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Michael Jones v. Matthew Cate

April 4, 2011


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


Petitioner, Michael Jones, a state petitioner proceeding pro se, has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Jones has been released on parole but remains in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for the duration of his parole. Respondent has filed an answer, and Jones has filed a traverse.


The criminal charges and subsequent conviction arose out of the accusations of three women, Elisa P., Sharon G., Anne E., who claimed that Jones either raped or sexually assaulted them while they were asleep. On September 11, 2003, following a jury trial, Jones was convicted of three counts of rape of an unconscious person (Pen.Code, § 261, subd. (a)(4)), and one count each of attempted rape of an unconscious person (§§ 261, subd. (a)(4), 664), assault with intent to commit rape (§ 220), sexual battery (§ 243.4, subd. (e)(1)), and false imprisonment (§§ 236, 237, subd. (a)). Jones was sentenced to state prison for 11 years and to jail for two concurrent terms of 180 days.

Jones appealed the judgment to the California Court of Appeal, Third District, which rejected his appeal in a reasoned, unpublished decision on September 7, 2005.*fn2 Jones then filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court (Case: S138051), and the Court denied review on November 30, 2005.

On February 14, 2007, Jones filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus (Case: HCCR 07-005) in the Yolo County Superior Court, raising three claims: 1) the trial court erred in failing to instruct on the defense of mistake of fact; 2) CALJIC No. 10.02 is confusing and trial court erred in failing to clarify it, and; 3) the trial court erred in failing to instruct on the defendant's honest and reasonable belief that victim consented.

On March 17, 2007, Jones supplemented his petition and added three more claims: 4) the prosecutor committed Brady error by failing to disclose the results of the victim's toxicology test; 5) prosecutorial misconduct, and; 6) ineffective assistance of trial counsel. On April 18, 2007, the court denied the petition. Jones then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on May 29, 2007, in the Third Appellate District Court of Appeal (Case: C055792). In his petition, he made the same claims as in the petition and the supplement in case No. HCCR 07-005. The court denied the petition on June 14, 2007.

On July 2, 2007, Jones filed a second petition in the California Court of Appeal (Case: C056121) raising the same claims that he raised in case No. C055792. Apparently, the petition was an attempt to clarify and/or modify the claims raised in case no. C055792. The court denied this petition on July 12, 2007.

Jones then filed a petition for habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court (Case: S155943) alleging the same six claims he raised in the Yolo County Superior Court and on appeal. The Court denied the Petition on February 27, 2008.

On August 14, 2008, Jones filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus in this Court. In his Petition, Jones raises six claims for relief:

1. The prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) by not disclosing exculpatory documents to the defense;

2. California Penal Code § 261(a)(4) is vague;

3. California Jury Instruction--Criminal No. 10.02 is ambiguous;

4. The trial court erred by not instructing on a mistake of fact defense;

5. The prosecutor committed misconduct; and,

6. Jones' trial counsel was ineffective.

Jones also claims he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing to resolve these grounds. Respondent concedes that all of Jones' claims have been properly exhausted in the state courts; however, Respondent asserts that all of Jones' claims, with the exception of claim numbers two and six, are procedurally barred on adequate an independent state grounds.


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 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.'"*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 trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the outcome.*fn10 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.*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

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 presume 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 In so doing, because it is not clear that it did not so do, the Court presumes that the state court decided the claim on the merits and the decision rested on federal grounds, giving the presumed decision the same deference as a reasoned decision.*fn19 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. Only by that examination may we determine whether the state court's decision was objectively reasonable.*fn20

"[A]lthough we independently review the record, we still defer to the state court's ultimate decision."*fn21


Because the Respondent has claimed that grounds 1, 3, 4, and 5 are procedurally barred, this Court will address that issue first. This Court will then discuss the remaining claims on the merits and, finally, will ...

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