The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge
Timmy O'Neil Charity, a California state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Charity is presently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, under an Interstate Compact Agreement between California and Delaware. In his Petition, Charity challenges the July 2008 decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings ("Board") denying him parole. Respondent has answered, and Charity has replied.
II. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
In May 1981, following the entry of a guilty plea, Charity was convicted in the San Diego County Superior Court of one count of Murder in the Second Degree (Cal. Penal Code § 187).
The trial court sentenced Charity to an indeterminate prison term of 15 years to life. Charity does not challenge his conviction or sentence in this proceeding.
On July 17, 2008, Charity appeared for a parole-suitability hearing before the Board. The Board denied Charity parole for a period of two years. Charity timely filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the San Diego County Superior Court, denied his petition in an unreported, reasoned decision. Charity's subsequent petition for habeas relief to the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, which denied his petition in an unreported, reasoned decision. Charity's subsequent petition for habeas relief to the California Supreme Court was summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority on August 26, 2009. Charity timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on June 26, 2009, and his Amended Petition on August 7, 2009.
II. GROUNDS RAISED/DEFENSES
In his Petition, Charity raises a single ground: the Board's decision denying him denial parole was unsupported by the evidence. Respondent, conceding that the Petition is timely and that Charity has exhausted his state-court remedies, does not assert any affirmative defense.*fn2
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."*fn3 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."*fn4 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.*fn5
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.'"*fn6 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.*fn7 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.*fn8 "[A]bsent a specific constitutional
violation, federal habeas corpus review of [state-court] error is
limited to whether the error 'so
infected the trial with unfairness as to make the [result] a denial of
due process.'"*fn9 In a federal habeas proceeding, the
standard under which this Court must assess the prejudicial impact of
constitutional error in a state-court criminal proceeding is whether
the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in
determining the outcome.*fn10 Because state court
judgments in criminal proceedings 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.*fn11
In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn12 State appellate court decisions that affirm a lower court's opinion without explanation are presumed to have adopted the reasoning of the lower court.*fn13 Under California's unique habeas procedure, a defendant who is denied habeas relief in the superior court files a new original petition for relief in the court of appeal. If denied relief by the court of appeal, the defendant has the option of either filing a new original petition for habeas relief or a petition for review of the court of appeal's denial in the California Supreme Court.*fn14 This is considered as the functional equivalent of the appeal process.*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
After briefing in this case was completed, the United States Supreme Court decided Swarthout v. Cooke.*fn18 This Court must decide the case on the law as it exists at the time this Court renders its decision and, if controlling law changes while the case is pending, this Court applies the law as changed.*fn19 Thus, Cooke forecloses Charity's arguments vis-a-vis California's "some evidence" rule.
Generally, when a higher court issues new controlling authority after briefing is complete, this Court requests further briefing from the parties addressing the new authority. The Supreme Court decision in Cooke as applied to this case is so clear that further briefing would unduly prolong this case without any possibility of changing the result. The Supreme Court has limited review to the procedures followed by the board and the governor, and defined with care what it meant by the applicable procedures. No longer may this Court consider ...