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Meakins v. Cullen

June 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Timothy M. Burgess United States District Judge


Petitioner Danny Lee Meakins, a state prisoner appearing pro se, has filed a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Meakins is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the San Quentin State Prison. Respondent has answered. Meakins has not replied to the answer.


Following a trial by jury, in April 1995 Meakins was convicted in the Sacramento County Superior Court of murder in the second-degree (Cal. Penal Code, § 187). Meakins was sentenced to a prison term of 15 years to life, with two one-year enhancements for prior prison terms. Meakins does not challenge his conviction or sentence in this proceeding.

In May 2005 Meakins appeared before the Board of Prison Terms for his initial parole suitability hearing. The Board denied Meakins parole for a period of four years. Meakins timely filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the Sacramento County Superior Court, which petition was denied in an unpublished, reasoned decision. The California Court of Appeal summarily denied Meakins petition for habeas corpus relief without opinion or citation to authority and the California Supreme Court summarily denied review without opinion or citation to authority on March 15, 2006. Meakins timely filed his petition for relief in this Court on March 20, 2006.

After the pleadings were complete and the issues joined, this Court stayed further proceedings in this action pending decision by the en banc panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Hayward.*fn2 The Ninth Circuit has issued its en banc opinion in Hayward;*fn3 therefore, the Court terminates the stay and decides the case.


Meakins raises three grounds for relief: (1) the board improperly denied parole based solely on the nature of his commitment offense; (2) the Board failed to properly consider all the statutory factors; and (3) the "some evidence" standard applied by the California courts violates the standard of Superintendent v. Hill.*fn4 Respondent does not assert any affirmative defense.*fn5


Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), 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."*fn6 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."*fn7 The holding must also be intended to 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.*fn8 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.'"*fn9 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.*fn10 The Supreme Court has made clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is a substantially higher threshold than simply believing that the state court determination was incorrect.*fn11 "[A]bsent a specific constitutional violation, federal habeas corpus review of trial error is limited to whether the error 'so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.'"*fn12 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.*fn13 Because state court judgments carry a presumption of finality and legality, the petitioner has the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she merits habeas relief.*fn14

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn15 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.*fn16 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn17

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 Respondent's allegations.*fn18 Where a petitioner has not disputed a contention in the response and it does not appear from the record before the ...

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