to the "last reasoned state court decision to address the claim at issue," which in this case is the Court of Appeal's decision. See Medley v. ...


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