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Lacerda v. Chappell

United States District Court, N.D. California

January 20, 2015

STEVEN M. LACERDA, Petitioner,
v.
KEVIN CHAPPELL, Warden, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS; DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

EDWARD J. DAVILA, District Judge.

Petitioner has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his state conviction. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

In 2004, Petitioner crashed his motorcycle while driving drunk, killing his passenger as a result. Petitioner pleaded guilty in Santa Clara County Superior Court to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (Cal. Penal Code § 191.5(a)), [1] driving under the influence causing injury (§ 25153(b)), hit and run accident resulting in permanent serious injury or death (Veh. Code § 20001(a)(b)(2)), and a great bodily injury enhancement (id., § 20001(c)). (Ans. Ex. 1.) Petitioner was sentenced to 15 years in state prison: 10 years for gross vehicular manslaughter, and 5 years for the enhancement. (Id.) Petitioner also received a four-year concurrent sentence for the hit and run conviction. The trial court imposed and stayed a six-year sentence for driving under the influence. Petitioner appealed the conviction. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment on July 23, 2008, and the state high court denied review on October 3, 2008. (Pet. at 3.) Petitioner's first series of state habeas petitions concluded when the state high court denied review on January 23, 2008. (Id. at 4.) Petitioner's second round of state habeas petitions concluded with the state high court denying review on December 21, 2011. (Id. at 5.) Petitioner's final series concluded when the state high court denied review on January 16, 2012. (Id. at 6.) Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition on February 6, 2012.

DISCUSSION

I. 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). Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), a district court may not grant a petition challenging a state conviction or sentence on the basis of a claim that was reviewed 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). The first prong applies both to questions of law and to mixed questions of law and fact, Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 384-86 (2000), while the second prong applies to decisions based on factual determinations, Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

"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, 529 U.S. at 412-13. A state court decision is an "unreasonable application of" Supreme Court authority, falling under the second clause of § 2254(d)(1), if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions but "unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Id. at 413. The federal court on habeas review 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." Id. at 411.

"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 Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. "Under § 2254(d)(1)'s unreasonable application' clause, ... 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." 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 federal habeas court must presume correct any determination of a factual issue made by a state court unless the petitioner rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

The Supreme Court has vigorously and repeatedly affirmed that under AEDPA, there is a heightened level of deference a federal habeas court must give to state court decisions. See Hardy v. Cross, 132 S.Ct. 490, 491 (2011) (per curiam); Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 783-85 (2011); Felkner v. Jackson, 131 S.Ct. 1305 (2011) (per curiam). As the Court explained: "[o]n federal habeas review, AEDPA imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings' and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'" Id. at 1307 (citation omitted). With these principles in mind regarding the standard and limited scope of review in which this Court may engage in federal habeas proceedings, the Court addresses Petitioner's claims.

C. Claims and Analysis

Petitioner claims the following grounds for federal habeas relief: (1) he is suffering multiple punishments for the same offence in violation of the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against double jeopardy[2]; and (2) his right to Equal Protection is being violated.

1. Double Jeopardy

Petitioner claims that he is being unlawfully punished for both the greater offense of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and the lesser included offense of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, even though the offenses arise from a single criminal act involving a single victim. Petitioner received 15 years for the greater offense and a concurrent but stayed six-year sentence on the lesser included offense. The greater offense is a non-violent offense and therefore allows the maximum work-time credits possible, which is currently 50 percent. However, the lesser included offense is a violent offense which limits work-time credits to 15 percent. As result, Petitioner argues that he is being punished with the greater offense's lengthier prison term of 15 ...


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