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Richard William Hamlin v. James Yates

December 14, 2012


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


Richard William Hamlin, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Hamlin is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the Pleasant Valley State Prison. Respondent has answered, and Hamlin has replied. Hamlin has also requested an evidentiary hearing.


Following a trial at which Hamlin appeared pro se with standby counsel,*fn1 an El Dorado County jury found Hamlin guilty of torture (Penal Code § 206), making criminal threats (Penal Code § 422), three counts of inflicting corporal injury on his wife (Penal Code § 273.5(a)(1)), and three counts of misdemeanor child abuse (Penal Code § 273a(b)).*fn2 The El Dorado County Superior Court sentenced Hamlin to life in prison on the torture conviction, the upper term of three years on the criminal threats conviction, and the upper term of four years for each of the corporal injury convictions, but stayed the sentences on the criminal threats conviction and the three corporal injury convictions. The trial court also sentenced Hamlin to three consecutive terms of 180 days on each of the misdemeanor convictions. The Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, affirmed the conviction in a published decision,*fn3 and the California Supreme Court denied review on June 10, 2009.*fn4 On August 12, 2009, Hamlin, appearing pro se, filed a petition for habeas relief in the California Supreme Court, which was denied on February 23, 2011. Hamlin timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on February 28, 2011. The facts underlying Hamlin's conviction are well known to the parties, are recited in the California Court of Appeal decision, and are not necessary to the determination of the Petition.

Accordingly, they are not repeated here.


In his Petition, Hamlin raises four grounds: (1) juror misconduct (prejudgment of guilt); (2) juror misconduct (consideration of extrinsic evidence); (3) exclusion of Hamlin at a critical stage of the proceedings; and (4) exclusion of defense expert witness. Respondent does not raise 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."*fn5 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."*fn6 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.*fn7 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.'"*fn8 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."*fn9

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.*fn10 "[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.'"*fn11 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.*fn12 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.*fn13

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.*fn14

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court.*fn15 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.*fn16 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.*fn17


A. 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.*fn18 Hamlin has not identified any factual conflict that would require this Court to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve in deciding the issues before it. The request for an evidentiary hearing is, therefore, DENIED.

B. Merits

Ground 1: Juror Misconduct (Prejudgment of Guilt) Hamlin contends that one of the juror's expressed a belief in his guilt before all the evidence was heard. The Court of Appeal summarized the facts underlying this claim:

1. Predeliberation Statement

In support of his new trial motion, [Hamlin] offered a declaration from Juror No. 151, who attested that during the first week of trial, Juror No. 63 stated that he thought that a guilty verdict would be a 'slam dunk . . . a no brainer.' This statement was made long before the end of testimony and long before the jury began its deliberations." [Hamlin] argued that this evidence showed Juror No. 63 had prejudged his guilt and was not impartial and unprejudiced.

In response, the People offered declarations from two other jurors who attested that they either did not hear or did not recall hearing any juror make a statement regarding [Hamlin's] guilt or innocence before deliberations. The People also argued that "the jury verdicts in this case fly in the face of this alleged statement since the jury, in fact, returned a number of not guilty verdicts."*fn19

After a thorough and well-reasoned analysis, the court rejected Hamlin's argument, holding:

In ruling on this aspect of the new trial motion, the court pointed out that "there is really no context for [Juror No. 63's] remarks other than what . . . (Juror No. 151) said in her affidavit . . . . And we don't know if he was joking. We don't know if he was speculating out loud, we don't know if there are any qualifiers like: A guilty verdict would be a slam dunk if there is no other evidence presented. [¶] It is just a dangling remark by . . . (Juror No. 63) that is inadequate to show misconduct." The court also concluded that because Juror No. 12 had voted with the rest of the jurors in "return[ing] seven not guilty charges" and in "not find[ing] great bodily injury allegations of certain specific counts to be true," "it is pure speculation to conclude that those predeliberation remarks indicate he had a pre-existing bias that continued throughout the trial and prejudiced the case."

The court also addressed itself directly to Juror No. 151, who was apparently in attendance, and stated, "With all due respect, . . . I think you have a bias or interest in seeing that the new trial motion [is] granted, and in my view your affidavit raises serious credibility problems." The court went on to discuss how in a supplemental declaration Juror No. 151 claimed essentially that Juror No. 32 "said he had made up his mind about guilt prior to the completion of trial." The court pointed out that in his own declaration, Juror No. 32 essentially said "he reached verdicts only after discussing the evidence with the other jurors" and "[h]e listened to all the evidence before the verdicts were reached." The court said that "insofar as there is a conflict in the affidavits, then regrettably this Court must seriously question the credibility of" Juror No. 151. The court also noted that Juror No. 151 was "now . . . telling the Court that she was pressured to vote guilty, she would not vote that way now, and she considers a life sentence unfair." The court questioned Juror No. 151's credibility in light of the fact that "she didn't point out to [the court] that she felt pressure when she affirmed her guilty verdict in court." The court concluded by saying that "[f]or all these reasons, the Court cannot accept . . . (Juror No. 151's) rendition of the facts about . . . (Juror No. 32[s] ) or . . . (Juror No. 63['s]) remarks or conduct. And in light of that fact, the defense has not shown either misconduct or prejudice" and "I do not for all those reasons think an evidentiary hearing is warranted or that the claim has been established."

