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Fearence v. Grounds

United States District Court, N.D. California

December 4, 2014

JAQUES FEARENCE, V51385, Petitioner,
v.
R. GROUNDS, Warden, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

CHARLES R. BREYER, District Judge.

Petitioner, a state prisoner incarcerated at the Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP), has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging a prison disciplinary panel's finding that he was in possession of a controlled substance in prison which resulted in the forfeiture of 130 days of time credit. Petitioner specifically claims that the panel's denial of his request to call witnesses at the hearing deprived him of an opportunity to present an adequate defense in violation of his procedural due process rights under Wolff v. McDonell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). For the reasons set forth below, a writ of habeas corpus will be denied.

BACKGROUND

On October 26, 2009, Officer Barajas observed two inmates walking along the center fence line at California State Prison - Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC). One inmate was walking on the North side and the other inmate was walking on the South side. Officer Barajas observed the inmate on the North side, who was later identified as inmate Kelley, place something into the hand of the inmate on the South side, who was later identified as petitioner. As Officer Barajas approached petitioner, Barajas observed petitioner drop a white piece of paper on the ground. Officer Barajas picked up the paper and saw that it contained a green, leafy substance, which was later confirmed to be marijuana. Petitioner received a serious rules violation for possession of a controlled substance in prison. Petitioner was found guilty of the serious rule violation after a hearing and assessed 130 days of time credit.

On August 23, 2012, while petitioner was at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) the serious rules violation for possession of a controlled substance at CSP-LAC was reissued and, on September 29, 2012, a rehearing was held. The senior hearing officer found petitioner guilty of possession of a controlled substance in prison based on Officer Barajas' report that Barajas observed petitioner receive and, when Barajas approached petitioner, attempt to discard a piece of paper containing marijuana. The senior hearing officer denied petitioner's request for inmate Kelley to appear as a witness. The senior hearing officer determined that Kelley's testimony was "not necessary for a finding of fact, nor would his testimony influence the outcomes of the hearing or provide any additional information." Resp't's Answer (Dkt. #8) Ex. 1 at 40. The hearing officer found that custody staff had positively identified Kelley handing petitioner the paper with the marijuana and Kelley's testimony therefore was unnecessary. The hearing officer also noted that petitioner had not "requested any further witness testimony." Id . Petitioner, again, was assessed "130 days loss of credit for a division B' offense." Id. at 41.

On May 27, 2013, petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this court, but the petition was dismissed without prejudice to refiling after exhausting state judicial remedies as to petitioner's claim that he was denied due process in connection with the August 23, 2012 rules violation and September 29, 2012 hearing that resulted in the loss of 130 days of time credit. See Fearence v. Grounds, No. C 13-1372 CRB (PR), slip op. at 4 (N.D. Cal. June 13, 2013) (order granting motion to dismiss).

On December 11, 2013, petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. It was summarily denied on February 26, 2014.

On March 19, 2014, petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the August 23, 2012 rules violation and September 29, 2012 hearing that resulted in the loss of 130 days of time credit.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000). "Under the reasonable 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 the 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.

The only definitive source of clearly established federal law under § 2254(d) is in the holdings (as opposed to the dicta) of the Supreme Court as of the time of the state court decision. Id. at 412; Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1069 (9th Cir. 2003). While circuit law may be "persuasive authority" for purposes of determining whether a state court decision is an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, only the ...


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