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Steven Adams v. D. K. Sisto

September 28, 2011

STEVEN ADAMS, PETITIONER,
v.
D. K. SISTO, WARDEN, CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON, SOLANO, RESPONDENT.



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

MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER [Re: Motion at Docket No. 20]

Steven Adams, a state prisoner appearing through counsel, filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Adams is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the California State Prison, Solano. Respondent has answered, and Adams has replied. In his Petition Adams also requests discovery. At Docket No. 20 Adams filed a request that this Court set a briefing schedule to address the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Swarthout v. Cooke. *fn1

I. BACKGROUND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Following a jury trial, Adams was convicted in October 1986 in the Siskiyou County Superior Court of Murder in the Second Degree (Cal. Penal Code § 187), with a use of firearm enhancement (Cal. Penal Code § 12202.5). The trial court sentenced Adams to an indeterminate prison term of 17 years to life. Adams does not challenge his conviction or sentence in this proceeding.

In May 2006 Adams made his sixth appearance before the Board of Parole Hearings ("Board"), which found him suitable for parole. In October 2006 the Governor reversed the decision of the Board. Adams filed a petition for habeas relief in Siskiyou County Superior Court, which denied his petition in a reasoned decision. The California Court of Appeal summarily denied Adams's petition for relief without opinion or citation to authority, and the California Supreme Court took similar action on February 13, 2008. Adams, appearing through counsel, timely filed his Petition in this Court on March 31, 2008.

II. GROUNDS RAISED/DEFENSES

In his Petition, Adams raises four enumerated grounds: (1) the Governor's decision is unsupport by any evidence; (2) there is no nexus between the reasons stated by the Governor and public safety; (3) denial of parole based upon the unchanging factors of the crime violates due process; and (4) the change in the law giving the Governor veto power over decisions of the Board violates the Ex Post Facto Clause. Respondent raises no affirmative defense.*fn2

III. 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."*fn3 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."*fn4 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.*fn5 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.'"*fn6 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."*fn7 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.*fn8 "[A]bsent a specific constitutional violation, federal habeas 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.'"*fn9 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.*fn10 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.*fn11

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.*fn12

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court.*fn13 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.*fn14 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.*fn15

Under California's unique habeas procedure, a prisoner 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.*fn16

This is considered as the functional equivalent of the appeal process.*fn17 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.*fn18 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn19

To the extent that Adams raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding.*fn20 A petitioner "may not, however, transform a state-law issue into a federal one merely by asserting a violation of due process."*fn21 "[The Supreme Court has] long recognized that a mere error of state law is not a denial of due process."*fn22 "[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.'"*fn23 Additionally, "Federal courts hold no supervisory authority over state judicial proceedings and may intervene only to correct wrongs of constitutional dimension."*fn24

A state court is not required to give reasons before its decision can be deemed to be "adjudicated on the merits."*fn25 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."*fn26 "The presumption may be overcome when there is reason to think that some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely."*fn27 Where the presumption applies, this Court must "perform an 'independent review of the record' to ascertain whether the state court decision was objectively unreasonable."*fn28 In conducting this independent review of the record, the Court presumes that the state-court decision rested on federal grounds,*fn29 giving the presumed decision the same deference as a reasoned decision.*fn30 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. Only by that examination may we determine whether the state court's decision was objectively reasonable.*fn31

"[A]lthough we independently review the record, we still defer to the state court's ultimate decision."*fn32

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Request for ...


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