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Harvey Knight v. John W. Haviland

August 10, 2011


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


Harvey Knight, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Knight is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the California State Prison, Solano. Respondent has answered, and Knight has replied.


Knight was convicted following a jury trial in the Los Angeles County Superior Court of three counts of Attempted Murder (Cal. Penal Code §§ 187(a), 664); three counts of Assault with a Firearm (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(2)), one count of Attempted Robbery (Cal. Penal Code §§ 211, 664), and one count of Robbery in the First Degree (Cal. Penal Code § 211), together with five enhancements for the use of a firearm (Cal. Penal Code § 12022.5) and five enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code § 12022.7). In April 1989 the trial court sentenced Knight to an indeterminate prison term of life with the possibility of parole, plus five years. Knight does not challenge his conviction or sentence in this proceeding.

In November 2007 Knight appeared for his fifth parole suitability hearing before the California Board of Parole Hearings ("Board). The Board, after finding Knight was not suitable for parole and would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety if released from prison, denied Knight parole for a period of two years. Knight timely filed a petition for habeas relief in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, which denied his petition in an unreported, reasoned decision. Knight's subsequent petition for habeas relief was summarily denied by the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, without opinion or citation to authority. The California Supreme Court summarily denied Knight's subsequent petition for habeas relief without opinion or citation to authority on December 23, 2008. Knight timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on January 28, 2009.

Because the facts underlying Knight's conviction are well known to the parties and are unnecessary to a determination of the issues presented in Knight's Petition, they are not repeated here.


In his Petition, Knight raises three grounds: (1) the Board's unsuitability factors are unconstitutional; (2) the Board's decision to extend his term for an additional two years extends Knight's prison term beyond the maximum release date for the offenses for which he was convicted; and (3) the decision of the Board that he currently posed an unreasonable risk of danger to society was unsupported by relevant, reliable evidence. Respondent asserts no affirmative defense.*fn1


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."*fn2 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."*fn3 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.*fn4 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.'"*fn5 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.*fn6 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.*fn7 "[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.'"*fn8 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.*fn9 Knight has the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he merits habeas relief.*fn10

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn11 State appellate court decisions that summarily affirm a lower court's opinion without explanation are presumed to have adopted the reasoning of the lower court.*fn12 This Court gives the presumed decision of the state court the same AEDPA deference that it would give a reasoned decision of the state 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 ...

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