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Corey Jerome Elder v. A. Hedgpeth

September 2, 2011

COREY JEROME ELDER, PETITIONER,
v.
A. HEDGPETH, WARDEN, SALINAS VALLEY STATE PRISON, RESPONDENT.



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

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner, Corey Jerome Elder, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Elder is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections, incarcerated at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Salinas, California. Respondent has filed an Answer, and Elder has filed a Traverse.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In March of 2005, a Solano County jury found Elder guilty of simple assault, hit and run without injury, driving the wrong way on a divided highway causing injury, and evading a police officer causing injury. The trial court sentenced defendant to a total prison term of 46 years to life. The facts are well known to the parties and are not repeated here, except to the extent necessary to inform the discussion.

On October 12, 2007, the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, affirmed Elder's conviction in a reasoned, unpublished decision.*fn1 The Court of Appeal then remanded the case to the trial court to re-sentence Elder; he was re-sentenced to 46 years in prison.

After his re-sentencing, Elder filed a habeas corpus petition in the California Supreme Court, which denied the petition on November 19, 2009. On January 4, 2010, Elder timely filed his Petition for Habeas Corpus in this Court. In his Petition, Elder raises seven grounds for relief:

1. Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel;

2. The guilty verdict as to counts three and four was not supported by the evidence;

3. Evidence was insufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to motive;

4. The trial court erred in declining to instruct the jury on self-defense in violation of Elder's rights under the due process clause, the right to a trial by jury and the confrontation clause;

5. Ineffective assistance of trial counsel;

6. The prosecution knowingly used perjured testimony to obtain a conviction; and,

7. The trial court erred by denying Elder's motion for a new trial.

Respondent does not contend that Elder's petition is untimely or that any of his claims are procedurally barred.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the outcome.*fn9 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.*fn10

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.*fn11

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn12 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.*fn13 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.*fn14

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.*fn15 This is considered as the functional equivalent of the appeal process.*fn16 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.*fn17 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn18

A state court is not required to give reasons before its decision can be deemed to be "adjudicated on the merits."*fn19 When there is no reasoned state court decision denying an issue presented to the state, "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."*fn20

"The presumption may be overcome when there is reason to think that some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely."*fn21 Where the presumption applies, this Court must perform an independent review of the record to ascertain whether the state court decision was objectively unreasonable.*fn22 In so doing, because it is not clear that it did not so do, the Court presumes that the state court decision rested on federal grounds,*fn23 giving the presumed decision the same deference as a reasoned decision.*fn24 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. ...


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