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Scott v. Walker

February 2, 2011


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


I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his 2008 conviction, while already incarcerated, for assault and carrying a sharp instrument as a prison inmate. It was found that petitioner had two prior serious convictions and he was sentenced to twenty-five years to life as a three strikes offender. This action is proceeding on the original petition filed May 5, 2010, raising one claim that the trial court used two strikes from a prior single criminal act which was improper and in violation of double jeopardy.

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).

Under § 2254(d), a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, as here, could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of this Court.


As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Harrington v. Richter,__U.S.__, __S.Ct.__, 2011 WL 148587 (2011)

"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 California Court of Appeal set forth the following factual summary and background in a published opinion that the court adopts below.

In 1998, [petitioner] was convicted of robbery (Pen.Code, § 211) FN1 and carjacking (§ 215, subd. (a)) arising out of the same facts. Both of those convictions are alleged as prior strikes in the instant case, and [petitioner] contends one of them must be stricken.

FN1. Undesignated statutory references are to the Penal Code.

In People v. Burgos (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1209, 12 Cal.Rptr.3d 566 (Burgos), Division Two of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, discussed this issue. We find the holding in Burgos difficult to discern. It can reasonably be read to state that in such cases one strike must be stricken, or that the connection between the two strikes is but one factor a trial court must consider in conducting a traditional Romero analysis (People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497, 53 Cal.Rptr.2d 789, 917 P.2d 628).

By applying the definition of a "strike" as provided by the three strikes law, and by closely hewing to People v. Benson (1998) 18 Cal.4th 24, 74 Cal.Rptr.2d 294, 954 P.2d 557 (Benson), we conclude that in such cases, the trial court is not compelled to strike a strike, but must consider the closeness of the two strikes as an additional circumstance in conducting a Romero analysis. Because the trial court in this case did so, we shall affirm the judgment.


On November 8, 2005, several inmates at New Folsom Prison, including [petitioner], attacked another inmate, and a sharp object was found in [petitioner's] pocket. [Petitioner] was charged with assault with a deadly weapon on an inmate by a non-life prisoner (§ 4501) and possession of a sharp instrument by a prison inmate (§ 4502, subd. (a)).

[Petitioner] made a pretrial Romero motion, arguing that his 1998 robbery and carjacking strikes arose out of his single act of robbing the victim of his car, and it was unfair to treat that one act as two strikes. The People's opposition argued the trial court could strike a strike if, and only if, [petitioner] fell outside the spirit of the three strikes law. The People's opposition also recited [petitioner's] criminal history, including a juvenile record of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, and an adult record including a prior in-prison stabbing (§ 4501), and many sustained discipline cases in prison, several involving violence.

The People's opposition to the [petitioner's] motion described the facts of the strikes as follows: "On July 03, 1997, ... the victim ... was carjacked at gunpoint. He reported to Los Angeles Police officers that he had been confronted by two males in a dark green Volkswagen Bug. [Petitioner] ... approached him and pointed a rifle at him. [The victim] exited the vehicle and allowed [petitioner] to ...

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