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Arauz v. Swarthout

June 22, 2010


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


Petitioner Ricardo Arauz, a state prisoner appearing pro se, has filed a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Arauz is currently in the custody of the California Department of Correctional Services, incarcerated at the California State Prison, Solano. Respondent has answered and Arauz has replied.


In March 1989 Arauz was convicted on a plea of guilty in the Los Angeles County Superior Court of one count of murder in second-degree (Cal. Penal Code, § 187). The trial court sentenced Aruaz to an indeterminate prison term of 15 years to life. Arauz does not challenge his conviction or sentence in these proceedings.

In March 2007 Arauz appeared at a parole suitability hearing before the California Board of Parole Hearings, which, after finding him unsuitable for parole, denied him parole for two years. Arauz timely filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, which denied his petition in an unpublished, reasoned decision.

The California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, summarily denied Arauz's petition for habeas corpus relief without opinion or citation to authority. The California Supreme Court, in turn, summarily denied review without opinion or citation to authority on February 13, 2008. Arauz timely filed his petition for relief in this court on February 27, 2008.

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.

The facts of the underlying commitment offense, as summarized by the Los Angeles Superior Court, are as follows:

The record reflects that on January 9, 1988, [Arauz] shot and killed his estranged common law wife after a heated argument regarding child custody and other domestic matters. [Arauz] and the victim had separated approximately one month earlier. He accused her of having an affair and deserting him and their children. On the day of the murder, [Arauz] had been drinking when he called the victim and requested that she come to his sister's house to discuss the custody issues. [Arauz] had been living with his sister since the separation. When she arrived at the residence, [Arauz] and the victim entered the bedroom and began arguing. shot the victim three times. As [Arauz] left the residence, he told his 13-year old nephew to call the paramedics and the police.*fn4


Price raises two grounds for relief: (1) the Board violated the contractual plea agreement by denying his parole based upon fact he had not admitted; and (2) denial of parole was not based upon reliable evidence in the record. Respondent asserts no affirmative defenses.*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 [state court] 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 proceeding is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the outcome.*fn13 Because state court judgments of conviction and sentence carry a presumption of finality and legality, Arauz ...

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