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Virgil Louis Ratliff v. M. Martel

August 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court


On August 11, 2010, Petitioner Virgil Louis Ratliff ("Petitioner"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) On October 31, 2011, Respondent filed his answer to the petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. No. 70.) On April 17, 2012, the magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation to deny the petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. No. 111.) On July 5, 2012, Petitioner filed several letters in support of his petition. (Doc Nos. 128, 130.) On July 12, 2012, Petitioner filed a traverse. (Doc. No. 132.) For the following reasons, the Court denies the petition for writ of habeas corpus, adopts the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, and denies Petitioner's request for a certificate of appealability.


On November 19, 2007, Petitioner was charged with two counts of residential burglary and two counts of resisting arrest. (Lodgment No. 10 at 1-2.) The trial court granted Petitioner's request to represent himself at trial after inquiry and findings that he was making a voluntary, intelligent, and understanding waiver of his right to counsel. (Lodgment No. 10 at 5-6.)

The Court highlights certain facts discussed by the California Court of Appeal in its opinion:

Police responded to at least three calls reporting a prowler at the mobile park that evening: from Jackson at 10:15 p.m., from Duran at 10:45 p.m., and one from another resident, Fran Mowers, at 12:45 a.m. An officer responding to the last call heard voices from a previously searched area and saw Ratliff running out from an area of parked recreational vehicles. The officer identified himself and shouted at Ratliff to stop, but Ratliff ignored the commands and continued to run. Eventually, the officer cornered Ratliff, who put up his fists like a boxer and took a swing at that officer. When the officers finally grabbed him and took him to the ground, Ratliff violently struggled and kicked one of the officers, ignoring commands to put his hands behind his back. Ratliff did not have any loot or property with him.

Ratliff testified in his defense. According to him, that evening he was looking for his wife; he had been told by his probation officer she might be kidnapped or in his mother's trailer in El Cajon and so he knocked on doors asking people if they had seen her. He denied trying to steal anything or hurt anyone. He denied trying to hit the police or swing at the officers. He also denied entering anyone's mobile home except his mother's, which he had entered through an open window. Ratliff stated he climbed the ladder to get a better view of the trailers or the street in search of his wife, admitting he had borrowed it without asking. On cross-examination, Ratliff denied that in late September 2007, his wife had gotten restraining and eviction orders against him and had sheriffs physically remove him from their apartment. He claimed the entire incident was a "conspiracy." . . .

[W]itnesses identified Ratliff as the only person who entered the mobile homes, and he did so at a late hour without knocking, annoucing his presence or giving any reasonable explanation to the occupants. Ratliff had no acquaintance with the occupants and had no reason to be in their homes. He fled when approached by the homeowners and police. (Lodgment No. 3, slip op. at 4 & 10, People v. Ratliff, No. D053441 (Cal. Ct. App.).)

The jury rejected Petitioner's defense and convicted Petitioner of residential burglary, felony resisting arrest, and misdemeanor resisting arrest. (Lodgment No. 3, slip op. at 2-4.) Following the jury's verdict, the trial court sentenced Petitioner a thirty-three-year prison term consisting of twenty-five years to life on count 1, concurrent twenty-five-years-to-life terms on counts 2 and 3, and three consecutive years for the prison prior offense, and five consecutive years for the serious felony prior offense. (Lodgment No. 3, slip op, at 2.) On November 4, 2008, Petitioner appealed his conviction to the California Court of Appeal, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his burglary conviction. (Lodgment No. 1.) The California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment on July 8, 2009. (Lodgment No. 3, slip op. at 2-4.) The Court accepts the state court's factual findings as accurate. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). On September 23, 2009, the California Supreme Court denied a petition for review. (Lodgment No. 5.)

On August 11, 2010, Petitioner filed this federal petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. No. 1) On September 21, 2010, Petitioner filed an unsuccessful habeas petition in California Superior Court. (Lodgment No. 7.) Petitioner then filed two, duplicative habeas petitions in the Court of Appeal, both of which were denied on procedural grounds. (Lodgment No. 8, 9.) On October 31, 2011, Respondent filed an answer to the federal petition. (Doc. No. 70.) On April 17, 2012, the magistrate judge filed a report and recommendation to deny the petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. No. 111.) On July 12, 2012, Petitioner filed his traverse. (Doc. No. 132.)


I. Legal Standard of Review

A district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). If a party objects to any portion of the report, the district court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made." Id.

A federal court may review a petition for writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to a state court judgment "only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." Id. § 2254(a); accord Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375 n.7 (2000). Habeas corpus is an "extraordinary remedy" available only to those "persons whom society has grievously wronged and for whom belated liberation is little enough compensation." Juan H. v. Allen, 408 F.3d 1262, 1270 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 633-34 (1993)). Because Petitioner filed this petition after April 24, 1996, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") governs the petition. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 327 (1997); Chein v. Shumsky, 373 F.3d 978, 983 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc). "By its terms § 2254(d) bars relitigation of any claim 'adjudicated on the merits' in state court, subject only to the exceptions in §§ 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2)." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 784 (2011). Indeed, "[w]hen a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, 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." Id. Federal habeas relief is available, but only if the result of a federal claim the state court adjudicated on the merits is "contrary to," or "an unreasonable application" of United States Supreme Court precedent, or else if the adjudication is "an unreasonable determination" based the facts and evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (d)(2).

A federal court may grant habeas relief under the "contrary to" clause of § 2254(d)(1) if a state court either (1) "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the United States Supreme Court's] cases" or (2) "confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the Court's] precedent." Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 405-06 (distinguishing the "contrary to" and the "unreasonable application" standards). "[R]review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S. Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011).

A federal court may grant habeas relief under the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1) if the state court "identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407. A federal court may also grant habeas relief "if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply." Id. The state court's "unreasonable application" of binding precedent must be objectively unreasonable to the extent that the state court decision is more than merely incorrect or erroneous. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003) (citation omitted); see Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003).

Additionally, even if a state court decision is contrary to United States Supreme Court precedent or rests on an unreasonable determination of facts in light of the evidence, the petitioner must show that such error caused substantial or injurious prejudice. Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 795 (2001) (quoting Brecht, 507 U.S. at 637-38); see Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 121-22 (2007); Bains v. Cambra, 204 F.3d 964, 977 (9th Cir. 2000). AEDPA creates a highly deferential standard towards ...

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