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Sran v. P.D. Brazelton

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 26, 2014

RACHPAL SINGH SRAN, Petitioner,
v.
P.D. BRAZELTON, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DECLINING TO ISSUE CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

MICHAEL J. SENG, Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondent is represented by Tami M. Krenzin of the office of the California Attorney General. Both parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF Nos. 4, 8.)

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Petitioner is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections pursuant to a judgment of the Superior Court of California, County of Madera, following his plea to gross vehicular manslaughter while driving intoxicated (with driving under the influence priors) on December 17, 2008. (Lodged Doc. 2.) On February 6, 2009, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to serve an indeterminate term of fifteen (15) years to life in jail. (Id.)

Petitioner did not appeal the conviction. (Lodged Doc. 3) However, he proceeded to file collateral appeals in state court. On October 26, 2011, Petitioner filed a state petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Madera County Superior Court. (Lodged Docs. 4-5.) On November 8, 2011, the Superior Court denied the petition. (Id.) On December 8, 2011, Petitioner filed a state petition with the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District. (Lodged Docs. 6-7.) The petition was denied on January 20, 2012. Finally, Petitioner filed a petition with the Supreme Court of California on February 8, 2012. (Lodged Docs. 8-9.) The petition was denied on May 23, 2012. (Id.)

Petitioner filed his federal habeas petition on August 10, 2012. (Pet., ECF No. 1.) The petition raises four grounds for relief: 1) Petitioner's guilty pleas were involuntarily made and based on coercion and manipulation; 2) Petitioner's counsel was ineffective in manipulating Petitioner to plead guilty, not obtaining an interpreter, and not presenting Petitioner viable defenses; 3) Petitioner's fourth amendment rights were violated because he was not provided an interpreter during the proceedings; and 4) Petitioner's pleas were improperly taken because they lacked the requisite factual predicate for the crimes of conviction. (Id. at 16.)

Respondent filed an answer to the petition on July 9, 2013. (Answer, ECF No. 24.) Petitioner filed a traverse on August 12, 2013. (Traverse, ECF No. 27.) The matter stands ready for adjudication.

II. STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

On February 8, 2008, at approximately 2:00 p.m., Petitioner drove southbound on Gateway Drive. (Lodged Doc. 15 at 3-4.) He crossed the center line and collided with a vehicle being driven by Julie Herrera. Julie Herrera's husband, Manuel, was in the passenger seat and was pronounced dead at the scene. Julie Herrera was transported to the hospital for a right leg amputation and treatment of internal injuries. As a result of multiple organ failure and pneumonia, she died on April 1, 2008. (Lodged Doc. 15 at 3-4.)

At the accident scene, officers observed that Petitioner appeared intoxicated. He told the officers that he had consumed alcohol earlier that day. Later, upon booking, a blood draw revealed Petitioner's blood alcohol level to be.27 percent. (Id.)

Petitioner pled to gross vehicular manslaughter while driving intoxicated and admitted prior convictions for driving under the influence. Petitioner was sentenced to an indeterminate term of fifteen years to life. (Lodged Doc. 2.)

III. GOVERNING LAW

A. Jurisdiction

Relief by way of a petition for writ of habeas corpus extends to a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court if the custody is in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3); Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 375 fn.7 (2000). Petitioner asserts that he suffered violations of his rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the conviction challenged arises out of the Madera County Superior Court, which is located within the jurisdiction of this court. 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d); 2254(a). Accordingly, the Court has jurisdiction over the action.

B. Legal Standard of Review

On April 24, 1996, Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), which applies to all petitions for writ of habeas corpus filed after its enactment. Lindh v. Murphy , 521 U.S. 320, 326 (1997); Jeffries v. Wood , 114 F.3d 1484, 1499 (9th Cir. 1997). The instant petition was filed after the enactment of the AEDPA; thus, it is governed by its provisions.

Under AEDPA, an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court may be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. at 375 n. 7 (2000). Federal habeas corpus relief is available for any claim decided on the merits in state court proceedings if 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).

1. Contrary to or an Unreasonable Application of Federal Law

A state court decision is "contrary to" federal law if it "applies a rule that contradicts governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases" or "confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from" a Supreme Court case, yet reaches a different result." Brown v. Payton , 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005) citing Williams , 529 U.S. at 405-06. "AEDPA does not require state and federal courts to wait for some nearly identical factual pattern before a legal rule must be applied.... The statue recognizes... that even a general standard may be applied in an unreasonable manner" Panetti v. Quarterman , 551 U.S. 930, 953 (2007) (citations and quotation marks omitted). The "clearly established Federal law" requirement "does not demand more than a principle' or general standard.'" Musladin v. Lamarque , 555 F.3d 830, 839 (2009). For a state decision to be an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1), the Supreme Court's prior decisions must provide a governing legal principle (or principles) to the issue before the state court. Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. 63, 70-71 (2003). A state court decision will involve an "unreasonable application of" federal law only if it is "objectively unreasonable." Id. at 75-76, quoting Williams , 529 U.S. at 409-10; Woodford v. Visciotti , 537 U.S. 19, 24-25 (2002). In Harrington v. Richter , the Court further stresses that "an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law." 131 S.Ct. 770, 785 (2011), (citing Williams , 529 U.S. at 410) (emphasis in original). "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." Id. at 786 (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado , 541 U.S. 653, 664 (2004)). Further, "[t]he more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reading outcomes in case-by-case determinations." Id .; Renico v. Lett , 130 S.Ct. 1855, 1864 (2010). "It is not an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by this Court." Knowles v. Mirzayance , 129 S.Ct. 1411, 1419 (2009), quoted by Richter , 131 S.Ct. at 786.

2. Review of State Decisions

"Where there has been one reasoned state judgment rejecting a federal claim, later unexplained orders upholding that judgment or rejecting the claim rest on the same grounds." See Ylst v. Nunnemaker , 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991). This is referred to as the "look through" presumption. Id. at 804; Plascencia v. Alameida , 467 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2006). Determining whether a state court's decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual conclusion, "does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court's reasoning." Richter , 131 S.Ct. at 784-85. "Where a state court's decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner's burden still must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Id . ("This Court now holds and reconfirms that § 2254(d) does not require a state court to give reasons before its decision can be deemed to have been adjudicated on the merits.'").

Richter instructs that whether the state court decision is reasoned and explained, or merely a summary denial, the approach to evaluating unreasonableness under § 2254(d) is the same: "Under § 2254(d), a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, as here, could have supported, the state court's decision; then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of this Court." Id. at 786. Thus, "even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable." Id . (citing Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. at 75). AEDPA "preserves authority to issue the ...


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