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Karl Joseph Russell v. Matthew Cate

November 7, 2012


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


On October 3, 2011, Petitioner Karl Joseph Russell ("Petitioner") filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) On November 18, 2011, Petitioner filed an amended petition. (Doc. No. 4.) On March 28, 2012 Respondent filed an Answer opposing habeas relief. (Doc. No. 17.) On July 12, 2012, Petitioner filed a Traverse. (Doc. No. 26.) On August 23, 2012, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the petition be denied. (Doc. No. 27.) Petitioner received an extension of time to file an objection to the Report and Recommendation by the October 22, 2012, but he has not done so. (Doc. No. 30.)


On June 25, 2011, Petitioner was convicted of first degree felony murder committed with a dangerous weapon. (Doc. No. 4.) The following facts come from the published California Court of Appeal opinion and are presumed correct pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The California Court of Appeal found that Petitioner had burglarized an unoccupied house in Oceanside in the early hours of September 5, 2006. People v. Russell, 187 Cal. App. 4th 981, 985 (2010).After being startled by a neighbor getting ready for work, Petitioner stolethe homeowner's car and fled the scene, leaving some personal property of his behind. Id. Approximately 15 minutes later, Petitioner saw a police car while stopped at a red light in Oceanside and sped away. Id. at 986. Petitioner led the officer on a high speed and erratic chase through the streets of Carlsbad. Id. While driving through a red light, Petitioner struck the side of a pick-up truck at a high speed, killing the driver, Rodrigo Vega. Id. He then got out of the car, threatened the pursuing officer, and ran away. Id. The Carlsbad police later found him hiding nearby.Id.Blood tests showed that Petitioner had a blood alcohol content of 0.12%. Id.

Petitioner testified in his own defense at his trial. Id. He testified that he and a friend committed the burglary after having a few drinks at a local bar. Id. He testified that after the burglary he dropped off his friend near the place the friend was residing, and then drove around looking for some other friends. Id. at 986-987. He claimed that he did not remember driving in the manner described by the police officer, and that he was just looking for a place to sleep. Id. at 987.

In June 2008, Petitioner was charged in a four-count information of murder with a dangerous weapon (Cal. Penal Code § 187(a)), causing serious bodily injury or death by evading an officer (Cal. Vehicle Code § 2800.3), residential burglary (Cal. Penal Code §§ 459, 460), and vehicle theft (Cal. Vehicle Code § 10851(a)). (Lodgment No. 1, Clerk's Transcript ("CT") at 00005-00007.) Petitioner waived his right to a jury trial, and was convicted of all charges. (Id. at 000152, 000164.) On December 18, 2011, Petitioner was sentenced to state prison for a term of twenty-six years to life, comprising twenty-five years to life for first degree murder plus one year for the use of a deadly weapon enhancement. (Id. at 000171.) Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence, arguing that the prosecution provided insufficient evidence to prove that he was guilty of first degree felony murder, and that his sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Russell, 187 Cal. App. 4th at 986-994. On August 23, 2010, the appellate court denied Petitioner's appeal and affirmed the trial court's judgment in a published opinion. Id. The California Supreme Court summarily denied review on December 6, 2010. (Lodgment 13.) Petitioner then filed the instant federal petition for writ of habeas corpus, raising the same two grounds for relief he presented to the state court. (Doc. No. 4.)


I. Standard of Review

A federal court reviews an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state courtonly on the ground that "he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") governs the review of the petition in this case. 28 U.S.C. 2254(d); Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 322-23 (1997). Section 2254(d) bars a federal court from relitigating any claim "adjudicated on the merits" in state court unless the result "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or "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)(1)-(2). "[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, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011). AEDPA imposes a "'highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings,' [requiring that] state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002), (quoting Lindh, 521 U.S. at 333 n.7).

Under § 2254(d)(1), a decision is "contrary to" clearly established precedents if it "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in our cases," or if it "confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from" a Supreme Court decision but reaches a different result. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002).Under § 2254(d)(2), a decision is "an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law"if the state court "correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407-08 (2000). The decision must be more than just "incorrect or erroneous;" it "must [be] objectively unreasonable." Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003). The petitioner must show that "'there was no reasonable basis' for the state high court's decision."Harrington v. Richter, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 770, 784 (2011). If there is not clearly established federal law on an issue, a state court cannot be said to have unreasonably applied the law as to that issue. See Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006); Holley v. Yarborough, 568 F.3d 1091, 1098 (9th Cir. 2009); Moses v. Payne, 555 F.3d 742, 753-754 (9th Cir. 2009). These standards are applied to "the last reasoned decision" by a state court on the merits of the federal constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner seeking relief from sentence. Campbell v. Rice, 408 F.3d 1166, 1170 (9th Cir. 2005).

II. Analysis

A. Ground One: Sufficiency of the Evidence to Support Conviction

In evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, "[t]he relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979); Juan H. v. Allen, 408 F.3d 1262, 1274 (9th Cir. 2005). In a federal habeas case, the Court must determine whether the Court of Appeal's decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of the Jackson standard. Juan H., 408 F.3d 1262. The last reasoned decision by the state court on these issues is the Court of Appeal's published opinion in People v. Russell, 187Cal. App. 4th 981 (2010).

In determining that sufficient evidence supported Petitioner's conviction, the California Court of Appeal used a state law standard identical to the Jackson standard; and its decision is not an unreasonable application of the standard to the facts of this case. Russell, 187 Cal. ...

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