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White v. Spearman

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

January 23, 2015

MICHAEL T. WHITE, Petitioner,
v.
M.E. SPEARMAN, Warden, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

RICHARD SEEBORG, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Petitioner seeks federal habeas relief from his state convictions. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

In 2011, petitioner, without benefit of a plea bargain, pleaded no contest in the Monterey County Superior Court to a charge of burglary, and admitted to allegations that he had one prior strike conviction and six prison priors. (Ans., Ex. 3 at 33.) In 2012, the sentencing court struck two of the six prison priors, and imposed a sentence of 8 years in state prison. ( Id. at 43.) Petitioner did not seek direct appeal. Rather, he sought, but was denied, collateral relief in the state courts. This federal habeas petition followed. As grounds for federal habeas relief, petitioner claims that the trial court violated his right to due process when it used a civil commitment prison prior term to enhance his sentence.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 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." Id. § 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 (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

"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] 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 that 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.

DISCUSSION

Petitioner claims that the trial court violated his right to due process when it enhanced his sentence with an invalid prior term of incarceration. This prior was invalid, according to petitioner, because it was a civil, rather than a criminal, commitment, and therefore cannot be used to enhance a sentence.[1] As noted above, petitioner pleaded no contest to a charge of burglary, admitted to having one prior strike conviction and six prison priors, and received a sentence of eight years. The sentencing court arrived at the term of eight years by imposing a sentence of two years for the burglary conviction, then doubled it based on the prior strike, struck two of the prison priors, and then, pursuant to Cal. Penal Code section 667.5(b), added one consecutive year for each of the remaining four prison priors. (Ans., Ex. 3 at 43.)

On habeas review, the state superior court rejected petitioner's claim:

Petitioner is correct that a commitment to the California Rehabilitation Center fails to qualify as a prison prior. [Citations]. On Nov. 1, 2011, while represented by counsel, petitioner admitted that he suffered six prior prison terms. At sentencing on Feb. 22, 2006, the court struck two of the prison priors. There is no indication that the court relied upon petitioner's prior civil commitment in sentencing him...

( Id. at 44.)

Petitioner disputes the superior court's factual determination. He contends that the trial court must have used the ineligible civil commitment prior because it was the only prior term not subject to the "washout rule" under section 667.5(b).[2] (Under the "washout rule, " a prior term may not be used to enhance a sentence if a defendant has remained free of custody and has not committed a new offense within five years of the prison term ending.) The implication of this contention is that none of the prior prison terms were eligible - the civil prior is barred for the reasons stated and the remaining priors were "washed out." To sum up, petitioner's claim falls into two parts. First, that the ...


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