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Elias R. Murillo v. Matthew Cate

December 12, 2011


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


Elias R. Murillo, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Murillo is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the La Palma Correctional Center, Elroy, Arizona. Respondent has answered, and Murillo has replied.


In July 2007 Murillo entered a guilty plea in two cases in the Sutter County Superior Court. In the first case, Murillo pled to Burglary in the Second Degree, Cal. Penal Code § 459, Attempted Murder, Cal. Penal Code § 664/187, and admitted that he inflicted great bodily injury on the victim, Cal. Penal Code § 12022.7. Murillo was sentenced to a stipulated, aggregate term of ten years, plus a $2,000 restitution fine, Cal. Penal Code § 1202.4, and a $2,000 parole revocation fine, Cal. Penal Code § 1202.45. At a subsequent hearing, Murillo was ordered to make direct restitution to the victim in the amount of $2,810.20. In the second case, Murillo pled no contest to Wilful Infliction of Corporal Injury (Spousal Abuse), Cal. Penal Code § 273.5(a).

The trial court sentenced Murillo to a three year prison term to be served concurrently with the ten-year term imposed in the first case. The trial court also imposed a $600 restitution fine, Cal. Penal Code § 1202.4, and a $600 parole revocation fine, Cal. Penal Code § 1202.45. At a subsequent hearing, the trial court ordered direct restitution to the victim in the amount of $2,924.97. The California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, affirmed the judgment in an unpublished decision on February 20, 2008.*fn1 The record does not reflect, nor does Murillo contend, that he sought further review in the California Supreme Court.

On May 21, 2008, Murillo filed a motion in the Sutter County Superior Court to reduce the restitution and fines to the minimum amount provided by law. The Sutter County Superior Court denied Murillo's motion, and the Court of Appeal, Third District, affirmed in an unpublished decision on March 16, 2009.*fn2 On November 16, 2008, while his appeal from the denial of his motion to reduce the restitution was still pending, Murillo filed a petition for habeas relief in the Sutter County Superior Court, which was denied in a form order. Murillo's subsequent petition for habeas relief in the Court of Appeal, Third District, was summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority. The California Supreme Court summarily denied Murillo's petition for habeas relief to that court without opinion or citation to authority on November 10, 2009. Murillo timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on January 11, 2010.

Because the facts underlying Murillo's plea are unnecessary to a determination of the issues raised in the Petition, they are not repeated here.


In his Petition, Murillo raises three grounds: (1) imposition of the restitution fine violated state law; (2) in the absence of evidence of Murillo's future earnings and financial obligations, and the victim's losses, the restitution order violated due process; and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to object to the restitution order. Respondent does not assert any affirmative defense.*fn3


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."*fn4 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."*fn5 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.*fn6 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.'"*fn7 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."*fn8 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.*fn9 "[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.'"*fn10 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.*fn11 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.*fn12

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.*fn13

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court.*fn14 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.*fn15 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.*fn16

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.*fn17

This is considered as the functional equivalent of the appeal process.*fn18 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.*fn19 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn20

To the extent that Murillo raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding.*fn21 It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the states possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law.*fn22 "[A] state court's interpretation of state law, including one announced on direct appeal of the challenged conviction, binds a federal court sitting in habeas corpus."*fn23 A federal court errs if it interprets a state legal doctrine in a manner that directly conflicts with the state supreme court's interpretation of the law.*fn24 A determination of state law by a state intermediate ...

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