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Kenneth Adrian Fuller v. Rick Hill

June 13, 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 a negotiated plea of no contest to attempted second degree commercial burglary. In exchange for the plea, petitioner received a promise of a sentence not to exceed eights months to be served concurrently with another case.

Petitioner raises two claims in the instant petition: 1) counsel was ineffective with respect to the plea; and 2) he did not receive concurrent time credits that were promised as part of his plea. 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).

"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 that the court adopts below.

At 12:15 a.m. on March 17, 2008, Officer Robert Reynolds of the Vallejo Police Department arrived at the Cemmco Machine Shop at 1640 Marine World Parkway in response to a report of "banging" noises and voices inside an adjacent large commercial warehouse building that contained machine equipment. Officer Reynolds "set up a perimeter" on the premises with the assistance of other officers. [Petitioner] and another man named "Mason" were then observed "jumping over the back fence of the business," and were taken into custody. Officer Reynolds checked the warehouse building and discovered that the door knob and lock to the main entrance door had been "broken off," and a large pry bar was on the ground nearby. Mason, who is [petitioner's] nephew, was interviewed by Officer Reynolds. He admitted that he and [petitioner] arrived together in the parking lot next door in a white pickup truck. Mason also stated that "times were tough" and he "was doing what he needed to do." He declined to further implicate [petitioner]. [Petitioner] was charged with a single count of attempted second degree commercial burglary (Pen.Code, §§ 664/459). On August 6, 2008, he moved to act as his own counsel (Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806). The motion was denied without prejudice on August 26, 2008, on the ground that [petitioner] was not present in court in Solano County--he was then incarcerated in Sonoma County on another case (FCR237612). After [petitioner] was transferred to Solano County pursuant to a removal order, he was given a Faretta waiver form on October 28, 2008, in the event he decided to represent himself. [Petitioner] continued to be represented by a deputy conflict public defender at the preliminary hearing on October 15, 2008, and thereafter. We have no record before us that the Faretta motion was pursued by [petitioner].

On November 3, 2008, following admonitions given by his counsel, [petitioner] entered a negotiated plea of no contest to attempted second degree commercial burglary, in exchange for the promise of a sentence not to exceed the lower term of eight months to be served concurrently with the sentence in the pending Sonoma County case, with full credit for time served. He was also found in violation of probation in the other case; his probation was revoked and reinstated. Although still represented by counsel, [petitioner], acting in pro per, filed a motion to set aside his plea on November 10, 2008. [Petitioner] asserted the following grounds in support of the motion: he was denied effective assistance of counsel; he was not informed of the parole consequences of the plea; and, the plea was entered under "duress" due to lengthy negotiations during which he was forced to wear "chains all day."

At the sentencing hearing on November 12, 2008, [petitioner's] motion to withdraw his plea was not pursued or mentioned. [Petitioner] was denied probation, sentenced to the lower term of eight months, and granted sentence credits in the total amount of 242 day --which was in excess of the sentence. A $200 restitution fine was imposed, along with a $200 parole revocation fine which was stayed pending successful completion of parole. The motion to withdraw the plea was subsequently found moot. The present appeal was filed on December 2, 2008.

People v. Fuller, 2009 WL 2031706.

IV. Argument & Analysis

Claim 1--Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Petitioner argues that counsel for his plea was ineffective.

Legal Standard In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052 (1984), the Supreme Court held that there are two components to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim: "deficient performance" and "prejudice." The Strickland test applies to ineffective assistance of counsel claims relating from the plea process. See Turner v. Calderon, 281 F.3d 851, 879 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57-58, 106 S.Ct. 366, (1985))

"Deficient performance" in this context means unreasonable representation falling below professional norms prevailing at the time of trial. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688-89. To show "deficient performance," petitioner must overcome a "strong presumption" that his lawyer "rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment." Id. at 690. Further, petitioner "must identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment." Id. The Court must then "determine whether, in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside the range of professionally competent assistance." Id. The Supreme Court in Strickland recognized that "it is all too easy for a court, examining counsel's defense after it has proved unsuccessful, to conclude that a particular act or omission of counsel was unreasonable." Id. at 689. Accordingly, to overturn the strong presumption of adequate assistance, petitioner must demonstrate that "the challenged action cannot reasonably be considered sound trial strategy under the circumstances of the case." Lord v. Wood, 184 F.3d 1083, 1085 (9th Cir. 1999). In the context of a guilty plea, "the ineffectiveness inquiry probes whether the alleged ineffective assistance impinged on the defendant's ability to enter an intelligent, knowing and voluntary plea of guilty." See Lambert v. Blodgett, 393 F.3d 942, 979 (9th Cir. 2004).

