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Reginald Leroy Byrd v. Raul Lopez

July 30, 2012



Petitioner, a state prisoner, proceeds pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his 2008 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon in the Sacramento County Superior Court, case number 07F04200, on grounds of sufficiency of the evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel.


The California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, summarized the facts underlying the challenged conviction in this case. Petitioner is the defendant referred to herein:

On April 27, 2007, [Trung Chi] Tran and [Biec Thi] Duong were on their newspaper route in an apartment complex. Tran let Duong out of their Toyota Corona so she could deliver papers there. He then pulled the car into a space in the parking lot and got out to deliver papers himself. Tran left the keys in the ignition and the engine running.

After making his delivery, Tran saw defendant sitting in the driver's seat of the Corona with the door closed. Fearing that his car would be taken, Tran jumped onto the hood, grabbed the windshield wipers with both hands, and yelled at defendant in Vietnamese to get out of the car. Defendant responded by backing the car up a short distance, then turning and driving forward with Tran still on the hood clutching the windshield wipers. Defendant drove approximately 20 miles per hour and began zigzagging back and forth, causing Tran's body to move from side to side. Tran felt that he could not hold onto the wipers anymore and, fearing injury, he let go and rolled off the hood. He hit the ground, injuring his face and scratching his wrist and leg, causing some light bleeding. His whole body was sore for approximately a week following the incident.

Two days later, police officers saw defendant and another person in the stolen Corona. They detained him when he got out of the car. The keys to the car were in his front pocket. Tran identified defendant with "100 percent" certainty.

Defendant initially admitted being at the crime scene, but told officers that "a white guy took the car and he drove it." When an officer questioned the truthfulness of the statement, defendant admitted that he took the car and heard Tran say, "Hey, hey, hey." But defendant insisted Tran never jumped on the hood. At that point, no one had said anything to defendant about the victim being on the hood of the car.

At trial, Duong testified she saw her husband lying across the hood of the car, hanging onto the windshield wipers. At first, the car was not moving. However, it backed up and moved forward with Tran still on the hood yelling "get out." The car zigzagged back and forth until Tran rolled off the hood and fell onto the ground. As the car drove off, Duong rushed over to her husband, who had suffered minor injuries to his leg and his face.

Defendant testified that he was a cocaine addict. Remembering little else about the details of the incident, he said that, after smoking "four or five times the normal dosage" of cocaine, he saw the Toyota Corona and got in, knowing it was not his car. It was not until after he got into the car, backed up, shifted into drive, and began to drive forward that he saw Tran on the hood of the car. Defendant claimed to have been in a "state of shock" and "high on drugs" and said he did not stop the car because he was "scared." He tried to get away, driving with Tran on the hood of the car. Because he was "so high that morning," he did not remember much of what happened and did not recall having any conscious thought of trying to get Tran off the hood of the car. He did not recall zigzagging as he drove, and first realized that Tran was no longer on the hood only when defendant finally stopped at a stop sign down the road. Stating he was concerned that Tran may have been injured falling off the car, defendant admitted that he did not stop to check on Tran. Defendant kept the car until officers arrested him two days later.

Defense expert Beth Hirsch, a drug and alcohol counselor, testified regarding the effects of long-term cocaine use. She opined that long-term drug users have "very diminished" cognitive abilities, and the thought process of a person who uses cocaine on a daily basis is "distorted," causing the person to react without thinking. Based on her interview of defendant, Hirsch opined that he was addicted to cocaine.

People v. Byrd, No. C059585, (Cal. Ct. App. 3rd Dist. July 22, 2009); Lodged Document ("LD") 4 at 2-4.

A jury convicted petitioner of assault with a deadly weapon (the challenged conviction) as well as unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. It was further found for sentence enhancement purposes that he had prior convictions within the meaning of California's habitual criminals or "three strikes" law (see Cal. Penal Code §§ 667(b)-(I), 11.70.12), and prior convictions for which he had served periods of incarceration (see Cal. Penal Code §§ 667(a), 667.5(b)). The court imposed an aggregate prison term of nineteen years. Clerk's Transcript ("CT") at 310.

On direct review, the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, affirmed the convictions and sentence in an unpublished opinion. LD 4. The California Supreme Court denied a petition for review. LD 6, 7. Petitioner sought habeas corpus relief in state court where relief was likewise denied at all levels. LD 8-13.

ANALYSIS I. Standards for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

Federal habeas corpus relief is not available 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 presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Under section 2254(d)(1), a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established United States Supreme Court precedents if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at different result. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7 (2002) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000)).

Under the "unreasonable application" clause of section 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. A federal habeas court "may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 412; see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (it ...

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