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Nahu Rodriquez v. Gary Swarthout

February 9, 2012


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


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


Following his conviction upon the entry of a guilty plea to one count of attempted murder under California Penal Code §§ 664/187 with enhancements for the use of a firearm under California Penal Code §§ 12022d and 12022.7, in March 1996 Rodriquez was sentenced in the Stanislaus County Superior Court to a prison term of life with the possibility of parole plus four years. Rodriquez does not challenge his conviction and sentence in this proceedings.

In October 2008 Rodriquez was charged in a Rules Violation Report ("RVR") of possession of contraband, specifically a cell phone and charger in violation of prison regulations.*fn1

After a hearing before a Senior Hearing Officer ("SHO"), Rodriquez was found guilty and assessed as thirty-day loss of good-time credits. Upon completion of the administrative appeals process,*fn2 Rodriquez timely filed a petition for habeas relief in the Solano County Court, which denied Rodriquez's petition in an unreported, reasoned decision. The California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, summarily denied Rodriquez's habeas petition, citing Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445 (1985), and In re Zepeda, 47 Cal. Rptr. 3d 172 (2006). Rodriquez's subsequent petition to the California Supreme Court was summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority on February 24, 2010. Rodriquez timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on May 17, 2010.

The facts underlying Rodriquez's conviction, as stated in the RVR:

On 10-29-06, at approximately 2315 hours, while conducting my duties as Facility IV S & E, as directed by Facility IV Sergeant Stubbs, I conducted a search of Inmate Rodriquez (K00152), bed area 21-0-5L. I found a Metro PCS Cellphone with a charger. The cellphone and charger was discovered on the corner of 21-0-5L bunk against the wall.*fn3


In his Petition, Rodriquez raises a single ground: that the finding that the cell phone was his is not supported by any evidence. Respondent raises no affirmative defense.*fn4


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."*fn5 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."*fn6 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.*fn7 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.'"*fn8 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."*fn9 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.*fn10 "[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.'"*fn11 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.*fn12 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.*fn13

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.*fn14

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court.*fn15 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.*fn16 This Court gives the presumed decision of the state court the ...

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