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Girley v. Swarthout

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 7, 2015



KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner, proceeding without counsel, with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his 2009 conviction for attempted murder and other charges. Petitioner claims that the trial court should have conducted a second competency hearing, and that the trial court erred when, during closing arguments, it removed petitioner from the courtroom due to his disorderly conduct. After careful review of the record, this court concludes that the petition should be denied.

II. Procedural History

On June 25, 2009, a jury found petitioner guilty of attempted premeditated murder of his wife, infliction of corporal injury on a spouse, and assault by force likely to produce great bodily injury. (Respondent's Lodged Document ("LD") 1.) The jury found true the following enhancements: personal infliction of great bodily injury and personal use of a deadly weapon (tire iron), and found petitioner suffered a prior conviction and prior serious felony for a 1999 assault with a deadly weapon. On July 20, 2009, petitioner was sentenced to fourteen years to life in state prison, and a determinate term of 10 years for the enhancements, to be served before the indeterminate term. The trial court also sentenced petitioner to 18 years on count 1 (spousal injury), and 17 years on count 2 (aggravated assault), but stayed those sentences under California Penal Code Section 654.

Petitioner appealed the conviction to the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District. The Court of Appeal modified the judgment to correct sentencing errors, [1] but otherwise affirmed the conviction on February 15, 2011. (LD 2.)

On March 21, 2011, petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which was denied without comment on April 20, 2011. (LD Nos. 3, 4.)

Petitioner filed no post-conviction petitions for relief in state court. (ECF No. 1 at 3.)

The instant petition was filed on July 24, 2012. (ECF No. 1.) Respondent filed an answer (ECF No. 28); petitioner filed a reply (ECF No. 41).

III. Facts[2]

In its unpublished memorandum and opinion affirming petitioner's judgment of conviction on appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided the following background and factual summary:

On December 30, 2008, the trial court suspended the proceedings for an evaluation of defendant's competence to stand trial. (§§ 1367, 1368.) On February 5, 2009, the trial court found defendant competent to stand trial.
Evidence at trial included the following:
After approximately 16 years of marriage, defendant's wife, Gwendolyn Taylor-Girley (the victim), wanted a divorce. Defendant did not. They argued. On October 20, 2008, defendant hit the victim with a tire iron in their garage and choked her with his hands. The victim suffered a skull fracture, a head laceration requiring approximately 30 staples, two fractured index fingers, bruises, and a recurring problem with double vision.
The next day, defendant left a message on the victim's voicemail, stating: "In case you lived through that trauma, I was trying to make sure you was [sic] dead and I was going to be dead right along with you, but you lived through it, and you'll see me at my funeral because I'll be the one dead. Forced me over the edge, now I got to go ahead and finish what I started. And likely, you was involved in this death right now. I couldn't take it no more, with you bitch slapping me over and over again, you couldn't leave well enough alone. Now I got to go ahead and finish off my life, thinking we was going to be buried together, death do us part."
Defendant testified at trial and claimed the victim is bipolar and prone to hallucinations. Defendant's version of events was that the victim was startled by his presence in the garage, lost her balance, and hit her head. He panicked and ran. He left the voicemail message because he was "out of [his] mind." He swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, awoke in a hospital, and fled for fear of being sent to a mental hospital. Defendant acknowledged he pleaded guilty in 1999 to holding a gun on his wife, though he claimed it never happened and he was talked into the plea.

People v. Girley, 2011 WL 536440, *1-2 (Cal.App. 3 Dist., Feb. 15, 2011).

IV. Standards for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 4 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the 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).

For purposes of applying § 2254(d)(1), "clearly established federal law" consists of holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the last reasoned state court decision. Thompson v. Runnels, 705 F.3d 1089, 1096 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Greene v. Fisher, 132 S.Ct. 38 (2011); Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). Circuit court precedent "may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably." Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 (quoting Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (9th Cir. 2010)). However, circuit precedent may not be "used to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that th[e] [Supreme] Court has not announced." Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450 (2013) (citing Parker v. Matthews, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012) (per curiam)). Nor may circuit precedent be used to "determine whether a particular rule of law is so widely accepted among the Federal Circuits that it would, if presented to th[e] [Supreme] Court, be accepted as correct. Id . Further, where courts of appeals have diverged in their treatment of an issue, it cannot be said that there is "clearly established Federal law" governing that issue. Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 77 (2006).

A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if it applies a rule contradicting a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a result different from Supreme Court precedent on "materially indistinguishable" facts. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634');"> 538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003). Under the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1), 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.[3] Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). In this regard, 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." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. See also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (it is "not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a firm conviction' that the state court was erroneous.'"). "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Accordingly, "[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, 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." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786-87.

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