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Prera v. Paramo

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

December 9, 2014

JUAN JOSE PRERA, Petitioner,
DANIEL PARAMO, Warden, Respondent

Juan Jose Prera, Petitioner, Pro se, San Diego, CA.

For Daniel Paramo Warden, Respondent: David Delgado-Rucci, Kevin R Vienna, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Office of Attorney General, California Department of Justice, San Diego, CA.



This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Cormac J. Carney, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and General Order 05-07 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. For the reasons reported below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court deny the second amended petition for writ of habeas corpus by a person in state custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (" SAP"), and dismiss this action with prejudice.


1.1 State Court Proceedings

On October 13, 2011, Juan Jose Prera (" Petitioner") was convicted of three counts of forcible rape (Cal. Penal Code § 261(a)(2)) and one count of sexual battery by restraint (Cal. Penal Code § 243.4(a)) following a jury trial in the California Superior Court for San Bernardino County (case no. FSB1102202). (Reporter's Transcript of Oral Proceedings (" RT") (Lodged Document (" LD") 1) at 299; Clerk's Transcript on Appeal (" CT") (LD 2) at 176-79.) Petitioner was sentenced to a term of twenty-five years in state prison. (RT at 311; CT at 197, 204-05.)

Petitioner appealed the judgment of conviction and his sentence to the California Court of Appeal, raising inter alia ground four of his pending six-claim SAP. (LD 3.) On February 20, 2013, in an unpublished opinion, the state court of appeal rejected his claims and affirmed the judgment (case no. E055004). (LD 6.) The California Supreme Court denied review of the court of appeal's decision without comment or citation (case no. S209416). (LD 7 & 8.)

Petitioner subsequently raised inter alia all six of his pending claims in state habeas petitions, one in the superior court (case no. WHC1300522), one in the court of appeal (case no. E061088), and one in the California Supreme Court (case no. S218837). (LD 9, 11, 13.) The superior court denied all six claims in a reasoned order. Specifically, the superior court denied grounds one and two on the procedural ground that those claims should have been raised on direct appeal, relied entirely on the appellate record, and should not have been raised in a habeas petition. The court also cited to In re Dixon, 41 Cal.2d 756, 759, 264 P.2d 513 (1953). The superior court then denied grounds four and six on the procedural ground that those claims were " essentially the same as those already raised on direct appeal, and may not be raised anew in a habeas corpus petition." The superior court also denied ground four on the separate procedural ground that a claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence may not be raised in a habeas petition. Finally, the superior court rejected grounds three and five (Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel (" IAC") claims) on the merits. (LD 10.)

The state court of appeal and the California Supreme Court subsequently denied Petitioner's habeas petitions without comment or citation. (LD 12 & 14.)

1.2 Pending Proceedings

On October 2, 2013, Petitioner, proceeding pro se, filed his original petition initiating this action and raising four claims. (Pet. at 5-6.) Pursuant to his pre-service screening, the previously-assigned Magistrate Judge found the petition was subject to dismissal because it was not properly signed. Petitioner was given the opportunity to file an amended petition correcting the defect. (10/15/13 Order (OP) [4].)

Petitioner subsequently filed a First Amended Petition (" FAP"), again raising four claims. (FAP at 5-6.) Respondent filed a motion to dismiss the FAP on the ground that it was a mixed petition containing both exhausted and unexhausted claims. (Motion to Dismiss (" MTD") [12] at 3-6.) In lieu of an opposition, Petitioner filed a motion to stay this action and hold it in abeyance while he exhausted his unexhausted claims [15]. However, he then sought leave to file the pending SAP, which contained six claims that he was concurrently raising in his state habeas petitions [19]. The previously-assigned Magistrate Judge ordered the SAP to be filed, denied the MTD as moot, and ordered briefing on Petitioner's stay request " as it relates to the SAP." (6/11/14 Order (OP) [20].)

This case was subsequently reassigned to the current Magistrate Judge, who adopted the 6/11/14 Order to the extent it found the SAP to be the operative pleading, but vacated that order in all other respects and suspended briefing until further notice. (6/30/14 Order (AN) [23].) Petitioner was then ordered to lodge a copy of his habeas petition filed in the California Supreme Court. (7/30/14 Order (AN) [24].)

On August 8, 2014, Petitioner lodged a copy of his California Supreme Court habeas petition as ordered, and notified the Court that it had been denied, rendering the SAP fully exhausted [25]. The Magistrate Judge then denied Petitioner's stay request as moot and ordered Respondent to file a response to the SAP [26].

