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Houk v. Walker

July 23, 2010


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


Petitioner, Larry N. Houk, a state prisoner proceeding through counsel, has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Houk is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections, incarcerated at the California State Prison-- Sacramento, in Represa, California. Respondent has filed his answer. Houk has not filed a reply.*fn1


As part of a drug investigation of defendant, Agent Jason Parker obtained the following search warrant: "YOU ARE THEREFORE COMMANDED TO SEARCH: "1. 1632 Plumas Arboga Road, Yuba County, Ca. This location is further described as an approximately five-acre parcel with a large shop, several outbuildings, trailers, motor homes, and abandoned vehicles. "2. 3306 Forbestown Road, Butte County, Ca. This location is further described as a parcel of land with a mobile home.

"Including buildings, trailers, the surrounding grounds and all containers therein and thereon which could contain any of the items sought which are found to be under the dominion and control of Larry Houk. "FOR THE FOLLOWING PERSON(S): "Houk, Larry Neil,.... "FOR THE FOLLOWING VEHICLE(S): "Any and all vehicles and trailers found to be under the dominion and control of Larry Houk.... "FOR THE FOLLOWING PROPERTY: Methamphetamine in liquid or powder form.... Paraphernalia used in the use of, packaging of, and distribution of methamphetamine, including but not limited to, scales, ..., plastic baggies,.... Articles of personal property tending to establish the identity of the persons in control and possession of ... vehicles, ... and containers where contraband and evidence may be found including but not limited to ... canceled mail, ... personalized I.D., driver's license,....*fn2 Later that same day, Agent Parker gave Agent Hatfield a description of the truck that Houk was seen driving and asked Hatfield to locate Houk. Hatfield, who was driving an unmarked vehicle, saw Houk driving the described truck. Hatfield contacted two uniformed officers who were assisting in the investigation to effect a traffic stop of Houk. The officers stopped Houk, handcuffed him and placed him into a patrol car.

Additional officers arrived at the scene and, pursuant to the search warrant, searched the truck. In the passenger compartment the officers found two baggies containing methamphetamine. Beneath the hood they found a duffel bag containing more methamphetamine, Houk's driver's license, a prescription bottle with Houk's name on it, as well as indicia of drug trafficking .

At a pretrial hearing, Houk moved to invalidate the search warrant because many of the facts set forth in the supporting affidavit were stale, thereby rendering the warrant invalid. Houk also claimed the officers lacked a good faith belief in its validity. The trial court agreed that some of the supporting facts were stale, but that the remaining facts supported probable cause sufficient for the warrant to issue.*fn3


Following the denial of Houk's motion to suppress the evidence from the search of his truck, a jury convicted Houk of transportation of methamphetamine (Health and Safety Code, § 11379) and possession of methamphetamine for sale (Health and Safety Code, § 11378). Houk pleaded guilty to an additional count of failing to appear (Cal. Penal Code, § 1320(b)) and waived his right to a jury trial on the existence of his prior convictions and the service of six separate prison terms, all of which the court found to be true. The court sentenced Houk to state prison for 14 years, 8 months, and imposed various fines and other penalties.

On January 22, 2008, the Court of Appeal for the State of California, Third District, affirmed the judgment and sentence in a reasoned decision.*fn4

Houk filed a habeas petition in the Yuba County Superior, which was denied on May 15, 2008. The court held that Houk's claims for relief were procedurally defaulted because he did not raise them on direct appeal.

Houk then filed a habeas petition with the California Court of Appeals, who denied his petition on July 3, 2008. Houk's habeas petition to the California Supreme Court was also denied.

On May 5, 2008, Houk filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court, which he subsequently amended on August 1, 2008. On March 4, 2009, Houk filed a Second Amended Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court. Houk raises seven grounds for relief. Despite the fact that the Yuba County Superior Court clearly applied a procedural bar to Houk's Habeas Petition, Respondent has not raised any affirmative defenses.


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."*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 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.*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 that the state court determination was incorrect.*fn10 "[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.'"*fn11 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.*fn12 Because state court judgments of conviction and sentence 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.*fn13

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court,*fn14 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.*fn15 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn16

When there is no reasoned state-court decision denying an issue presented to the state court and raised in a federal habeas petition, this Court must assume that the state court decided all the issues presented to it and perform an independent review of the record to ascertain whether the state-court decision was objectively unreasonable.*fn17 The scope of this review is for clear error of the state-court ruling on the petition:

[A]lthough we cannot undertake our review by analyzing the basis for the state court's decision, we can view it through the "objectively reasonable" lens ground by Williams .. . . Federal habeas review is not de novo when the state court does not supply reasoning for its decision, but an independent review of the record is required to determine whether the state court clearly erred in its application of controlling federal law. Only by that examination may we determine whether the state court's decision was objectively reasonable.*fn18

"[A]lthough we independently review the record, we still defer to the state court's ...

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