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Jones v. Cate

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 30, 2015

CHARLES B. JONES, Petitioner,
MATTHEW L. CATE, Respondent.


EDMUND F. BRENNAN, Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. He challenges a 2010 judgment of conviction entered against him pursuant to his plea of no contest in the Solano County Superior Court. He seeks federal habeas relief on the alleged grounds that his trial and appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance and that his plea of no contest was involuntary. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, it is recommended that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.

I. Background

In a pre-sentence report, petitioner's probation officer described the facts underlying the charges as follows:

Count 1: The following is summarized from Fairfield Police Department crime report #08-08216, dated 02 June 2008. The victim observed a subject, later identified as the defendant, walking out of her garage holding her husband's DeWalt drill case in his hand. She told the defendant, "You better put that back." The defendant ran to a vehicle and drove off with the drill case. The victim was able to describe the vehicle, a blue Cherokee Jeep, and provided the license plate number to the police.
Police responded to the address linked to the license plate. The suspect vehicle and defendant were located at the residence. The defendant was in the threshold of the driveway and garage area when he was instructed to sit on the curb in front of the residence. The defendant initially walked into the garage and stood between the front of the suspect vehicle and a workbench, but was subsequently detained. The victim was brought to this residence for a field identification. She was able to identify the defendant as the person who was carrying the drill case from her garage.
The defendant advised officers he was on parole. Inside the garage, a DeWalt drill case was located. The drill and a battery were located in the case. The serial number of the battery in the case matched a serial number of another battery at the victim's home. The property was subsequently returned to the victim.
At the Fairfield Police Department, the defendant was given his Miranda admonishment. He stated he did not take the drill or case. He stated they belonged to him and were not stolen. A parole hold was subsequently placed on the defendant.
Count 2/Dismissed with Harvey Waiver: The following is summarized from Fairfield Police Department crime report #08-17120, dated 03 December 2008. The victim was sleeping in his residence when he heard his dog barking, which suggested someone was near his home. He looked out his window and saw a white Chevrolet pickup truck parked on the street. When he exited his front door, he saw an individual, later identified as the defendant, attempting to remove an air compressor from his backyard into his front yard. The air compressor was stored in a latched shed in his backyard.
The victim confronted the defendant. The defendant dropped the air compressor and fled to the truck and drove off. The victim was able to obtain the license plate of the vehicle. Less than a minute later, the defendant returned and offered the victim money to not report this incident to the police. The victim did not accept the money and advised the defendant he was going to call the police. The victim also noticed a chainsaw was missing, but did not know if the defendant took it.
As the police responded to the address that was linked to the truck, the truck was seen in the area and a traffic stop was initiated. A record check revealed the defendant was on parole, which he confirmed. The defendant was detained and a parole search was conducted. The search did not reveal any contraband material.
The victim was able to identify the defendant during an in-field identification even though the defendant changed his clothing. The defendant was taken into custody and given his Miranda admonishment. The defendant stated, "It wasn't me. I don't got no statement." A parole hold was also placed on the defendant.

Resp't's Lodg. Doc. 6 at 174-75.

On October 23, 2009, the Solano County District Attorney charged petitioner with two counts of burglary and alleged that petitioner had served four prior prison terms, had suffered one prior strike conviction and two prior serious felony convictions, and was on bail when he committed one of the burglaries. Resp't's Lodg. Doc. 5 at 126-29. On December 9, 2009, petitioner pled no contest to one count of burglary and admitted the prior strike and three prior prison term allegations. Id. at 141-46. On June 30, 2010, the trial court sentenced petitioner to a stipulated sentence of 11 years in state prison and ordered the payment of several restitution fines. Id. at 187-89, 193.

Petitioner appealed his judgment of conviction to the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District, claiming that the abstract of judgment should be modified to accurately reflect the restitution fines orally imposed by the trial court at sentencing. Resp't's Ex. 1. The Court of Appeal modified the abstract of judgment to correct the amount of the restitution fines and affirmed the judgment as modified. Id.

Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Superior Court, claiming that his plea was involuntary and that his trial and appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance. ECF No. 14-13. The Superior Court denied that petition in a reasoned decision dated November 4, 2011. Id.

Petitioner raised the same claims in petitions for a writ of habeas corpus filed in the California Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court. Resp't's Lodg. Docs. 2, 3. Those petitions were summarily denied. ECF No. 14-14; Resp't's Lodg. Doc. 3.

II. Analysis

A. Standards of Review Applicable to Habeas Corpus Claims

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, 131 S.Ct. 13, 16 (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.

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, ___ U.S. ___, 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)). Nonetheless, "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)).

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.[1] 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; accord 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.

If the state court's decision does not meet the criteria set forth in § 2254(d), a reviewing court must conduct a de novo review of a habeas petitioner's claims. Delgadillo v. Woodford, 527 F.3d 919, 925 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 735 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) ("[I]t is now clear both that we may not grant habeas relief simply because of § 2254(d)(1) error and that, if there is such error, we must decide the habeas petition by considering de novo the constitutional issues raised.").

The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859; Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). If the last reasoned state court decision adopts or substantially incorporates the reasoning from a previous state court decision, this court may consider both decisions to ascertain the reasoning of the last decision. Edwards v. Lamarque, 475 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). "When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 784-85. This presumption may be overcome by a showing "there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Id. at 785 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)). Similarly, when a state court decision on a petitioner's claims rejects some claims but does not expressly address a federal claim, a federal habeas court must presume, subject to rebuttal, that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits. Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1091 (2013).

Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to determine whether habeas corpus relief is available under § 2254(d). Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). "Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes, 336 F.3d at 853. Where no reasoned decision is available, the habeas petitioner still has the burden of "showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 784.

When it is clear, however, that a state court has not reached the merits of a petitioner's claim, the deferential standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) does not apply and a federal habeas court must review the claim de novo. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Reynoso v. Giurbino, 462 F.3d 1099, ...

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