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Farmer v. Lackner

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 27, 2014

HEIDI M. LACKNER, Respondent.


KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.


Petitioner is a state prisoner, proceeding without counsel, with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his 2011 conviction for making criminal threats (Cal. Penal Code § 422), corporal injury to a spouse with a prior conviction (Cal. Penal Code §§ 273.5(a), 273.5(e)), spousal rape (Cal. Penal Code § 262(a)(1)) and false imprisonment (Cal. Penal Code § 236/237(a)). Petitioner is serving a sentence of 11 years and 4 months imprisonment.[1]

This action is proceeding on the original petition. Petitioner raises four claims: 1) the trial court erred in admitting "profile" testimony; 2) the trial court erred in excluding evidence of the victims prior felony welfare fraud conviction; 3) insufficient evidence to support his conviction for spousal rape; and 4) insufficient evidence to support his conviction for false imprisonment.

After carefully reviewing the record, the undersigned recommends that the petition be denied.

Standards for a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus

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 Estelle v. McGuire , 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California , 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

Federal habeas corpus relief is not available for any claim decided on the merits in state court proceedings unless the state courts 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 section 2254(d)(1), a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established United States Supreme Court precedents if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at different result. Early v. Packer , 537 U.S. 3, 7 (2002) (citing Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)).

Under the "unreasonable application" clause of section 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Courts decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoners case. Williams , 529 U.S. 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 412; see also Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (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.") (internal citations omitted). "A state courts determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state courts decision." Harrington v. Richter , 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011).

The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Avila v. Galaza , 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002). If there is no reasoned decision, "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. That presumption may be overcome by a showing that "there is reason to think some other explanation for the state courts decision is more likely." Id. at 785 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker , 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)).

"When a state court rejects a federal claim without expressly addressing that claim, a federal habeas court must presume that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits - but that presumption can in some limited circumstances be rebutted." Johnson v. Williams , 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1096 (Feb. 20, 2013). "When the evidence leads very clearly to the conclusion that a federal claim was inadvertently overlooked in state court, § 2254(d) entitles the prisoner to" de novo review of the claim. Id., at 1097.

Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, the federal court conducts an independent review of the record. "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 v. Thompson , 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). Where no reasoned decision is available, the habeas petitioner has the burden of "showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Harrington , 131 S.Ct. at 784. "[A] habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, ... could have supported, the state courts decision; and 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.

Factual and Procedural Background

The opinion of the California Court of Appeal contains a factual summary. After independently reviewing the record, the undersigned finds this summary to be accurate and adopts it herein.

Defendant and the victim married in 2006. It was a tempestuous marriage, which involved violence and multiple separations. In June 2008, defendant entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor domestic battery of the victim.
Three weeks into their latest separation in February 2010, the victim began texting defendant on her daughters cell phone. She had belongings and a dog at defendants residence; she also testified that she was missing him and giving thought to living with him again.
On February 23, 2010, the victim both texted defendant and spoke with him on the phone. She told him that she wanted to come home and retrieve some of her belongings and her dog, and to talk with him, but she did not want to stay.
The victim had been staying overnight at the house of a childhood friend. The friends younger sister gave the victim a ride to the motorhome that the victim and defendant had shared on his fathers property. They stopped off at homes of two other people en route, the victim leaving her purse and phone behind at some point in order to prevent defendant from seizing them.
The younger sister thought the victim seemed apprehensive. Although it was a cold and rainy night, the victim had planned on walking back with her dog and belongings, and did not ask the younger sister to stay (the latter having school in the morning).
When defendant answered the door, he already appeared to be angry. He grabbed both sides of her head and threw her on the bed, pressing down on her neck with his hands. He called her a bitch and complained about her humiliation of him. At some point he stopped strangling her; while he had her pinned down with his leg, he told her that he would kill her. She saw defendant grab a knife from the sofa; he said he should cut her throat. The victim feared for her life. Defendant repeatedly hit her head, complaining about the victim spending Valentines Day with her teen daughters friend; he intimated some sort of sexual liaison, which the victim told him was not true.
Defendant stopped his physical assaults. He began to talk with the victim about how she "wasnt being right as a wife, " asserting that she "belong[ed] to him" as her husband and she was "humiliating him in front of his family." He told her that he would not let her leave him again: "[H]e would blow his head off and blow [hers] off and [they]d both live in hell." She was attempting to calm him down. After about a half-hour, they "ended up having sex together." Telling her that he knew she had left him because he was insufficiently attentive to her sexual needs, defendant pulled down her pants and began to have oral sex with her. This disgusted her, but she lay there and let it happen because she did not want to trigger any further physical abuse. Defendant then had intercourse with her. Sensing her tenseness, he told her she did not need to be afraid. Again, she did not resist these further intimacies because she was indeed afraid she would "start getting hit again."
The victim spent a sleepless night with defendant at her side. In the morning, defendant told her he needed to get some cigarettes. He warned her not to forget what he had told her, or try to leave because he would find her wherever she went and shoot her regardless of who was present. She lay there afraid to move until she heard him drive off down the hill (which was after he had walked to his fathers house to ask for a ride). She then fled the motorhome and knocked on doors. The second home let her in to use the phone. She told them that her husband had been holding her against her will until she took this opportunity to escape. She called a close friend, who then called the sheriff. While she waited in the home, she and the homeowners could see defendant outside walking up and down the road in an apparent search for her.
When a sheriffs deputy arrived, she showed him her injuries and described defendants threats and physical attacks. She did not say anything about the sex acts in her initial report to the deputy about the incident because it was "embarrassing, " and did not think it was a crime; she also thought the deputy "would not believe it anyway." She changed her mind after hearing that defendant had been claiming an all-night sexual encounter with her, and later told a prosecution investigator about the rape while reviewing her previous statement.
After retrieving the cell phone she had left in her purse, the victim found that defendant had left four voice mails after her last conversation with him and before her arrival that night. They were threatening in nature. Had ...

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