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Spells v. Beard

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 28, 2014

CHRISTOPHER SPELLS, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS [Doc. No. 1.]

MARILYN L. HUFF, District Judge.

On September 10, 2012, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) Petitioner claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion under Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79 (1986) and People v. Wheeler , 22 Cal.3d 258 (1978) and that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to dismiss strike prior convictions in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. No. 1 at 25-32.) On May 22, 2013, Respondent filed an answer to the petition. (Doc. No. 14.) On July 3, 2014, the magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation to deny the petition. (Doc. No. 18.) On July 16, 2014, Petitioner filed a traverse. (Doc. No. 17.) The Court adopts the magistrate judge's report and recommendation and denies the petition for writ of habeas corpus.

Background

I. Procedural History

On April 6, 2010, a jury convicted Christopher Spells ("Petitioner") of unlawfully causing fire of an inhabited structure. (Lodg. No. 2, Rep's Tr. vol. 4 at 15.) On June 9, 2010, the state trial court sentenced Petitioner to twenty-five years to life plus a one-year enhancement. (Lodg. No. 2, Rep's Tr. vol. 5 at 10.) On December 1, 2010, Petitioner appealed to the California Court of Appeal. (Lodg. No. 4.) On August 3, 2011, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. (Lodg. No. 6.) On September 8, 2011, Petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court. (Lodg. No. 7.) On October 14, 2011, the court denied the petition without comment. (Lodg. No. 8.)

On August 21, 2012, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, setting forth four claims. (Doc. No. 1.) On September 19, 2012, the Court notified Petitioner that he failed to allege exhaustion of state court remedies with respect to his third and fourth claims and gave him options to remedy the deficiencies. (Doc. No. 4.) On November 2, 2014, Petitioner filed a motion to formally abandon his unexhausted claims. (Doc. No. 6.)[1] Two claims remain on the petition: (1) the trial court infringed Petitioner's federal constitutional rights by denying his motion under Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79 (1986) and People v. Wheeler , 22 Cal.3d 258 (1978) after the prosecutor used three out of four peremptory challenges to remove female prospective jurors, and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to dismiss strike prior convictions in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. No. 1 at 25-32.)

II. Statement of Facts

The Court takes the following facts from the California Court of Appeal's opinion:

On September 26, 2009, Spells and his girlfriend (Brenda Howard) got into an argument. Spells hit Howard and began throwing things at her, including an ashtray, a trash can, and a coffee table. Howard fled the apartment and called 911. Spells's cousin (Tyea Whitson) was passing by when Howard fled. Whitson looked inside the apartment window and saw a small fire burning on the bed. Whitson heard Spells yelling "I'm going to kill you all, '" and heard him throwing things and the sound of glass breaking. Whitson screamed "fire'" and alerted others to leave the complex.
Meanwhile, the police had arrived at the complex in response to Howard's domestic violence call. Spells was breaking windows in the apartment. The police ordered him out of the apartment, and, before he came out, they noticed smoke coming from the apartment windows. Spells eventually came out of the apartment and was arrested. The fire department arrived and put out the fire.
Spells was charged with arson. The jury convicted him of the lesser included offense of unlawfully causing a fire of an inhabited structure. ([Cal.] Pen. Code, § 452, subd. (b).) Based on his prior strike convictions, he was sentenced to 25 years to life, plus a one-year term for a prior prison term enhancement.

(Lodg. No. 6 at 2.) See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

Discussion

I. Standard of ...


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