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Clyde William Thigpen v. Terri L. Gonzalez

September 18, 2012

CLYDE WILLIAM THIGPEN, PETITIONER,
v.
TERRI L. GONZALEZ, WARDEN, CALIFORNIA MEN'S COLONY, EAST, RESPONDENT.



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

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Clyde William Thigpen, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Williams is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the California Men's Colony, East. Respondent has answered, and Thigpen has replied.

I. BACKGROUND

Thigpen was convicted by a jury of two counts of aggravated assault (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1)). In January 2008 the Sacramento County Superior Court found that Thigpen had two prior strikes and sentenced him to an aggregate, indeterminate prison term of thirty-five years to life. Thigpen timely appealed to the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, which affirmed his conviction and sentence in an unpublished decision,*fn1 and the California Supreme Court denied review on March 12, 2010. Thigpen filed a petition for habeas relief in the Sacramento County Superior Court on April 26, 2010, which was denied in an unreported reasoned decision on May 25, 2010. Thigpen's subsequent petition for habeas relief in the California Supreme Court was summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority on February 2, 2011. Thigpen timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on April 29, 2011.

Because the facts underlying Thigpen's conviction are not germane to the issues raised in Thigpen's Petition, they need not be recited herein.

II. ISSUES RAISED/DEFENSES

Thigpen raises three issues in his Petition: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel (failure to investigate Thigpen's mental health history); (2) prosecutorial misconduct (misstatement of burden of proof); and (3) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel (failure to raise issue of ineffective assistance of trial counsel). Respondent does not assert any affirmative defenses.*fn2

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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."*fn3 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."*fn4 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.*fn5 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.'"*fn6 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."*fn7 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.*fn8 "[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.'"*fn9

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.*fn10 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.*fn11

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.*fn12

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court.*fn13 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.*fn14 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.*fn15

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.*fn16

This is considered the functional equivalent of the appeals process.*fn17

IV. DISCUSSION

For clarity and to avoid the unnecessary repetition the Court will address first Thigpen's second ground (prosecutorial misconduct) followed by his two ...


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