FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner seeks federal habeas relief on the grounds that a trial judge's finding that a sentence enhancement allegation brought against him was true following a court trial in the Sacramento County Superior Court violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him, and his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.
In its unpublished memorandum and opinion affirming petitioner's judgment of conviction on appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided the following factual summary of petitioner's crime of conviction:
We briefly summarize the facts of defendant's crime, which are unnecessary to the resolution of this appeal.
Edward M. was waiting at a Sacramento bus stop when defendant offered to sell him a bus pass. After Edward M. purchased a pass, defendant badgered him to buy another. When Edward M. refused, defendant punched Edward M. in the face, choked him, and pounded his head against the bus stop. Defendant then took Edward M.'s wallet and walked away quickly. A nearby police officer detained defendant.
(Doc. No. 20-1 (hereinafter Opinion) at 2.)
After his judgment of conviction was affirmed by the California Court of Appeal, petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court in which he raised the same claims that he raises in the habeas petition before this court. (Resp't's Lod. Doc. 6.) The California Supreme Court summarily denied that petition for review by order dated November 2, 2011. (Resp't's Lod. Doc. 7.)
A. Standards of Review Applicable to Habeas Corpus Claims
An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S.___, ___, 131 S. Ct. 13, 16 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).
Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
For purposes of applying § 2254(d)(1), "clearly established federal law" consists of holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision. Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). Nonetheless, "circuit court precedent may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably." Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 (quoting Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (9th Cir. 2010)).
A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if it applies a rule contradicting a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a result different from Supreme Court precedent on "materially indistinguishable" facts. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003). Under the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.*fn1
Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). In this regard, a federal habeas court "may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. See also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (it is "not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a 'firm conviction' that the state court was 'erroneous.'"). "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S.___,___,131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Accordingly, "[a]s 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." Harrington,131 S. Ct. at 786-87.
If the state court's decision does not meet the criteria set forth in § 2254(d), a reviewing court must conduct a de novo review of a habeas petitioner's claims. Delgadillo v. Woodford, 527 F.3d 919, 925 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 735 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) ("[I]t is now clear both that we may not grant habeas relief simply because of § 2254(d)(1) error and that, if there is such error, we must decide the habeas petition by considering de novo the constitutional issues raised.").
The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859; Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). If the last reasoned state court decision adopts or substantially incorporates the reasoning from a previous state court decision, this court may consider both decisions to ascertain the reasoning of the last decision. Edwards v. Lamarque, 475 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). "When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, 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." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784-85. This presumption may be overcome by a showing "there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Id. at 785 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)). Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to determine whether habeas corpus relief is available under § 2254(d). Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). "Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes, 336 F.3d at 853. Where no reasoned decision is available, the habeas petitioner still has the burden of "showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784.
When it is clear, however, that a state court has not reached the merits of a petitioner's claim, the deferential standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) does not apply and a federal habeas court must review the claim de novo. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Reynoso v. Giurbino, 462 F.3d 1099, 1109 (9th Cir. 2006); Nulph v. Cook, 333 F.3d 1052, 1056 (9th Cir. 2003).*fn2
In all three of his claims for federal habeas relief petitioner challenges a sentence enhancement allegation found to be true which caused him to be sentenced under California's Three Strikes Law. In his first such claim, petitioner argues that he was "convicted of a 'second strike' recidivist enhancment [sic] on less than substantial evidence in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as there was no evidence that Petitioner committed an offense in Illinois that would be a 'strike' (recidivist prior) under California law." (Doc. No. 1 (Pet.) at 5.) In his second claim, petitioner argues that the true finding on the sentence enhancement allegation violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him because "the conviction/finding was based on a document that was never introduced in evidence." (Id. at 7.) In his third claim, petitioner argues that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial on the issue of whether his prior Illinois robbery conviction qualified as a "strike" under California's Three Strikes Law in violation of the decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). (Id. at 8, 52-55.)
In the last reasoned state court decision on these claims, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District rejected all of petitioner's arguments, reasoning as follows:
Following a jury trial, defendant Antwine Theodore Williams was convicted of second degree robbery (Pen. Code, § 211; undesignated statutory references that follow are to the Penal Code). The trial court sustained prior strike and serious felony allegations (§§ 667, subds.(a)(1), (b)-(i), 1170.12) and sentenced defendant to 15 years in state prison.
On appeal, defendant contends the trial court erred in finding his prior Illinois conviction for armed robbery was a serious felony and a strike, and that allowing records of his prior convictions to be authenticated by affidavit violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation. In addition, we deem him to have raised the issue of whether the trial court violated the rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) 530 U.S. 466 [147 L.Ed.2d 435] (Apprendi) by making factual findings regarding his prior convictions. We affirm the judgment.
The Illinois Conviction Defendant contends the trial court erred in finding his 2002 Illinois conviction for armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18--2(a)(1)) was a serious felony and a strike. He asserts the People presented no evidence at the trial on the strike and serious felony allegations related to the conduct which led to the prior conviction. Applying the "least adjudicated elements" test, defendant concludes the Illinois armed robbery statute is broader than its California counterpart as the Illinois statute ...