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Coleman v. Martel

August 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner represented by appointed counsel with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his 2006 conviction for first degree murder with special circumstances where he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This action is proceeding on the amended petition (AP) filed October 13, 2009, raising the following claims: 1) the trial court erred by permitting the introduction of a prior conviction; and 2) the trial court erred by preventing an expert witness from testifying that drug dealers often carry guns. AP at 2.

After carefully considering the record, the court recommends that the petition be denied.

II. Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) "worked substantial changes to the law of habeas corpus," establishing more deferential standards of review to be used by a federal habeas court in assessing a state court's adjudication of a criminal defendant's claims of constitutional error. Moore v. Calderon, 108 F.3d 261, 263 (9th Cir. 1997).

In Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495 (2000), the Supreme Court defined the operative review standard set forth in § 2254(d). Justice O'Connor's opinion for Section II of the opinion constitutes the majority opinion of the court. There is a dichotomy between "contrary to" clearly established law as enunciated by the Supreme Court, and an "unreasonable application of" that law. Id. at 1519. "Contrary to" clearly established law applies to two situations: (1) where the state court legal conclusion is opposite that of the Supreme Court on a point of law, or (2) if the state court case is materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court case, i.e., on point factually, yet the legal result is opposite.

"Unreasonable application" of established law, on the other hand, applies to mixed questions of law and fact, that is, the application of law to fact where there are no factually on point Supreme Court cases which mandate the result for the precise factual scenario at issue. Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 407-08, 120 S.Ct. at 1520-1521 (2000). It is this prong of the AEDPA standard of review which directs deference to be paid to state court decisions. While the deference is not blindly automatic, "the most important point is that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of law....[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 410-11, 120 S.Ct. at 1522 (emphasis in original). The habeas corpus petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating the objectively unreasonable nature of the state court decision in light of controlling Supreme Court authority. Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 123 S.Ct. 357 (2002).

"Clearly established" law is law that has been "squarely addressed" by the United States Supreme Court. Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125, 128 S.Ct. 743, 746 (2008). Thus, extrapolations of settled law to unique situations will not qualify as clearly established. See e.g., Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 76, 127 S.Ct. 649, 653-54 (2006) (established law not permitting state sponsored practices to inject bias into a criminal proceeding by compelling a defendant to wear prison clothing or by unnecessary showing of uniformed guards does not qualify as clearly established law when spectators' conduct is the alleged cause of bias injection).

The state courts need not have cited to federal authority, or even have indicated awareness of federal authority in arriving at their decision. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 123 S.Ct. 362 (2002). Nevertheless, the state decision cannot be rejected unless the decision itself is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, established Supreme Court authority. Id. An unreasonable error is one in excess of even a reviewing court's perception that "clear error" has occurred. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 1175 (2003). Moreover, the established Supreme Court authority reviewed must be a pronouncement on constitutional principles, or other controlling federal law, as opposed to a pronouncement of statutes or rules binding only on federal courts. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. at 9, 123 S.Ct. at 366.

However, where the state courts have not addressed the constitutional issue in dispute in any reasoned opinion, the federal court will independently review the record in adjudication of that issue. "Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003).

III. Background

The opinion of the California Court of Appeal contains a factual summary. After independently reviewing the record, the court finds this summary to be accurate and adopts it below.*fn1

On December 12, 2004, Dwayne Harvey was shot and killed while sitting in his parked car at Fourth Avenue Park in Sacramento. He was shot nine times by two different weapons-a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a .38-caliber revolver. Shell casings or bullets from each weapon were recovered from Harvey's body and his car.

Prosecution's case One of the prosecution's main witnesses was Sammy Anderson, a friend of both defendants who pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder (§ 32) in return for his truthful testimony and a one-year jail sentence. According to Anderson, on the night of the murder, Anderson, [petitioner], and Allen went to the Fourth Avenue Park to consummate a drug deal that [petitioner] had arranged with the victim Harvey. It was [petitioner's] idea to kill Harvey. While waiting for Harvey to arrive, Anderson decided to leave and was walking away from the park when Harvey's car pulled up. Anderson saw Allen shoot Harvey from outside of the car, near the passenger door, and after a pause, heard more rounds of gunfire. Anderson did not see [petitioner] with a gun that night, but was with [petitioner] the next day in the same park when [petitioner] picked up a gun from the grass and hid it in a car parked on the street.

Testimony from eyewitnesses revealed that one of the defendants was seen searching Harvey's pockets and car after the shooting, and was holding a black revolver in his hand. The person searching Harvey was wearing a long, black coat with black pants, which matched a description of what [petitioner] was wearing the night of the shooting. The other man had on a black coat with fur trim on the hood, which matched a description of what Allen was wearing on the night of the shooting. One witness said that two men walked up to Harvey's car, and then he heard two rounds of different sounding shots. Two witnesses also testified that Allen made statements to the effect that he shot Harvey.

Defense case [Petitioner] testified in his own defense. He stated that on the night of the shooting, he called Harvey to buy crack cocaine and arranged to meet him at the park with Allen and Anderson. As they were waiting for Harvey, [petitioner] overheard Allen whisper to Anderson that "he was going to do the dude" but did not see Allen carrying a gun and did not believe what Allen said. When Harvey's car arrived, Anderson was walking away. Allen approached the car and [petitioner] followed behind him. Allen walked to the passenger side of the car, reached into the window, and fired shots into the car. After firing about five shots, [petitioner] saw Allen move to the front of the car and begin firing again with what sounded like a different gun. [Petitioner] insisted that at no time did he have a ...

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