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William Erik Monroe v. D. G. Adams

February 1, 2011


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


Petitioner, William Monroe, a state petitioner proceeding pro se, has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Monroe is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections, incarcerated at the California State Prison, Corcoran in Corcoran, California. Respondent has filed an answer and Monroe has filed a traverse.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS*fn1 On the evening of July 13, 2002, a robbery occurred at Laronda Lauderdale's apartment on Porter Street in Vallejo. Lauderdale was at home with Devante, her 11-year-old son, and James, the 13-year-old son of her roommate and cousin Shawana Ward. At about 10:30 p.m., a man claiming to be "John" or "Johnny" knocked on the door. Believing it to be his uncle, James unlocked the door before Lauderdale could stop him. The man pushed into the room, bared a handgun, and asked if Shawana Ward was there. Learning she was not in the apartment, the man ordered Lauderdale and the two boys onto the ground in Lauderdale's room. The robber called James back into the living room and tied his hands with a fan extension cord. He then did the same to Devante using the cord to the boys' Playstation. He also pulled James's headband down over his eyes because James was "looking too much." Lauderdale pleaded for the man not to hurt the children. The robber said he would not; it was not about them, it was about Ward-she "owe[d] people money."

Thereupon, the robber placed a gun to Lauderdale's head, told her he "just wanted the money," and ordered her into Ward's room to find it. From the living room, James called out that there was money in his mother's make-up case. Lauderdale found $600 there, but the robber demanded more and threatened to start shooting people. To get him out of the apartment, Lauderdale gave him an additional $300 from her own coat pocket. As he was departing, the robber told James to "[t]ell Shawana I'm going to kill her." Lauderdale immediately ran to a neighbor's house and called the police.

Officer Kyle Wylie, who responded to the call, testified that all three occupants were very upset. The victims did not know the robber, but during the 10 to 12 minutes he was in the apartment they noted he had a gold tooth, a small beard, and very small freckles on his face. James, who had managed to wiggle the headband from his eyes, thought he had "seen him somewhere before."

Two or three weeks later, while at his aunt's home in Vallejo, James saw [Monroe] on the street. James immediately recognized him as the man who had robbed them and quickly reported the discovery to Lauderdale. A week later, Lauderdale was at James's aunt's house to pick him up. James again saw [Monroe] and this time pointed him out to Lauderdale. She agreed he was the robber. Lauderdale and James subsequently identified [Monroe] through independent police line-ups and at trial. James noted the freckles around [Monroe's] nose and the small beard. Also, [Monroe] has three gold teeth, one of which is prominently visible when he speaks. Both James and Lauderdale expressed "[n]o doubt whatsoever" that [Monroe] was the robber.

Following arrest, [Monroe] made several statements to the Vallejo Police Department. The first came during transport by Officer Nathan Ketchum. After repeated inquiries from [Monroe] as to why he had been arrested, Officer Ketchum informed him that it was for robbery. [Monroe] blurted out, "Oh, that happened several months ago." Subsequently, [Monroe] made a detailed (if contradictory) statement to Vallejo Police Detective Lee Horton. [Monroe] initially claimed to have been at his wife Latasha's house on July 13, but later admitted having been at the Porter Street apartments. FN2. According to [Monroe's] statements, he had gone to see "John" at another apartment in the Porter Street complex. Also known as "Little" or "Froggy," John was Shawana Ward's boyfriend. [Monroe] had dated Ward in the past and knew that Ward was having problems with John. [Monroe] did not know Lauderdale.

FN2. [Monroe] claimed he had been first at a birthday party for his daughter with a former wife in South San Francisco. However, his daughter's birthday was July 12, and he could not remember exactly what day the party had been.

According to appellant, John had sold [Monroe] bad crack cocaine, and [Monroe] wanted a refund of $1,000 to $1,200. At first, [Monroe] claimed John had gone upstairs alone, returning with $600. Then, [Monroe] admitted he had accompanied John inside the apartment "to get the money." Detective Horton obtained [Monroe's] description of the apartment: it had two bedrooms, a sliding door in the back, a kitchen to the right and the living room next to it, and beige carpeting. The description was consistent with police pictures of the apartment. [Monroe] denied having seen children in the apartment, but recalled a "dark-complected, chunky black female" there; Officer Horton described Lauderdale as "a heavy-set African-American female." [Monroe] claimed he had not brought a gun, saying he did not need one because he was on good terms with John. However, [Monroe] also said he had been about to fight John at one point. Detective Horton felt it was unusual to attempt to collect on a bad drug deal without bringing a gun. Finally, [Monroe] admitted having received six $100 bills from the apartment. [Monroe] concluded the interview by saying that everything he had just said "was a lie."

PROCEDURAL HISTORY/BACKGROUND A jury found Monroe guilty of: residential robbery in the first degree; two counts of false imprisonment by violence accompanied by personal firearm use, and; one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. The jury also found that Monroe had suffered four prior prison terms and one prior strike conviction for a robbery. Monroe was sentenced to thirty-one years, four months in state prison.

Monroe timely appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeals, Second Division, which affirmed his conviction in a reasoned, unreported decision on May 24, 2006. Monroe did not seek review of this decision in the California Supreme Court.

On February 26, 2007, Monroe filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Solano County Superior Court, which was denied on April 13, 2007, in a written decision.*fn2 On April 30, 2007, Monroe filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Court of Appeal, which was summarily denied on July 6, 2007.*fn3 On July 13, 2007, Monroe filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which was summarily denied on September 25, 2007.*fn4

On March 12, 2008, Monroe filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court. In his petition Monroe raises five grounds for relief: the trial court erred by denying his motion for a new trial; there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction; he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel; he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, and; his sentence was improper.

Respondent contends that Monroe's sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim and his claim that his sentence was improper are procedurally barred. Respondent does not assert that any of Monroe's claims are unexhausted.


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 State appellate court decisions that affirm a lower court's opinion without explanation are presumed to have adopted the reasoning of the lower court.*fn15

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.*fn16 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn17

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.*fn18 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. ...

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