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Vincent Joseph Montero v. Kathy Mendoza-Powers

December 6, 2010


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


I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner*fn2 proceeding without counsel with an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on October 19, 2009, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Dkt. No. 32.) Petitioner challenges his 2006 conviction for possession of methamphetamine for sale (a violation of California Health and Safety Code section 11378), based on his claim that an instruction to the jury omitted essential elements of the charged offense. Petitioner was sentenced to twelve years in state prison on April 7, 2006, based on the conviction and the court's finding that petitioner's prior conviction allegations were true.

After careful consideration of the record, the undersigned recommends that the petition be denied.

II. Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act

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 (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 405. "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.

Id. at 407-08. It is this prong of the AEDPA standard of review which directs deference 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." Id. at 410-11 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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.

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).

When reviewing a state court's summary denial of a claim, the court "looks through" the summary disposition to the last reasoned decision. Shackleford v. Hubbard, 234 F.3d 1072, 1079 n.2 (9th Cir. 2000).

III. Factual Background

The opinion of the California Court of Appeal on direct appeal, certified for partial publication, is the last reasoned decision to address petitioner's claim. The opinion also contains a factual summary of the circumstances of petitioner's arrest and the charges against him. After independently reviewing the record, the court finds this summary to be accurate and adopts it herein.


Sacramento County sheriff's deputies conducted a parole search of a residence and a detached garage on the property. The residence did not belong to defendant. The door to the garage was slightly opened, and officers could see a large male behind the door. They opened the door and saw two other males in the garage, one of whom was defendant standing toward the rear of the building. The officers directed the men to come out of the garage and get on the ground.

Detective Stephen Buccellato took control of defendant. Buccellato determined defendant was on parole, and he performed a parole search on him. The detective found a small Ziploc bag, about one-inch square, containing .99 grams of crystal methamphetamine in defendant's pocket. He found other identical-sized empty Ziploc bags on defendant. Buccellato also found $483 in cash on defendant, consisting of one $100 bill, 15 $20 bills, three $10 bills, eight five-dollar bills and 13 one-dollar bills.

Inside defendant's wallet, Buccellato found a "pay/owe sheet," 1-1/2 inches square, with the writing, "August 22nd of 005 $40 Jr," "August 23rd," followed by illegible writing, and a dollar sign with no other notation. He found 11 similarly sized blanks sheets of paper on defendant. He also found an ATM card and a bank slip bearing defendant's name and showing a $2,800 disbursement. Buccellato read defendant his rights. Inside the garage, deputies found drugs and drug paraphernalia. Searching in the rear of the garage where defendant was first seen, deputies located a cigarette pack containing three baggies of methamphetamine weighing

1.16, 1.28 and .13 grams, packaged in the same type of small Ziploc bags found on defendant. The cigarette pack and its contents were found near a cellular telephone defendant said was his. In the same area as the cigarette pack and the phone, deputies found a baggie containing two small Ziploc bags of methamphetamine, weighing .14 grams each, and a piece of yellow lined paper with the notation "$20" followed by some writing.

Also near the cigarette pack, deputies found another small Ziploc bag containing a price tag and residue of apparent methamphetamine. They also found a larger green package of methamphetamine weighing 3.14 grams, a methamphetamine smoking pipe, an electronic scale, and a second, nondigital scale.

In other locations in the garage, deputies found a small bag of methamphetamine weighing .11 grams, and two packages of methamphetamine weighing 3.10 grams and 2.92 grams.

Detective Sean Berry again informed defendant of his rights. Defendant told Berry that the drugs in his pockets belonged to him but the drugs in the garage did not. He said he used drugs but he did not sell them. Defendant said he had used methamphetamine that morning.

The prosecution's expert witness testified that in his opinion, based on the totality of the evidence, the methamphetamine found in defendant's pocket ...

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