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Morales v. Gipson

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 2, 2014

JOSELUIS MORALES, Petitioner,
v.
CONNIE GIPSON, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS INTRODUCTION

WILLIAM H. ORRICK, District Judge.

Petitioner Joseluis Morales, a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, has been validated as an associate of the Mexican Mafia prison gang. He seeks federal habeas relief because the application of California Penal Code § 2933.6, as amended in 2010, will require him to stay in prison longer than he anticipated when he was convicted of first degree murder in 1999. He contends that this violates his (1) ex post facto, (2) equal protection, and (3) double jeopardy rights. None of these claims has merit and, for the reasons set forth below, his petition for federal habeas relief is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

In 1999, Morales was convicted in state court of first degree murder and received a sentence of 29 years-to-life. In 2010, amendments to California Penal Code § 2933.6 rendered certain prison gang members and associates, such as Morales, ineligible for various time credits. Before the 2010 amendment, "it was apparently possible for validated prison gang members placed in an [administrative segregation unit] to earn conduct credits totaling one-third of their sentences." In re Efstathiou, 200 Cal.App.4th 725, 728 (Cal.Ct.App. 2011).

In 2011, his jailors at Pelican Bay State Prison validated Morales as an associate of the Mexican Mafia prison-gang. He was then placed in the Secured Housing Unit for an indeterminate term. (Ans. ¶¶ 1-3.)

Morales's state court challenge to section 2933.6 was unsuccessful.[1] This federal habeas petition followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), this Court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court 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). The petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless 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).

"Under the contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

"Under the unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. 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 411. A federal habeas court making the "unreasonable application" inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was "objectively unreasonable." Id. at 409.

When presented with a state court decision that is unaccompanied by a rationale for its conclusions, a federal court must conduct an independent review of the record to determine whether the state-court decision is objectively reasonable. See Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 982 (9th Cir. 2000). This "[i]ndependent review... is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which [a federal court] can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). "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." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784 (2011).

DISCUSSION

I. Ex Post Facto

Morales claims that the application of section 2933.6 to him violates the Ex Post Facto Clause. "To fall within the ex post facto prohibition, a law must be retrospective - that is, it must apply to events occurring before its enactment' - and it must disadvantage the offender affected by it, '... by altering the definition of criminal conduct or increasing ...


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