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Crossan D. Hoover, Jr v. J. W. Haviland

August 26, 2011


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


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


Hoover is serving an indeterminate prison term of 25 years to life following his November 1984 conviction of Murder in the First Degree (Cal. Penal Code § 187) in the Marin County Superior Court. Hoover does not challenge his conviction or sentence in this proceeding.

Hoover was charged in a Rules Violation Report ("RVR") of having a cell phone in his possession in violation of prison regulations.*fn1 After a hearing before a Senior Hearing Officer ("SHO") in November 2007, Hoover was found guilty and assessed a penalty of the loss of 60 days of good time credit and a reduction in privileges for a period of 90 days. The Warden denied Hoover's Second Level Appeal, and Hoover's Director's Level Appeal was denied on July 21, 2008.*fn2 After he had exhausted his state administrative remedies, Hoover timely filed a petition for habeas relief in the Solano County Superior Court, which denied the petition in an unreported, reasoned decision. The California Court of Appeal summarily denied Hoover's petition for habeas relief to that court without explanation or citation to authority. The California Supreme Court also summarily denied Hoover's petition for habeas relief to that court on March 12, 2009. Hoover timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on July 1, 2009.

The facts underlying Hoover's conviction as recited in the RVR: On 11-23-07, at approximately 2000 hours, while conducting my duties as a Facility III, S & R Officer, I conducted a search of Inmate Hoover (C-95838, 14X4L). During my search I found (1) one LG Metro PCS cellphone and charger.

The cellphone and charger were found in (1) one false bottom can. The can stated, "Manco Pride Meatballs." It should be noted that the cellphone and its container were located underneath Inmate Hoover's bunk inside a box. I asked Inmate Hoover if the property was his and he stated, "yes, that's my stuff." I placed the evidence in Locker #24 and marked the cellphone as follows: R.F. 11-23-07 and Inmate Hoover's CDC#.*fn3 Based upon the RVR, the SHO found that the preponderance of the evidence established that Hoover did, in fact, possess a cellphone and charger as reported and charged.*fn4


In his Petition, Hoover asserts that his due process rights were violated in connection with the disciplinary hearing in that: (1) he was denied the right to call witnesses on his behalf; and (2) his conviction was unsupported by sufficient evidence.*fn5 Hoover has also requested an evidentiary hearing and the appointment of counsel. Respondent contends: (1) that this case is not cognizable under § 2254, but must be brought as a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and, (2) that Hoover has no liberty interest at stake. Respondent does not raise any affirmative defense.*fn6


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."*fn7 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."*fn8 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.*fn9 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.'"*fn10 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.*fn11 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.*fn12 "[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.'"*fn13 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.*fn14 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.*fn15

The Supreme Court recently underscored the magnitude of the deference required: As amended by AEDPA, § 2254(d) stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings. Cf. Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 664, 116 S.Ct. 2333, 135 L.Ed.2d 827 (1996) (discussing AEDPA's "modified res judicata rule" under § 2244). It preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this Court's precedents. It goes no farther. Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a "guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems," not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332, n. 5, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) (Stevens,

J., concurring in judgment). As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.*fn16

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn17 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.*fn18 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.*fn19

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.*fn20

This is considered as the functional equivalent of the appeal process.*fn21 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.*fn22 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn23


A. Evidentiary Hearing/Appointment of Counsel

Hoover has requested that this Court hold an evidentiary hearing and the appointment of counsel. Ordinarily, a federal habeas proceeding is decided on the complete state-court record and a federal evidentiary hearing is required only if the trier of fact in the state proceeding has not developed the relevant facts after a full hearing.*fn24 The Supreme Court made clear in Pinholster that "review under [28 U.S.C.] § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits."*fn25

Although under Pinholster an evidentiary hearing in a federal habeas proceeding is not absolutely precluded, Pinholster also made clear that the discretion to grant a request for an evidentiary hearing is cabined by § 2254(e)(2),*fn26 which provides:

If the applicant has failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court proceedings, the court shall not hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim unless the applicant shows that-

(A) the claim relies on-

(i) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that ...

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