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Clarence Henry Dixon v. James A. Yates

March 24, 2011


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


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


Police responded to a call of a residential burglary in progress at a duplex. Finding a broken window and a bent screen on the ground beneath it, officers entered the duplex. Once inside, they discovered a large hole (approximately three feet high and 15 inches wide) in a common wall between the duplexes. They announced their presence, received no answer and climbed through to the other side of the duplex. The room was in disarray, with several items including a computer and a toy rifle piled on the bed. The door to a nearby bathroom was closed and locked. They again announced their presence, but received no response. When officers kicked the door in, defendant, who was sitting on the commode with his pants down, said "I give up." He had sheetrock dust on his hands and clothing.*fn1


On August 25, 2006, Dixon was convicted by a jury of two counts of residential burglary and sentenced to a prison term of 15 years, 8 months.

Dixon appealed his sentence to the California Court of Appeal, which affirmed his sentence and the judgment in a reasoned, unpublished decision.*fn2 Dixon then filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court, which was denied in March 2008.*fn3

In December 2006 Dixon filed a petition for habeas corpus in the San Joaquin County Superior Court which was denied in February 2007.*fn4 In January 2007 he filed a petition for habeas corpus in the California Court of Appeal, which was denied two days later.*fn5 Over the next year and a half Dixon filed three additional petitions for habeas corpus in the San Joaquin County Superior Court, all of which were denied.*fn6

In February 2009 Dixon filed the present petition in this Court, raising one ground for relief: the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by failing to conduct a proper Marsden hearing.*fn7 Respondent acknowledges that Dixon's ground has been properly exhausted and does not raise a procedural bar.


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."*fn8 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."*fn9 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.*fn10 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.'"*fn11 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.*fn12 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.*fn13 "[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.'"*fn14 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.*fn15 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.*fn16

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn17 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.*fn18 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn19

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.*fn20 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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