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Huquinton Stevenson v. F. Chavez

November 20, 2012


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


Huquinton Stevenson, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Stevenson is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the Sierra Conservation Center. Respondent has answered. Stevenson has not replied.


A San Joaquin County jury found Stevenson guilty of Robbery (Cal. Penal Code § 211) and found that he personally inflicted great bodily injury in the commission of the crime (Cal. Penal Code § 12022.7). In a bifurcated trial, the San Joaquin County Superior Court found a prior prison term allegation true (Cal Penal Code § 667.5(b)). The trial court sentenced Stevenson to an aggregate prison term of seven years. The California Court of Appeal affirmed Stevenson's conviction and sentence in an unpublished decision,*fn1 and the California Supreme Court denied review on August 11, 2010. In September 2010 Stevenson filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the San Joaquin County Superior Court, which denied his petition in a reasoned decision on October 5, 2010. Stevenson timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on June 17, 2011, and his Amended Petition with leave of court on July 31, 2011. On August 30, 2011, Stevenson filed a petition for habeas relief in the California Supreme Court, which was summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority on January 25, 2012.*fn2

The California Court of Appeal summarized the evidence underlying Stevenson's conviction:

On the morning of January 6, 2009, M.R. was returning to her car after picking up some items at a market on the corner of Center and El Dorado in Stockton. She was carrying two bags in her arms. Her purse was hanging over her shoulder and she held the strap with her fingers. She placed the two bags in the back seat and closed the door. When she opened the front door and reached for her purse, she realized that it was gone. She turned and saw [Stevenson] with the purse in his hand running away. M.R. gave chase on foot, then ran back to her car and drove after [Stevenson]. A young man standing next to his truck pointed in the direction [Stevenson] had gone. [Stevenson] rushed into a nearby duplex where his girlfriend lived with some of her family members. M.R. drove across the street to an auto body shop and spoke with several men who worked there. She then called 911.

When police arrived, M.R. was afraid and crying and complaining of pain in one of her fingers, which was swollen and slightly bent. She directed police to the duplex, where [Stevenson] was found in the back bedroom and detained. M.R.'s purse was recovered from the duplex. It was missing $190 in cash and some personal items.

M.M. was making his delivery to the grocery market on the day of the robbery. As he worked inside the cab of his truck, which was parked in the market parking lot, he saw [Stevenson] walk up to M.R., lunge toward her, "yank[ ]" her purse out, and take off running. M.M. initially gave chase, but then stopped and called police. Shortly thereafter, he identified [Stevenson] in a field show-up.*fn3


In his Amended Petition Stevenson raises four grounds: (1) insufficiency of the evidence to support the robbery conviction; (2) insufficiency of the evidence to support the enhancement; (3) ineffective assistance of trial counsel; and (4) illegal search and seizure. Respondent contends that Stevenson's second, third, and fourth grounds are unexhausted, and that his second and third grounds are procedurally defaulted. Respondent asserts no other 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

Stevenson has not replied to Respondent's answer. 28 U.S.C. § 2248 provides: The allegations of a return to the writ of habeas corpus or of an answer to an order to show cause in a habeas corpus proceeding, if not traversed, shall be accepted as true except to the extent that the judge finds from the evidence that they are not true. Under § 2248, where there is no denial of the Respondent's allegations in the answer, or the denial is merely formal and unsupported by an evidentiary basis, the court must accept Respondent's allegations.*fn17 Where a petitioner has not disputed a contention in the response and it does not appear from the record before the court that the contention is erroneous, the court may accept that contention.*fn18


A. Exhaustion/Procedural Bar

This Court may not consider claims that have not been fairly presented to the state courts.*fn19 Exhaustion of state remedies requires the petitioner to fairly present federal claims to the state courts in order to give the state the opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.*fn20 A petitioner fairly presents a claim to the state court for purposes of satisfying the exhaustion requirement if he presents the claim: (1) to the ...

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