United States District Court, S.D. California
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
[Doc. No. 17]
BERNARD G. SKOMAL, Magistrate Judge.
On January 16, 2013, Gerald Anthony Foggy ("Foggy"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a first amended petition for writ of habeas corpus ("Petition") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 5.) In this Petition, Foggy seeks relief from a California state court conviction. He claims the California trial court improperly permitted the prosecution to use a peremptory challenge to remove a black panelist during voir dire. ( Id. ) Specifically, Foggy alleges the prosecution's peremptory challenge unlawfully excluded a member of a cognizable racial group from the jury venire and that the trial court erred in ruling against his Batson  challenge. (Doc. No. 5.) E. Valenzuela ("Respondent") filed an answer to the Petition and Foggy filed a traverse. (Doc. No. 17 and 21.) For the foregoing reasons, the Court recommends that the Petition be DENIED.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A federal court may review a habeas petition by a person in custody under a state court judgment "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). With some exceptions, the petitioner must also first exhaust state court remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b).
AEDPA, which effected amendments to the federal habeas statutes, applies to the present Petition because Foggy filed after AEDPA's effective date: April 26, 1996. Lindh v. Murray, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997). "By its terms, [AEDPA] bars relitigation of any claim adjudicated on the merits' in state court, subject only to the exceptions in § 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2)." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784 (2011). Under AEDPA, in order for the exceptions to apply, the state court adjudication must have:
(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). Accordingly, federal habeas relief is not available for state law errors and unless a prisoner alleges deprivation of a federal right, the claim is non-cognizable under § 2254. See Engle v. Issac, 456 U.S. 107, 118 (1982); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991).
"Clearly established Federal law" refers to federal law holdings of the Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision. Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (2011) ( citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000)). Although only Supreme Court law is binding, "circuit court precedent may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably." Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (2010). To determine if a decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law, the reviewing court must evaluate whether the decision "applies a rule that contradicts [such] law" and how the decision "confronts [the] set of facts" that were before the state court. Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1399 (2011) ( quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405, 406).
If the state decision identifies the "correct governing legal principle, " a federal court must determine whether the decision "unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." ( Id. ) ( quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). "An unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law." Williams, 529 U.S. at 410. Similarly, a state court decision based on a factual determination may not be overturned on habeas review unless the factual determination is "objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding." Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 ( quoting Davis v. Woodford, 384 F.3d 628, 638 (9th Cir. 2004)).
The AEDPA standard requires deference be given to state court decisions. Williams, 529 U.S. at 387. For example, a state court decision that a claim lacks merit, precludes federal habeas relief even if "fairminded jurists could disagree" on the correctness of the ruling. Harrington, 131 S.Ct. at 786 ( quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)) Under this standard, "even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary decision was unreasonable." ( Id. ) Accordingly, to obtain federal habeas relief, a prisoner must show that the state court's decision on the claim "was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." ( Id. ) at 786-87. Even if this Court finds that the state court committed such an error, habeas relief is only available if the error "had substantial and injurious effect or influence" in determining the effect of the case. Fry v. Pliler, 551 U.S. 112, 116 (2007) ( citing Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993)).
Where more than one state court adjudicated the petitioner's claims, the federal habeas court analyzes the last reasoned decision. Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1091 (9th Cir. 2005) ( citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991), for presumption that later unexplained orders, upholding judgment or rejecting same claim, rest upon same ground as the prior order). Thus, a federal habeas court looks through ambiguous or unexplained state court decisions to the last reasoned decision in order to determine whether the decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Medley v. Runnels, 506 F.3d 857, 862 (9th Cir. 2007); Bailey v. Rae, 339 F.3d 1107, 1112-13 (9th Cir. 2003).
III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
After a jury trial on March 24, 2010, Foggy, an African-American man, was convicted of two counts of robbery with great bodily injury. (Lodgment 8 at 2.) He was sentenced to fifteen ...