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Britton v. Cate

March 9, 2010


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


Petitioner Bobby Britton, a state parolee appearing pro se, has filed a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Britton is currently on parole in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.*fn2 Respondent has answered, and Britton has replied.


Under a negotiated plea agreement, Britton pleaded no contest to one felony count of corporal injury on his spouse (Cal. Penal Code, § 273.5(a)) and one count that he inflicted great bodily injury upon his spouse under circumstances involving domestic violence (Cal. Penal Code § 12022.7(e)). The remaining counts, a felony charge of spousal battery resulting in the infliction of serious bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code § 243(d)) and a misdemeanor charge of violating a temporary restraining order (Cal. Penal Code § 166(a)(4)) were dismissed. Britton's prior conviction of battery on a spouse (Cal. Penal Code § 243(e)(1)) was also stricken. As part of the plea agreement, Britton stipulated he would be sentenced to a prison term of five years, the low term of two years for the corporal injury on his spouse, plus a consecutive three-year term for the great bodily injury enhancement. Britton moved for specific performance of an alleged earlier plea agreement, or, in the alternative, to withdraw his plea, which was denied by the trial court.

The trial court then sentenced Britton to the agreed term of five years in state prison. Britton timely appealed to the California Court of Appeal, Third District, which affirmed in an unpublished, reasoned decision.*fn3 The California Supreme Court summarily denied review without comment or citation to authority on March 2, 2005. Britton timely filed his petition for relief in the Northern District of California on March 16, 2005. The Northern District of California transferred the matter to this Court.


In his petition Britton raises a single ground: The Sacramento County Superior Court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his no contest plea, or, in the alternative, specifically enforce an earlier offer by the prosecution. Respondent asserts no affirmative defenses.*fn4


Because Britton's petition was filed 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 decision of the state court was "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 renders its decision or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn5 The Supreme Court has explained that "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision."*fn6 The holding must also be binding upon the states; that is, the decision must be based upon constitutional grounds, not on the supervisory power of the Supreme Court over federal courts.*fn7 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.'"*fn8 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.*fn9 The Supreme Court has made clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is a substantially higher threshold than simply believing the state court determination was incorrect.*fn10 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 outcome.*fn11

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court,*fn12 which in this case was that of the California Court of Appeal. 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.*fn13


The facts and Britton's contentions regarding his claim are set forth in detail in the decision of the California Court of Appeal, which is reproduced below. Defendant claims the trial court erred in denying his request to withdraw his plea. We disagree.

Section 1018 provides in pertinent part: "On application of the defendant . . ., the court may, . . . for a good cause shown, permit the plea of guilty to be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty substituted . . . . This section shall be liberally construed to effect these objects and to promote justice."

Good cause to withdraw a plea exists when a defendant has entered the plea as a result of mistake, ignorance, or some other factor preventing the defendant's free exercise of judgment. However, '[a] plea may not be ...

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