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Lewis v. J. Soto

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

January 8, 2015

J. SOTO, Respondent

Brian Dion Lewis, Petitioner, Pro se, Lancaster, CA.

For J. Soto, Respondent: Noah P Hill, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of Attorney General, California Department of Justice, Los Angeles, CA; Victoria B Wilson, Office of Attorney General of California, Los Angeles, CA.



Before the Court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus by a person in state custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (" Petition"). The parties have consented to the Magistrate Judge's jurisdiction. ( See [5]-[7].) For the reasons discussed below, the sole claim in the Petition is denied and the Petition is dismissed with prejudice.


1.1 State Court Proceedings

On May 17, 2012, Brian Dion Lewis (" Petitioner") was convicted of three counts of second degree robbery (Cal. Penal Code § 211), one count of second degree commercial burglary (Cal. Penal Code § 459), and petty theft with a prior (Cal. Penal Code § 666(b)), following a jury trial in the California Superior Court for Los Angeles County (case no. GA082478). (Reporter's Transcript on Appeal (" RT") (Lodged Document (" LD") 2) at 413-15, 497-98; Clerk's Transcript (" CT") (LD 1) at 150, 152-55, 214.) He was acquitted of one count of second degree robbery. (RT at 413; CT at 151.)

After a bifurcated proceeding, the same jury found true allegations that Petitioner had suffered two prior convictions within the meaning of California's Three Strikes Law (Cal. Penal Code § § 667(b)-(i), 1170.12(a)-(d)), and had served four prior prison terms (Cal. Penal Code § 667.5(b)). (RT at 498-509; CT at 215-29.) On May 24, 2012, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to a total term of thirty-seven years to life in state prison. (RT at 515-17; CT at 243-48.)

Petitioner appealed the judgment of conviction to the California Court of Appeal, raising inter alia his pending insufficient evidence claim. (LD 3.) On August 27, 2013, in an unpublished opinion, the state court of appeal rejected Petitioner's insufficient evidence claim and affirmed the judgment, except as to his petty theft with a prior conviction, which was reversed on the ground that it was a lesser included offense of the robberies (case no. B241490). (LD 9.) The California Supreme Court denied review of the court of appeal's decision without comment or citation (case no. S213693). (LD 11 & 14.)

1.2 Pending Proceedings

On September 29, 2014, Petitioner, proceeding pro se , filed the pending Petition raising his insufficient evidence claim. (Pet. at 5; attached pages (11).) On November 14, 2014, Respondent filed and served an Answer [8] arguing that Petitioner's claim should be rejected because it lacks merit. (Answer at 8-17.)

Pursuant to paragraph four of the Court's Order Requiring a Response/Answer issued in this case on October 2, 2014 [3], Petitioner's reply was due thirty days after service of Respondent's Answer. Petitioner has failed to file a timely reply. 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." Id. ( 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 ...

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