United States District Court, N.D. California
Frederick Ruiz, Petitioner, Pro se, Tehachapi, CA.
For Kim Holland, Respondent: Gregory A. Ott, LEAD ATTORNEY, California State Attorney General's Office, San Francisco, CA.
ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS; DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
VINCE CHHABRIA, United States District Judge.
Before the Court is the above-titled petition for a writ of habeas corpus, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by petitioner Frederick Ruiz, challenging the validity of a judgment obtained against him in Monterey County Superior Court. Respondent Kim Holland has filed a response to the Court's Order to Show Cause; Ruiz has not filed a traverse.
On August 3, 2010, a jury convicted Ruiz of first degree murder for stabbing another inmate, with the special circumstance of having a prior first degree murder conviction, and found that he had two " strike" prior convictions. Ruiz asserts habeas claims based on: (i) instructional error; (ii) ineffective assistance of counsel; and (iii) cumulative error. The California Court of Appeal rejected these arguments. In so doing, the Court of Appeal neither applied federal law unreasonably nor made an unreasonable determination of the facts within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
A federal court may entertain a habeas petition from a state prisoner " 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). Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (" AEDPA") of 1996, a district court may not grant habeas relief 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); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000).
When there is no reasoned opinion from the highest state court to consider the petitioner's claims, the court looks to the last reasoned opinion of the highest court to analyze whether the state judgment was erroneous under the standard of § 2254(d). Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 801-06, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706 (1991). In the present case, the highest court to issue a reasoned decision on Ruiz's claims is the California Court of Appeal.
I. Instructional Error Claim
Ruiz argues that CALCRIM No. 521, which instructed the jury that first degree murder required premeditation and deliberation, lessened the prosecution's burden of proof because it did not inform the jury that subjective, unreasonable heat of passion could reduce a homicide from first to second degree murder. In other words, Ruiz argues that the prosecutor should have been required to affirmatively prove the absence of subjective provocation beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Court of Appeal rejected this argument on the grounds that: (1) the jury instruction was a correct statement of California law; and (2) in any event, no evidence supported a " heat of passion" instruction. Ruiz, 2012 WL 3140297, at *3-4. On federal habeas review, a claim based on a state court's interpretation of its own law and its own jury instructions is not cognizable. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 71-72, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991) (that an instruction was incorrect under state law provides no basis for habeas relief); see also Menendez v. Terhune, 422 F.3d 1012, 1029 (9th Cir. 2005) (state court's determination that, under state law, insufficient evidence warranted a defense instruction, was dispositive of ...