Next, Respondent filed an Answer arguing that grounds one and two are procedurally barred and non-cognizable, and that all six claims fail on the merits. (Answer at 11-35.) Petitioner has filed his Reply and accompanying Memorandum, and the matter now stands submitted for decision.


2.1 Standard of Review

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (" AEDPA"), 110 Stat. 1214, a federal court may not grant a state prisoner's application for habeas relief for any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim resulted in a decision that was: (1) " contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; " or (2) " based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." § 2254(d); Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, __, 131 S.Ct. 770, 784-85, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011); see also Burt v. Titlow, __ U.S. __, __, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013). The above standard " recognizes a foundational principle of our federal system: State courts are adequate forums for the vindication of federal rights." Titlow, 134 S.Ct. at 15.

Therefore, although AEDPA " stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings, " it nevertheless " reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Consequently, § 2254(d) " preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with [the Supreme Court's] precedents." Id. Put another way, in order to obtain federal habeas relief, " a state prisoner 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 for fairminded disagreement." Id. at 786-87; Titlow, 134 S.Ct. at 16.

" 'Clearly established Federal law' under § 2254(d)(1) is the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d 144 (2003). More specifically, clearly established Federal law " refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court's] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74, 127 S.Ct. 649, 166 L.Ed.2d 482 (2006) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000)). Additionally, clearly established Federal law is only determined by the Supreme Court, not by the circuit courts. Lopez v. Smith, 574 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 1, 4, 190 L.Ed.2d 1 (2014) (per curiam); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Circuit precedent also cannot " refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that this Court has not announced." Lopez, 135 S.Ct. at 4 ( quoting Marshall v. Rodgers, 569 U.S. __, __, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450, 185 L.Ed.2d 540 (2013)). Instead, where no decision of the Supreme Court " squarely addresses" an issue or provides a " categorical answer" to the question before the state court, § 2254 (d)(1) bars relief because the state court's adjudication of the issue cannot be contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court law. Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125-26, 128 S.Ct. 743, 169 L.Ed.2d 583 (2008) (per curiam); see also Moses v. Payne, 555 F.3d 742, 754, 758-60 (9th Cir. 2009).

A state court decision is " contrary to" governing Supreme Court law if it either applies a rule that contradicts the governing Supreme Court law or " confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] but reaches a different result." Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141, 125 S.Ct. 1432, 161 L.Ed.2d 334 (2005). Citation to Supreme Court cases is not required so long as " neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them." Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8, 123 S.Ct. 362, 154 L.Ed.2d 263 (2002); see also Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455, 125 S.Ct. 847, 160 L.Ed.2d 881 (2005) (" Federal courts are not free to presume that a state court did not comply with constitutional dictates on the basis of nothing more than a lack of citation."); Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 784 (" [A]s this Court has observed, a state court need not cite or even be aware of our cases under § 2254(d)."). What matters is whether the last reasoned decision by the state court was contrary to Supreme Court law, not the intricacies of the analysis. Hernandez v. Small, 282 F.3d 1132, 1140 (9th Cir. 2002).

A state court's decision involves an " unreasonable application" of Supreme Court precedent " if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. More specifically, " a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, . . . could have supported[] the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of this Court." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786. Federal habeas relief may only be granted if the state court's application was " objectively unreasonable, " not merely incorrect or erroneous. Andrade, 538 U.S. at 75-76; Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003).

Moreover, " [f]actual determinations by state courts are presumed correct absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary . . . ." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340, 123 S.Ct. 1029, 154 L.Ed.2d 931 (2003) ( citing § 2254(e)(1)). In fact, under § 2254(d)(2), a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because a federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. at 15. Instead, a state court makes " an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented" only where the federal habeas court is " convinced that an appellate panel . . . could not reasonably conclude that the finding is supported by the record . . . [or] that any appellate court to whom the defect is pointed out would be unreasonable in holding that the state court's fact-finding process was adequate." Ocampo v. Vail, 649 F.3d 1098, 1106 (9th Cir. 2011) ( quoting Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 1000 (9th Cir. 2004)). " This is a daunting standard - one that will be satisfied in relatively few cases." Taylor, 366 F.3d at 1000.

Additionally, " review under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits." Cullen v. Pinholster, __ U.S. __, __, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398, 179 L.Ed.2d 557 (2011).

AEDPA's deferential standard applies to grounds three through five of the pending SAP, but not grounds one, two, or six for the following reasons.

