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Robert Scott Paig v. James Yates

September 25, 2012


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


Robert Scott Paig, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Paig is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the Pleasant Valley State Prison. Respondent has answered, and Paig has replied. In his reply Paig requests an evidentiary hearing.


An El Dorado County Superior Court jury found Paig guilty of continuing sexual abuse (Cal. Penal Code § 288.5) and committing a lewd and lascivious act against a child (Cal. Penal Code § 288(a)). The jury also found multiple victims were involved and that Paig had two prior felony convictions. On June 7, 2007, the trial court sentenced Paig to an indeterminate prison term of 100 years to life. The California Court of Appeal affirmed Paig's conviction and sentence in an unpublished decision,*fn1 and the California Supreme Court denied review on December 10, 2008. On January 4, 2010, Paig filed a petition for habeas relief in the El Dorado Superior Court, which was denied in an unreported, reasoned decision on April 5, 2010. On May 11, 2010, Paig filed a petition for habeas relief in the California Court of Appeal, which was summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority "on the merits" on June 17, 2010. On July 26, 2010, Paig filed a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court, which was summarily denied on February 16, 2011, citing People v. Duvall, 886 P.2d 1252, 1258 (Cal. 1995), and In re Swain, 209 P.2d 793, 795-96 (Cal. 1949). Paig timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on February 22, 2011.

The California Court of Appeal summarized the factual basis for Paig's conviction as follows:


[Paig] sexually abused his girlfriend's young daughter, M.M., when she was in grade school. On numerous occasions, [Paig] touched M.M.'s chest and buttocks, pressed his penis against her, and penetrated her vagina with his penis. [Paig] threatened to leave M.M.'s mother, or kill M.M. and her mother, if M.M. reported this conduct.

[Paig] also once molested K.B., a friend of M.M.'s, when she slept over at M.M.'s house.

[Paig] was charged with the continuous sexual abuse of M.M. and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct committed on K.B. He was also charged with having prior convictions for rape and sodomy. (§§ 667.61, subd. (c); 667.71; 667, subd. (b)-(i), 1203.0666, subd. (a)(5).)

At trial, M.M. testified about the abuse inflicted by [Paig], describing several of these incidents with particularity. K.B. testified that when she spent the night at M.M.'s house, [Paig] rubbed her back and then put his fingers in her vagina.

As discussed later in this opinion, evidence of other uncharged sex offenses was also introduced. [Paig's] daughter, J.P., testified that [Paig] had touched her vagina on several occasions when she was in grade school. The victim of [Paig's] charged prior offenses described the rape and sodomy that [Paig] had committed.

[Paig] challenged the witnesses' credibility, pointed out the lack of corroborating evidence, and argued that he was being framed by the victims and their mothers.*fn2


Paig raises a single ground-ineffective assistance of counsel-presenting a veritable laundry list of alleged errors that he contends constituted a systematic failure, contending that:

(1) counsel informed Paig of his intent not to represent him adequately; (2) counsel failed to use exculpatory evidence to impeach a prosecution witness ("JP"); (3) counsel failed to effectively cross-examine one of the prosecution's witnesses ("JP"); (4) counsel failed to effectively cross-examine the prosecution's expert; (5) counsel failed to effectively cross-examine a second prosecution witness ("KJ"); (6) and (7) counsel's closing summation was inadequate; (8) counsel failed to introduce exculpatory physical evidence; (9) counsel failed to call investigating officers who searched Paig's home; (10) trial counsel was generally unprepared; and (11) trial counsel did not prepare Paig to testify. Respondent contends that Paig's claims are unexhausted or, alternatively, procedurally barred.


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.

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court.*fn12 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.*fn13 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.*fn14

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.*fn15

This is considered as the functional equivalent of the appeal process.*fn16 Under AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn17 This presumption applies to state-trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn18

A state court is not required to give reasons before its decision can be deemed to be "adjudicated on the merits."*fn19 When there is no reasoned state-court decision denying an issue presented to the state, "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."*fn20

"The presumption may be overcome when there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely."*fn21 Where the presumption applies, this Court must perform an independent review of the record to ascertain whether the state-court decision was "objectively unreasonable."*fn22 In conducting an independent review of the record, this Court presumes that the relevant state-court decision rested on federal grounds,*fn23 giving that presumed decision the same deference as a reasoned decision.*fn24 The scope of this review is for clear error of the state court ruling on the petition:

[A]lthough we cannot undertake our review by analyzing the basis for the state court's decision, we can view it through the "objectively reasonable" lens ground by Williams . . . . Federal habeas review is not de novo when the state court does not supply reasoning for its decision, but an independent review of the record is required to determine whether the state court clearly erred in its application of controlling federal law. Only by that examination may we determine whether the state court's decision was objectively reasonable.*fn25

"[A]lthough we independently review the record, we still defer to the state court's ultimate decision."*fn26


A. Evidentiary Hearing

In his reply to the answer Paig requests this Court hold an evidentiary hearing. Ordinarily, a federal habeas proceeding is decided on the complete state-court record and a federal evidentiary hearing is required only if the trier of fact in the state proceeding has not developed the relevant facts after a full hearing.*fn27 In this case, Paig did not request an evidentiary hearing in the state courts. Thus, it cannot be said on the record that the state courts precluded him from developing the factual basis for his claim.*fn28 It does not appear from the record that the California courts made any independent evidentiary findings, and Paig has not identified any factual conflict that would require this Court to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve. The request for an evidentiary hearing will be denied.

B. Procedural Bar

As noted above, Respondent contends that, as an alternative to his failure to exhaust defense, Paig's claims are procedurally barred. The Court disagrees. Federal courts "will not review a question of federal law decided by a state court if the decision of that court rests on a state law ground that is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment."*fn29 This Court may not reach the merits of procedurally defaulted claims, that is, claims "in which the petitioner failed to follow applicable state procedural rules in raising the claims . . . ."*fn30 Procedural default does not preclude federal habeas review unless the last state court rendering judgment in a case, clearly and expressly states that its judgment rests on a state procedural bar.*fn31 While it is true that the El Dorado Superior Court relied upon the procedural bar that Paig's habeas petition was untimely, the California Supreme Court, the last state court to render a judgment, by citing Swain/Duvall, did not.*fn32 Consequently, Paig is not procedurally barred from bringing his Petition for relief in this Court.

C. Exhaustion

Respondent contends that Paig has not exhausted his available state-court remedies. This Court may not consider claims that have not been fairly presented to the state courts.*fn33 A citation to Swain is an indication that the ...

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