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Lydell Ivan Buie v. Bobby Phillips

August 15, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

Petitioner, currently incarcerated at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his 2008 conviction in Sacramento County Superior Court. Both parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned for all purposes. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Petitioner raises three grounds for habeas relief: the trial court allegedly abused its discretion in denying petitioner's request for confidential juror information; a juror might have withheld material information during voir dire; and the trial court's denial of petitioner's request for identifying information on this juror allegedly violated petitioner's due process rights. After careful review of the record, this court concludes that the petition is denied.

II. Procedural History

Petitioner was sentenced to seven years in state prison for his 2008 conviction on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, resulting in great bodily injury. (Respondent's Lodged Document ("LD") 9 at 229-30.) Petitioner filed a timely appeal in the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District. On May 4, 2009, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in a reasoned decision. (Dkt. No. 14-1.)

On June 22, 2009, petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court. (LD 4.) The California Supreme Court denied the petition on July 29, 2009. (LD 5.)

On October 7, 2010, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. (Dkt. No. 1.) On October 13, 2010, the petition was transferred to the Eastern District. (Dkt. No. 3.) Because grounds 4 and 5 were unexhausted, grounds 4 and 5 were dismissed, and respondent was directed to respond to grounds 1-3. (Dkt. No. 10.)

III. Facts*fn1

The opinion of the California Court of Appeal contains a factual summary of petitioner's offenses:

In March 2007, [petitioner] and his girlfriend left a Sacramento bar after she got into an altercation with another woman. As they left, the other woman ran after them and the two women fought. As two other women tried to intervene, [petitioner] pushed one down and began kicking the woman on the ground. When men from the bar tried to intervene, [petitioner] stabbed two with a knife, inflicting serious injuries. [Petitioner] fled, but was found hiding in a trash can. [Petitioner] did not testify, but argued self-defense and defense of another. (People v. Buie, slip op. at 2.)

IV. Standards for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

Federal habeas corpus relief is not available for any claim decided on the merits in state court proceedings unless the state court's adjudication of the claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Under section 2254(d)(1), a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established United States Supreme Court precedents if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at different result. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7 (2002) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)).

Under the "unreasonable application" clause of section 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. 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." Id. at 412; see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (it is "not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a 'firm conviction' that the state court was 'erroneous.'") (internal citations omitted). "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011).

The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Avila v. Galaza, 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002). If there is no reasoned decision, "and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784-85. That presumption may be overcome by a showing that "there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Id. at 785 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)).

Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, the federal court conducts an independent review of the record. "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). Where no reasoned decision is available, the habeas petitioner has the burden of "showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784. "[A] habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, . . . could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of this Court." Id. at 786.

V. Petitioner's Claims

All of petitioner's grounds relate to petitioner's efforts to obtain information concerning a juror, who served as the foreperson on petitioner's jury, and who petitioner alleges should have been dismissed based on petitioner's belief that the juror knew one of the victims. The Court of Appeal provided the following background information:

Before sentencing, the defense moved for access to juror information, alleging the foreperson had concealed the fact that she knew V.H., one of the victims.

The motion was supported by an excerpt of voir dire, in which the foreperson stated she worked at the bar in question when she was 21, approximately "20 years ago," but that she was not familiar with the potential witnesses and would not be biased for or against either side. V.H. had been listed as a potential witness. The motion was also supported by an excerpt of V.H.'s trial testimony, in which he testified the bar had been in his family since 1982 and that he had worked there in different capacities. The defense theory was that if the juror worked at the bar in 1987, 20 years before the voir dire, and if it was owned by V.H.'s family since 1982, the juror must have known him.

The People opposed the motion, in part pointing out that because

V.H. was 11 years old in 1982, it was unlikely he spent much time at the bar when the juror worked there.

The trial court denied the motion, finding there was no evidence the juror made any misrepresentation, there was no showing the alleged juror misconduct was of the type likely to have influenced the verdicts, and that defense counsel had failed to show she made diligent efforts to contact jurors through other means. (People v. Buie, slip op. at 2-3.)

The court will address petitioner's first and third grounds, and then will address ...

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