First, Petitioner raised ground four (his insufficient evidence claim) in both the state court of appeal and the California Supreme Court on direct appeal. (LD 3 & 7.) The court of appeal rejected that claim on the merits in a reasoned opinion, and the state high court denied it without comment. (LD 6 & 8.) Under the " look through" doctrine, ground four is deemed to have been rejected for the reasons given in the last reasoned decision on the merits, which was the court of appeal's opinion. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 802-06, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706 (1991).

Second, Petitioner raised grounds three and five (his IAC claims) in all three of his state habeas petitions. (LD 9, 11, 13.) The superior court denied those claims on the merits in a reasoned order, and the state court of appeal and California Supreme Court denied them without comment or citation. (LD 10 at 2-3; LD 12, LD 14.) Again, under the " look through" doctrine, grounds three and five are deemed to have been rejected for the reasons given in the last reasoned decision on the merits, which was the superior court's reasoned order. Ylst, 501 U.S. at 802-06.

Third, grounds one, two, and six were denied on collateral review by the superior court solely on procedural grounds (LD 10 at 1-2), and the later silent denials by the state court of appeal and California Supreme Court means the state courts never reached a decision on the merits of those claims. See Ylst, 501 U.S. at 803 (" [W]here, . . . the last reasoned opinion on the claim explicitly imposes a procedural default, we will presume that a later decision rejecting the claim did not silently disregard that bar and consider the merits."). Consequently, while the Court will not consider the merits of grounds one or two at all due to Petitioner's procedural default, discussed below, this Court has considered the merits of ground six de novo. See Cone v. Bell, 556 U.S. 449, 472, 129 S.Ct. 1769, 173 L.Ed.2d 701 (2009) (where the state courts do not reach the merits of the federal claim at issue, " federal habeas review is not subject to the deferential standard that applies under AEDPA to 'any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings.' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Instead, the claim is reviewed de novo .").

2.2 Facts Established at Trial

Ground four of the pending SAP is an insufficient evidence claim, requiring the Court to conduct an independent review of the trial transcript. Jones v. Wood, 114 F.3d 1002, 1008 (9th Cir. 1997). The Court has conducted that review and finds the state court of appeal's decision affirming Petitioner's judgment of conviction contains a statement of facts that is based upon a reasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. Ocampo, 649 F.3d at 1106; Taylor, 366 F.3d at 1000. Further, the state court's factual determinations are presumed correct where, as here, Petitioner has not proffered clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. § 2254(e)(1); Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 340; see also Moses, 555 F.3d at 746 n.1. Consequently, the Court adopts verbatim the court of appeal's summary of the trial evidence as follows:

On the evening of February 27, 2010, defendant forcibly raped the victim after dragging her into his car and driving her to an abandoned parking lot. At about 6:00 p.m., defendant drove his car closely alongside the victim as she walked through a gas station, after dark and in the pouring rain. Defendant rolled down the front passenger window of his car and asked the victim for directions and other information. The victim leaned in to defendant's car because she did not have her glasses on and could not see. Defendant at that point grabbed the victim by her jacket, pulled the top portion of her body into his car and drove away.
Defendant drove to a nearby abandoned parking lot and pulled the victim completely into the car. As the victim pleaded for her life, defendant told her " I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to kill you. Just be nice to me, be nice and you won't get hurt." The victim did not initially struggle because she was afraid. When she did begin to struggle, defendant took out a knife and pointed it at her neck, without touching her with the knife, and asked her if she was going to be " nice." Defendant then climbed over to the passenger seat on top of the victim and began touching her sexually. The victim was able to open the passenger door, but defendant quickly closed and locked it. Defendant forced his penis inside the victim's vagina and moved it back and forth. Two or three times, defendant's penis became dislodged and he reinserted it. Defendant complained that the position was " uncomfortable, " and asked the victim to hold his penis to help him reinsert it. After about four minutes, defendant stopped and said he wanted to take the victim " somewhere nice."
Defendant took the victim back to the gas station and told her to continue walking to the store as she had planned. Defendant asked the victim where she lived and for her cell phone number. The victim lied about where she lived, but gave the defendant her cell phone number. The victim went home, where her sister called police. The victim underwent a sexual assault exam, from which evidence implicating defendant was collected.
Defendant called the victim on her cell phone about a week later and asked to meet her and take her to a hotel. Her sister hung up the phone. About three months later, the victim and a friend were walking near their apartment complex when defendant approached them in a truck, blocked their path, and asked them for directions through the passenger window, as he had on the prior occasion. When the two tried to leave, the defendant pulled forward and tapped the ...

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