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Dennis Lee Hamblin v. R.E. Barnes

March 9, 2012




Dennis Lee Hamblin, a state prisoner, proceeds pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Hamblin stands convicted of voluntary manslaughter and an accompanying firearm use enhancement pursuant to a guilty plea as part of a negotiated plea agreement in the Yuba County Superior court, case number F-03-000521. Hamblin claims he suffered an error of constitutional magnitude when the court imposed an upper term sentence for the firearm enhancement based on judicial fact finding.

The petition, answer, and Hamblin's traverse are before the court and the matter is submitted for decision. The sentencing claim is without merit. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the petition be denied.


The victim, Michael Martinez, and Hamblin were friends. Martinez nevertheless suspected that Hamblin had burglarized his apartment while Martinez was in jail. On August 14, 2003, between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m., an acquaintance drove Martinez to Hamblin's house. Martinez found Hamblin in a neighbor's garage and accused him of committing the burglary. Hamblin denied culpability. A heated argument ensued, after which Martinez left.

Later that night, Martinez and two other men returned to Hamblin's residence. As they drove past his house, Hamblin signaled for them to stop and instructed Martinez to get out of the car. Martinez got out of the car and approached Hamblin. Martinez reached for his pocket. Hamblin pulled out a semiautomatic firearm and shot Martinez several times, causing him to fall. Martinez got up and attempted to retreat to the car, but Hamblin continued to fire, delivering several more shots at close range including one to the head at point blank range. Martinez suffered twelve gunshot wounds, six of which were fatal.

Hamblin was charged by information with first degree murder and personal discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury or death. The matter proceeded to jury trial where Hamblin presented a defense that he believed that Martinez was armed and about to shoot him. An expert testified that individuals in traumatic situations, such as police officers, are often unaware of how many shots they fired in self-defense. The jury acquitted Hamblin of first degree murder but reached an impasse on lesser included offenses. The trial court declared a mistrial.

Hamblin subsequently pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter pursuant to a negotiated agreement and admitted the enhancement alleging personal use of a firearm. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of sixteen years in state prison, based on the middle term of six years for voluntary manslaughter plus an upper term enhancement of ten years for the use of a firearm.

Hamblin appealed to the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, case number C049026 where his conviction and sentence were affirmed. The California Supreme Court denied a petition for review. Hamblin sought habeas corpus relief in state court which was likewise denied. The parties agree that Hamblin exhausted state court remedies with respect to the claim presented.


An application for writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); see also Peltier v. Wright, 15 F.3d 860, 861 (9th Cir. 1993); Middleton v. Cupp, 768 F.2d 1083, 1085 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 119 (1982)). This petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed after the effective date of, and thus is subject to, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326 (1997); see also Weaver v. Thompson, 197 F.3d 359 (9th Cir. 1999). Under the AEDPA, federal habeas corpus relief is also precluded for any claim decided on the merits in state court proceedings unless the state court's adjudication of the claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence ...

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