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Alfaro v. Lewis

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 18, 2013

CESAR ALFARO, Petitioner,
v.
GREG D. LEWIS, Warden, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

CHARLES R. BREYER, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Petitioner seeks federal habeas relief from the application of a state law which prevents him from earning conduct credits. For the reasons set forth below, the petition for such relief is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

In 1998 and 1999, petitioner was convicted in state court of second degree robbery and the possession of illegal drugs while in prison, consequent to which he was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in state prison. In 2007, his jailors at Pelican Bay State Prison validated him as a member of the Mexican Mafia gang, consequent to which he was placed in the Secured Housing Unit for an indeterminate term.

In 2010, amendments to Cal. Penal Code § 2933.6 rendered certain prison gang members and associates, such as petitioner, ineligible for certain time credits. Before the 2010 amendment, "it was apparently possible for validated prison gang members placed in an [administrative segregation unit] to earn conduct credits totaling one-third of their sentences." In re Efstathiou , 200 Cal.App.4th 725, 728 (Cal.Ct.App. 2011). After the amendment, a validated gang member or associate in administrative segregation, such as petitioner, cannot earn such conduct credits. He asserts that the new law extends his stay by at least 475 days. (Trav. at 2.)

As grounds for federal habeas review, petitioner contends that the application of the amended law to his sentence violates (1) the Ex Post Facto Clause; (2) the Due Process Clause; and (3) the terms of his plea bargain.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only 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 petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's 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." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

"Under the contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams (Terry) v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

"Under the unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413. "[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." Id. at 411. A federal habeas court making the "unreasonable application" inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was "objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409.

DISCUSSION

I. Ex Post Facto

Petitioner claims that the application of the amended statute to his sentence violates the Ex Post Facto Clause. The state superior court, sitting in habeas review of this claim, did not agree. It rejected the claim because recent state appellate cases have concluded that § 2933.6 does not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause, and that "the gang validation process affords inmates adequate due process." (Ans., Ex. 4.) The state appellate and supreme courts summarily denied petitioner's applications for habeas relief. ( Id., Exs. 7 & ...


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