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York v. Schwartz

August 31, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his 2001 conviction on charges of first degree burglary. (Reporter's Transcript ("RT") 518-21.) Petitioner admitted a prior conviction for a serious felony. (RT 527-40.) Petitioner was sentenced to thirteen years in state prison on June 4, 2001. (RT 552.) Petitioner raises three claims in his petition. (Dkt. No.


Petitioner filed a timely appeal which was denied on January 9, 2003. (Resp't's Lodged Document ("LD") 6.) Petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court which was denied on March 26, 2003. (LD 7.)

Petitioner filed habeas petitions in the San Joaquin County Superior Court, the California Court of Appeal, and the California Supreme Court, all of which were denied. (LD 8-13.)

The instant petition was filed on July 22, 2005. Respondent's answer was filed on August 31, 2005. Petitioner filed a traverse on October 3, 2005.


On the night of January 21, 2000, while Mayra Montes and Mark Mann-Korner were at dinner, their home was burglarized. A video cassette recorder, lunch box, Bible, two stereos, a large duffel bag, a personal hygiene kit, compact discs, children's videos, and a Sega game system were missing.

A kitchen window was broken and a large piece of glass from that window was found by Officer Joel Petty. Petty lifted two latent fingerprints from this piece of glass, which were later identified as [petitioner's]. Petty did not take the glass with him.

[Petitioner] had been to the Montes home a few days before the burglary, trying to sell children's videos. [Petitioner] and another man were seen near the home around the time of the burglary. The day after the burglary, [petitioner] bragged about having taken a Bible during a burglary.

Detective Michael Vieira investigated the case. He sent an e-mail to other officers indicating he needed to speak with [petitioner] about the burglary. The e-mail requested officers who might see [petitioner] to ask him if he had ever been at the Montes residence; the e-mail further indicated that if [petitioner] denied being at the residence, there was probable cause to arrest him.

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on March 3, 2000, Officer Mark Duxbury saw [petitioner] riding his bicycle and asked [petitioner] if he could speak with him. [Petitioner] stopped his bike on the sidewalk. Duxbury informed [petitioner] that Detective Vieira needed to ask him some questions regarding a case. Because he was working on another case and had a suspect in his car, Duxbury radioed dispatch that he needed an officer to come question [petitioner].

Officer Steve Beukelman responded to Duxbury's call. Beukelman asked [petitioner] if he had ever been to the Montes residence and [petitioner] responded he had not. After this denial, [petitioner] was placed under arrest and taken to the police station.

At trial, the prosecution and defense presented expert witnesses on the fingerprint evidence. Both experts agreed the fingerprints in exhibits 3 and 4 belonged to [petitioner]. The defense challenged the reliability of the fingerprint evidence based on differences in the quality of the prints, including striations and black marks in the fingerprint on exhibit 4 that did not appear in the fingerprint on exhibit 3, and differences in shading between the two prints. These differences caused the defense expert to question whether the prints had actually been taken from the same surface.

Donna Mambretti, the prosecution's fingerprint expert, testified that based on the clarity of the two prints she believed they were taken from a smooth surface. She opined the lines on exhibit 4 could have come from fractures in the glass and the spots from anything damp, such as oil or grease, on the surface from which the fingerprint was taken.

Angelo Rienti, the defense fingerprint expert, challenged whether both of these exhibits came from the same glass surface. He opined exhibit 4 came from either a very dirty smooth surface or a rough surface. He disagreed with Mambretti's opinion as to the potential causes of the striations, explaining that scratches or fractures in the glass or a contaminated brush would have caused black lines, not white lines as found in this print. Rienti found Mambretti's conclusions on this point unreasonable. Rienti agreed with Mambretti's conclusions that the spots could have been caused by dried water spots, grease spots, or moisture that appeared on the glass and dried.

Exhibit 4 was also a darker shade than exhibit 3. Mambretti explained this difference could have been caused by the application of more powder to exhibit 4 than to exhibit 3. Rienti disagreed and opined that Mambretti's opinion was not reasonable. (People v. York, slip op. at 2-4.)


I. Standards for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

A writ of habeas corpus is available under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 only on the basis of some transgression of federal law binding on the state courts. See Peltier v. Wright, 15 F.3d 860, 861 (9th Cir. 1994); Middleton v. Cupp, 768 F.2d 1083, 1085 (9th Cir. 1985) (citation omitted). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000); Middleton, 768 F.2d at 1085. Habeas corpus cannot be used to try state issues de novo. Milton v. Wainwright, 407 U.S. 371, 377 (1972).

This action is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997); Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1067 (9th Cir. 2003). Section 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting habeas corpus relief:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). See also Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792-93 (2001); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000); Lockhart v. Terhune, 250 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2001).

Under section 2254(d)(1), a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established United States Supreme Court precedents if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at different result. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7 (2002) (citation omitted).

Under the "unreasonable application" clause of section 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. 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." Id. at 412; see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (it is "not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a 'firm conviction' that the state court was 'erroneous.'")

The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). Where, as here, the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to determine whether habeas corpus relief is available under section 2254(d). Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003); Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 982 (9th Cir. 2000) ("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."); accord Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002). When it is clear that a state court has not reached the merits of a petitioner's claim, or has ...

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