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Peters v. Swarthout

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

July 9, 2013

REGGIE PETERS, AE-0742, Petitioner,
v.
GARY SWARTHOUT, Warden, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

CHARLES R. BREYER, District Judge.

Petitioner, a state prisoner incarcerated at California State Prison, Solano (SOL), seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of a state sentence imposed by the Alameda County Superior Court. For the reasons that follow, a writ will be denied.

BACKGROUND

On December 30, 2007, petitioner fired two bullets at the wall of his apartment. The bullets passed through the wall into the next apartment, and one bullet struck and killed the victim, Bobby Jones.

After a court trial which concluded on April 26, 2010, petitioner was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, Cal. Penal Code § 192(b), with an enhancement for use of a firearm in commission of a felony, Cal. Penal Code § 12022.5(a), and also of being a felon in possession of a firearm, Cal. Penal Code § 12021(a)(1). On June 18, 2010, petitioner was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. Petitioner received the low-term of two years for involuntary manslaughter, enhanced by the upper-term of ten years for use of a firearm in commission of a felony, and the mid-term of two years for being a felon in possession of a firearm, to be served concurrently.

The court based its conviction of involuntary manslaughter on a finding that petitioner's misdemeanor conduct of "exhibiting a firearm in a rude and angry manner" in violation of section 417(a)(2) of the California Penal Code had caused the gun to discharge and kill the victim. Docket #1 at 13. Alternatively, the court reasoned that petitioner had committed an act that was ordinarily lawful (handling a loaded gun) in an unlawful manner without "due circumspection or caution considering his mental state and state of sobriety...." Id. at 14. The court also selected the upper-term for the firearm use enhancement based on a finding that the victim was particularly vulnerable. Id. at 15.

Petitioner appealed. But on June 23, 2011, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial court. He then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. But on December 14, 2011, the state high court summarily denied the petition.

On March 22, 2012, petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus under § 2254 in the Eastern District of California. The petition was transferred to this court and, on June 20, 2012, this court found that the claims appeared minimally cognizable under § 2254, when liberally construed, and ordered respondent to show cause why a writ of habeas corpus should not be granted. Respondent has filed an answer and petitioner has filed a traverse.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

This court may entertain a petition for a 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 writ 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." Id . § 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 v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). "Under the reasonable 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 the 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 ...


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