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Mendez v. Cate

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 20, 2014

ROBERT MENDEZ, Petitioner,
v.
MATTHEW CATE, Respondent.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO DENY PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (Doc. 2)

JENNIFER L. THURSTON, 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.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Petitioner is in custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation serving an indeterminate sentence of 25 years-to-life pursuant. This sentence was imposed by the Superior Court of California, County of Kings in 2006 following a jury conviction for battery with infliction of serious bodily injury on a fellow inmate. (Doc. 15, Ex. A). The jury also found that Petitioner had suffered five prior "serious" or "violent" felonies that qualified as strikes under California's "Three Strikes" law (Cal. Pen. Code §§ 667(d) & (e)). (Id.).)

Petitioner subsequently filed a direct appeal in the California Court of Appeals, Fifth Appellate District (the "5th DCA"), contending, inter alia, that the trial court erred in failing to conduct a hearing regarding Petitioner's request to have trial counsel removed and another attorney appointed. (Id.). The 5th DCA agreed, reversed the judgment, and remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a hearing on that issue. (Id.). The trial court held the hearing and denied Petitioner's motion. (Id.). On March 4, 2011, following a second appeal, the 5th DCA, in an unpublished decision, affirmed the judgment and conviction. (Id.). Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which was denied on May 11, 2011. (Lodged Document ("LD") 10).

On December 29, 2011, Petitioner filed the instant petition. (Doc. 2). Respondent's answer was filed on April 4, 2012. (Doc. 15). On May 30, 2012, Petitioner filed his Traverse. (Doc. 23). On February 28, 2013, Respondent filed sealed transcripts of the Marsden hearing. (Doc. 25).

Respondent does not contend than any of the grounds for relief in the petition have not been fully exhausted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Court adopts the Statement of Facts in the 5th DCA's unpublished decision[1]:

On March 27, 2003, correctional sergeant Mathew Juarez let cellmates Mendez and Anthony Perez out of their cell to make phone calls and, minutes later, let inmate Reuben Herrera out of his cell to attend a Board of Prison Terms hearing. Mendez and Perez ran toward Herrera and, after Perez punched Herrera in the face, Herrera's knees buckled. Juarez activated his alarm, gave all inmates orders to get down, and positioned himself to utilize force. Mendez and Perez both repeatedly punched Herrera in the face with closed fists. Juarez twice ordered Mendez and Perez to stop fighting. Neither one obeyed him.
Juarez fired a.40 millimeter "less lethal" projectile at Perez's lower extremities. Mendez and Perez each took about 10 steps backward, lay down on their stomachs with their arms out, and made barking noises. Herrera slid down the wall, lay motionless on his back, and died. He suffered blunt force trauma behind the left ear causing a skull fracture and a brain injury and blunt force trauma to the left eye likewise causing a skull fracture and a brain injury. Each was capable of causing death. The more severe injury, the fracture behind the left ear, could have been caused by the projectile from Juarez's weapon, but the less severe injury, the trauma to the left eye, could not. Additionally, he suffered multiple non-life-threatening head injuries consistent with infliction of multiple blows to the head.

(Doc. 15, Exh. A).

DISCUSSION

I. 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, 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 n. 7 (2000). Petitioner asserts that he suffered violations of his rights as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The challenged conviction arises out of the Kings County Superior Court, which is located within the jurisdiction of this court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); 28 U.S.C.§ 2241(d).

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 (1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1008 , 118 S.Ct. 586 (1997); Jeffries v. Wood , 114 F.3d 1484, 1500 (9th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1107 (1997), overruled on other grounds by Lindh v. Murphy , 521 U.S. 320 (holding the AEDPA only applicable to cases filed after statute's enactment). The instant petition was filed after the enactment of the AEDPA and is therefore governed by its provisions.

II. Legal Standard of Review

A petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) will not be granted unless he can show that the state court's adjudication of his 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); Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. 63, 70-71 (2003); Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. at 412-413.

A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law "if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or "if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a [Supreme Court] decision but reaches a different result." Brown v. Payton , 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005), citing Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 326, 405-406 (2000). A state court decision involves an "unreasonable application" of clearly established federal law "if the state court applies [the Supreme Court's precedents] to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner." Id., quoting Williams , 529 U.S. at 409-410; Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24-25 (2002)( per curiam ).

Consequently, a federal court may not grant habeas relief simply because the state court's decision is incorrect or erroneous; the state court's decision must also be objectively unreasonable. Wiggins v. Smith , 539 U.S. 510, 511 (2003) (citing Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. at 409). In Harrington v. Richter , 562 U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 770 (2011), the U.S. Supreme Court explained that an "unreasonable application" of federal law is an objective test that turns on "whether it is possible that fairminded jurists could disagree" that the state court decision meets the standards set forth in the AEDPA. If fairminded jurists could so disagree, habeas relief is precluded. Richter , 131 S.Ct. at 786. As the United States Supreme Court has noted, AEDPA's standard of "contrary to, or involv[ing] an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law" is "difficult to meet, " because the purpose of AEDPA is to ensure that federal habeas relief functions as a "guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, '" and not as a means of error correction. Richter , 131 S.Ct. at 786, quoting Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U.S. 307, 332, 99 S.Ct. 2781, n. 5 (1979)(Stevens, J., concurring in judgment). The Supreme Court has "said time and again that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.'" Cullen v. Pinholster , 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1410-1411 (2011). Thus, a state prisoner seeking a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court "must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility of fairminded disagreement." Richter , 131 S.Ct. at 787-788. Put another way, a state court's determination that a claim lacks merit bars federal habeas relief so long as "fairminded jurists could disagree" on the state court's decision. Yarborough v. Alvarado , 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004).

Moreover, federal "review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen , 131 S.Ct. at 1398 ("This backward-looking language requires an examination of the state-court decision at the time it was made. It follows that the record under review is limited to the record in existence at the same time-i.e., the record before the state court.")

The second prong of federal habeas review involves the "unreasonable determination" clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). This prong pertains to state court decisions based on factual findings. Davis v. Woodford , 384 F.3d at 637, citing Miller-El v. Cockrell , 537 U.S. 322 (2003). Under § 2254(d)(2), a federal court may grant habeas relief if a state court's adjudication of the petitioner's claims "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." Wiggins v. Smith , 539 U.S. at 520; Jeffries v. Wood , 114 F.3d at 1500 (when reviewing a state court's factual determinations, a "responsible, thoughtful answer reached after a full opportunity to litigate is adequate to support the judgment"). A state court's factual finding is unreasonable ...


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