To meet his burden of showing the distinctive kind of "prejudice" required by Strickland, petitioner must affirmatively "show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694; see also Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 372, 113 S.Ct. 838 (1993) (noting that the "prejudice" component "focuses on the question whether counsel's deficient performance renders the result of the trial unreliable or the proceeding fundamentally unfair"). In the context of a guilty plea challenge, in order to satisfy the Strickland prejudice requirement, the defendant must show there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial. Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 58-59, 106 S.Ct. 366 (1985); United States v. Howard, 381 F.3d 873, 882 (9th Cir.2004) ("To satisfy Strickland's prejudice prong, [a defendant] must allege that but for counsel's errors, he would either have gone to trial or received a better plea bargain.").

The Supreme Court has recently emphasized the importance of giving deference to trial counsel's decisions, especially in the AEDPA context:

To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction must show that 'counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.' [Strickland, supra,] 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a 'strong presumption' that counsel's representation was within the 'wide range' of reasonable professional assistance. Id., at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052. The challenger's burden is to show 'that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.' Id., at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052.

With respect to prejudice, a challenger must demonstrate 'a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.' Id., at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052. It is not enough 'to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding.' Id., at 693, 104 S.Ct. 2052. Counsel's errors must be 'so serious' as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.' Id., at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052. 'Surmounting Strickland's high bar is never an easy task.' Padilla

v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. ----, ----, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 1485, 176 L.Ed.2d 284 (2010). An ineffective-assistance claim can function as a way to escape rules of waiver and forfeiture and raise issues not presented at trial, and so the Strickland standard must be applied with scrupulous care, lest 'intrusive post-trial inquiry' threaten the integrity of the very adversary process the right to counsel is meant to serve. Strickland, 466 U.S., at 689-690, 104 S.Ct. 2052. Even under de novo review, the standard for judging counsel's representation is a most deferential one. Unlike a later reviewing court, the attorney observed the relevant proceedings, knew of materials outside the record, and interacted with the client, with opposing counsel, and with the judge. It is 'all too tempting' to 'second-guess counsel's assistance after conviction or adverse sentence.' Id., at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052; see also Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 702, 122 S.Ct. 1843 (2002); Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 372, 113 S.Ct. 838 (1993). The question is whether an attorney's representation amounted to incompetence under 'prevailing professional norms,' not whether it deviated from best practices or most common custom. Strickland, 466 U.S., at 690, 104 S.Ct. 2052.

Establishing that a state court's application of Strickland was unreasonable under § 2254(d) is all the more difficult. The standards created by Strickland and § 2254(d) are both "highly deferential," id., at 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052; Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7, 117 S.Ct. 2059 (1997), and when the two apply in tandem, review is "doubly" so, Knowles, 556 U.S., at ----, 129 S.Ct. at 1420. The Strickland standard is a general one, so the range of reasonable applications is substantial. 556 U.S., at ----, 129 S.Ct. at 1420. Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness under Strickland with unreasonableness under § 2254(d). When § 2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel's actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland's deferential standard.

Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 787-788 (U.S. 2011); see also Premo v. Moore, 131 S.Ct. 733 (U.S. 2011) (discussing AEDPA review of ineffective assistance of counsel claim where petitioner alleges that counsel was ineffective at the plea bargain stage).


This claim was brought in a state habeas petition and summarily denied by the California Supreme Court. If a state court denies constitutional claims without an explicated decision, a federal court reviewing a habeas corpus application pursuant to § 2254(a) "ha[s] no basis other than the record for knowing whether the state court correctly identified the governing legal principle or was extending the principle into a new context." Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 981-82 (9th Cir. 2000). "While Supreme Court precedent is the only authority that is controlling under AEDPA, we look to Ninth Circuit case law as 'persuasive authority for purposes of determining whether a particular state court decision is an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court law.' " Luna v. Cambra, 306 F.3d 954, 960 (9th Cir. 2002). Thus, pursuant to Delgado, the Court must conduct an independent review of the record to determine whether the state court's decision was objectively unreasonable. In Delgado, the Ninth Circuit held that, "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 ...

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