In his opening brief, [Hamlin] argues that No. 63's statement constituted misconduct. What he fails to address, however, is the fact that Juror No. 151 was the only person who attested to the statement by Juror No. 63, and the trial court expressly refused to accept Juror No. 151's "rendition of the facts" because the court found Juror No. 151 was not credible.

In his reply brief, [Hamlin] addresses this issue for the first time. Citing People v. Nesler (1997) 16 Cal.4th 561, 582, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 454, 941 P.2d 87, for the proposition that an appellate court "accept[s] the trial court's credibility determinations and findings on questions of historical fact if supported by substantial evidence," [Hamlin] argues there was no substantial evidence to support the trial court's finding that Juror No. 151's allegations of misconduct by Juror No. 63 were not credible (assuming the court implicitly made such a finding).

Under California law, "The power to judge the credibility of witnesses and to resolve conflicts in the testimony is vested in the trial court . . . ." (In re Carpenter (1995) 9 Cal.4th 634, 646, 38 Cal.Rptr.2d 665, 889 P.2d 985.) "It is an established principle that the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony are matters within the sole province of the trier of fact . . . ." (As You Sow v. Conbraco Industries (2005) 135 Cal.App.4th 431, 454, 37 Cal.Rptr.3d 399, italics added.) "A trier of fact may accept such witnesses as he wishes and reject others." (Green Trees Enterprises, Inc. v. Palm Springs Alpine Estates, Inc. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 782, 787, 59 Cal.Rptr. 141, 427 P.2d 805.) "Where there is conflicting testimony, reviewing courts recognize that the trier of the facts has the better opportunity to judge the credibility of witnesses. In such a case the trial court's findings of fact, to the extent that they rest upon an evaluation of credibility, should be regarded as conclusive on appeal." (Estate of Fries (1965) 238 Cal.App.2d 558, 561, 47 Cal.Rptr. 888, italics added.) "[S]o long as the trier of fact does not act arbitrarily and has a rational ground for doing so, it may reject the testimony of a witness even though the witness is uncontradicted. [Citation.] Consequently, the testimony of a witness which has been rejected by the trier of fact cannot be credited on appeal unless, in view of the whole record, it is clear, positive, and of such a nature that it cannot rationally be disbelieved." (Beck Development Co. v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 1160, 1204--1205, 52 Cal.Rptr.2d 518.)

Here, the trial court-which was the trier of fact for purposes of [Hamlin's] attempt to establish juror misconduct as a basis for a new trial-rejected Juror No. 151's assertion that Juror No. 63 made a statement during the early stages of the trial that showed he had prejudged the case based on what the court characterized as Juror No. 151's "serious credibility problems." The court's credibility assessment was not arbitrary or irrational, but instead was based on the fact that Juror No. 151's declaration conflicted with the declaration filed by Juror No. 32 on various points and on the fact that Juror No. 151 was now taking a position on [Hamlin's] guilt contrary to the way she voted at trial.

[Hamlin] attempts to discount the trial court's reasoning, contending that a careful examination of the declarations shows there was no conflict and that a "change of heart after learning of the severity of [[Hamlin's]] sentence does not provide a rational reason to question [Juror No. 151's] credibility." We are not persuaded on either point.

First, Juror No. 151 plainly asserted in her supplemental declaration that "[a]fter verdicts were reached and just before going into court for the reading of those verdicts, [Juror No. 32] made a blanket apology to the group of jurors, saying that he knew he had been unpleasant to some people and that those people knew who they were. He also said that he had opinions prior to the completion of the trial that he stated and he knew he shouldn't have done that. He said that he had his mind made up 'ahead of time.'" In his declaration, Juror No. 32 just as plainly asserted that he "listened to all of the evidence in this case before forming any opinion as to [[Hamlin]]'s guilt or innocence" and "never expressed an opinion about his guilt or innocence prior to the start of deliberations." Juror No. 32 admitted "apologiz[ing] to the group of jurors early on in deliberations," but specifically denied that the apology was made "right before we went into the courtroom for reading of the verdicts." On these facts, the trial court was entitled to conclude the declarations were in conflict and that Juror No. 151's credibility was therefore subject to question.

Second, on this record the trial court was entitled to conclude that Juror No. 151 was suffering more than simply a "change of heart after learning of the severity of [[Hamlin's]] sentence," as [Hamlin] characterizes it. The trial court could rationally conclude that Juror No. 151 was trying to impeach her own verdict by asserting she was pressured into voting guilty and would not do so again if given the opportunity. Furthermore, the trial court could rationally conclude that Juror No. 151 had "a bias or interest in seeing that the new trial motion be granted" given her expressed view that a life sentence for torture would not be "fair."

[Hamlin] contends that "[i]f the court had questions about Juror No. 151's credibility, that was an issue that could only be resolved at an evidentiary hearing." The authority he cites, however, does not support that proposition. In People v. Hedgecock (1990) 51 Cal.3d 395, 272 Cal.Rptr. 803, 795 P.2d 1260, our Supreme Court held that "when a criminal defendant moves for a new trial based on allegations of jury misconduct, the trial court has discretion to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine the truth of the allegations. We stress, however, that the defendant is not entitled to such a hearing as a matter of right. Rather, such a hearing ...

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