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David Griffin v. G. D. Lewis

October 10, 2012


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


David Griffin, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Griffin is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison. Respondent has answered, and Griffin has replied.


Griffin was convicted by a jury in the Sacramento County Superior Court of one count of attempted murder (Cal. Penal Code §§ 187(a), 664) and one count of robbery (Cal. Penal Code § 211), with a finding that in committing those offenses, a principal was armed with a firearm (Cal. Penal Code § 12022(a)(1)).*fn1 In July 2009 the trial court sentenced Griffin concurrently in connection with his conviction in another case to a consolidated, aggregate prison term of nineteen years and eight months. The California Court of Appeal affirmed Griffin's conviction and sentence in an unpublished decision,*fn2 and the California Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on March 16, 2011. Griffin timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on May 4, 2011.

Because the facts underlying Griffin's conviction are not germane to the issues raised in his Petition, they are not repeated here.


Griffin raises three grounds: (1) the trial court violated Batson-Wheeler;*fn3 (2) the trial court erred in dismissing a seated juror for cause; and (3) the trial court erred in admitting evidence that Griffin was at the apartment of a co-defendant's girlfriend at the time of a probation search. Respondent does not assert any affirmative defenses.


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."*fn4 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."*fn5 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.*fn6 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.'"*fn7 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."*fn8 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.*fn9 "[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.'"*fn10 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.*fn11 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.*fn12

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.*fn13

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court.*fn14 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.*fn15 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.*fn16


Ground 1: Batson-Wheeler Error During jury selection, the prosecutor peremptorily excused seven prospective jurors, of which two were Hispanic, one was African-American, and one juror was either Asian or Pacific- Islander. Griffin contends that in ruling on his Batson-Wheeler motion the trial court failed to employ the proper procedure. Specifically, Griffin's argument is that: (1) the Court of Appeal did not make a prima facie showing of group bias, i.e., "people of color"; (2) the trial court improperly provided the race-neutral reasons instead of requiring the prosecutor to provide an explanation of a legitimate reason for excusing the jurors; and (3) the trial court failed to make a neutral determination of the believability of the prosecutor. The California Court of Appeal held: During jury selection, counsel for Griffin, joined by counsel for co-defendant Tyler, made a motion pursuant to People v. Wheeler, supra, 22 Cal.3d 258, 148 Cal. Rptr. 890, 583 P.2d 748 and Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 [90 L.Ed.2d 69], claiming the prosecutor had used peremptory challenges in a discriminatory manner.

The trial court denied the motion. On appeal, Griffin contends that the trial court violated his federal due process rights because it failed to follow the mandated procedure for responding to Wheeler motions. The contention is without merit because the trial court acted properly.

A. Wheeler/Batson "'A prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to strike prospective jurors on

the basis of group bias-that is, bias against "members of an identifiable group distinguished on racial, religious, ethnic, or similar grounds"-violates the right of a criminal defendant to trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community under article I, section 16 of the California Constitution. [Citations.] Such a practice also violates the defendant's right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Citations.]' [Citation .]" (People v. Hutchins (2007) 147 Cal. App.4th 992, 996, 55 Cal. Rptr. 3d 105.)

"In a recent decision, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed that Batson states the procedure and standard to be employed by trial courts when challenges such as defendant's are made. 'First, the defendant must make out a prima facie case "by showing that the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose." [Citations.] Second, once the defendant has made out a prima facie case, the "burden shifts to the State to explain adequately the racial exclusion" by offering permissible race-neutral justifications for the strikes. [Citations.] Third, "[i]f a raceneutral explanation is tendered, the trial court must then decide . . . whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful racial discrimination." [Citation.]' [Citation.]" (People v. Cornwell (2005) 37 Cal.4th 50, 66--67, 33 Cal. Rptr.3d 1, 117 P.3d 622, disapproved on another ground in People v. Doolin (2009) 45 Cal.4th 390, 421, fn. 22, 87 Cal. Rptr. 3d 209, 198 P.3d 11.)

"The three-step Batson analysis, however, is not so mechanical that the trial court must proceed through each discrete step in ritual fashion." (People v. Adanandus (2007) 157 Cal. App.4th 496, 500, 69 Cal. Rptr. 3d 25.) "[W]here the "'trial court denies a Wheeler motion without finding a prima facie case of group bias the reviewing court considers the entire record of voir dire. [Citations.] As with other findings of fact, we examine the record for evidence to support the trial court's ruling. Because Wheeler motions call upon trial judges' personal observations, we view their rulings with "considerable deference" on appeal. [Citations.] If the record "suggests grounds upon which the prosecutor might reasonably have challenged" the jurors in question, we affirm.'"' [Citation.]" (Id. at p. 501, 148 Cal. Rptr. 890, 583 P.2d 748.)

B . Proceedings

During jury selection, Griffin made a Wheeler motion. He asserted that four of the seven prospective jurors challenged by the prosecutor were "people of color." Prospective Juror Julyn Hicks was African-American. Prospective Juror Mikey Metz was either Asian or Pacific Islander. And Prospective Jurors Miguel Ramirez and Elisa Echeverria were Hispanic. Griffin's only argument in favor of the Wheeler motion was that these prospective jurors, who had been challenged by the prosecutor, were minorities.

The trial court discussed each of the four prospective jurors and made the following observations.

Concerning Prospective Juror Hicks: "Miss Hicks indicated she had some problem with the system. She had some problem with the courts. And that's enough of a basis-non-Wheeler basis for her to be excused. [¶] Wheeler is denied as to her."

Concerning Prospective Juror Metz: "It's not good Wheeler. The witness-I mean the juror stated that she has served on two juries that a decision wasn't reached and that's a non-racial or non-Wheeler basis for excusing the juror."

Concerning Prospective Juror Ramirez: "Mr. Ramirez indicated that he has had relatives that have been in trouble in and out of the system. Doesn't deal in other things. [Sic.] He had to about a few months ago. That plead guilty. [Sic.] District attorney despite him saying he doesn't have a problem with the People, that's a non-Wheeler basis for excusing him. [¶] Wheeler denied on that."

Concerning Prospective Juror Echeverria: "She says she was a Peace Corp. [sic ] person. When she was overseas she was robbed, hit in the head. And in fact [counsel for Richard] asked did she have any bad feelings about it. And I said you mean about-about being hit in the head . . . . [¶] . . . And she indicated that she didn't turn it into the law enforcement, she turned it into the Peace Corp [sic] and she had no hard feelings growing out of it. That's basically what she said."

The trial court asked the prosecutor to explain her reason for challenging Prospective Juror Echeverria, and the prosecutor replied that she was uncomfortable with the fact that the prospective juror was a victim of a similar crime and that, even though the prospective juror said she had no bad feelings about it, the prosecutor did not believe her. The trial court stated that the prosecutor's reason for challenging Prospective Juror Echeverria was valid.

After the trial court had denied the Wheeler motion in its entirety, the prosecutor added: "The Court in its ruling on the Wheelers have [sic ] mentioned non-race based reasons for dismissing jurors Miss Hicks and Mr. Ramirez. And just so the record is absolutely clear, the reasons ...

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