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Read v. Valenzuela

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 20, 2016

CHARLES DELANO READ, Petitioner,
v.
E. VALENZUELA, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          EDWARD M. CHEN, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Charles Delano Read filed this pro se action for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Court issued an order to show cause why the writ should not be granted. Respondent has filed an answer and Mr. Gonzalez has filed a traverse. For the reasons explained below, the petition will be DENIED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The petition now before the Court concerns Mr. Read's recent efforts to be resentenced under California's Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012, rather than his original conviction from 1996 and the sentence thereon imposed in 1997. Nonetheless, it is necessary to describe his conviction and sentence to evaluate his claims regarding the denial of his request for resentencing.

         In 1996, Mr. Read was convicted in the San Mateo County Superior Court of possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine for sale, and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Docket No. 12-3 at 13. Sentencing enhancement allegations were found true that he "had been convicted of two prior serious or violent felonies" within the meaning of California Penal Code section 667(c)-(e); "had served three prior prison terms" within the meaning of California Penal Code section 667.5(b); and had previously been convicted of violations of California Health and Safety Code sections 11379 and 11383(a), within the meaning of California Health and Safety Code section 11370.2(c). Docket No. 12-3 at 13. Mr. Read was sentenced in 1997 to a total of 109 years to life in prison. Id. at 1. On appeal, his conviction was reversed as to one of the felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm counts, and otherwise affirmed. His sentence then was recalculated to be 84 years to life in prison.

         In 2012, California voters approved Proposition 36, the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 ("the Reform Act"). The Reform Act provides that "under three specified eligibility criteria and subject to certain disqualifying exceptions or exclusions, a prisoner currently serving a sentence of 25 years to life under the pre-Proposition 36 version of the Three Strikes law for a third felony conviction that was not a serious or violent felony may be eligible for resentencing as if he or she only had one prior serious or violent felony conviction." People v. White, 223 Cal.App.4th 512, 517 (Cal.Ct.App. 2014). (The details about the resentencing, and exclusions therefrom, are discussed later in this order.)

         Mr. Read filed a petition in San Mateo County Superior Court to have his Three Strikes sentence recalled so that he could be resentenced under the Reform Act. The superior court held a hearing on May 31, 2013, and denied the petition. The superior court found that Mr. Read was ineligible for resentencing because he was armed with a firearm during the commission of the offense for which he received a Three Strikes sentence in 1997.

         Mr. Read appealed from the denial of his petition to recall his sentence. On November 24, 2014, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of his petition to recall his sentence in a reasoned decision. On February 11, 2015, the California Supreme Court denied his petition for review without comment. Mr. Read then filed this action.

         Mr. Read's federal petition for writ of habeas corpus alleged three claims. First, he claimed that the denial of his petition to recall his sentence violated his rights under state law. That claim was dismissed earlier because federal habeas relief is not available for state law errors. See Docket No. 3 at 2-3. Second, Mr. Read claimed that the state court's failure to require the prosecutor to plead and prove the exception that made him ineligible for resentencing under the Reform Act violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. See ECF No. 1-1 at 31.

         Third, Mr. Read claimed that the "Sixth Amendment jury trial right preclude[d] the [superior] court from engaging in judicial factfinding for purposes of disqualifying a defendant from resentencing consideration under the Reform Act." See Id. at 38.

         The Court issued an order to show cause why the writ should not be granted on the due process and jury trial claims. Respondent has filed an answer and Mr. Read has filed a traverse. The matter is now ready for a decision on the merits.

         III. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this habeas action for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This action is in the proper venue because the petition concerns the sentence of a person convicted and sentenced in San Mateo County, California, which is within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. §§ 84, 2241(d).

         IV. 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).

         The Antiterrorism And Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") amended § 2254 to impose new restrictions on federal habeas review. A 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." 28 U.S.C. § 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 Supreme] 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.

         The state-court decision to which § 2254(d) applies is the "last reasoned decision" of the state court. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803-04 (1991); Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1091-92 (9th Cir. 2005). "When there has been one reasoned state judgment rejecting a federal claim, later unexplained orders upholding that judgment or rejecting the same claim rest upon the same ground." Ylst, 501 U.S. at 803. The presumption that a later summary denial rests on the same reasoning as the earlier reasoned decision is a rebuttable presumption and can be overcome by strong evidence. Kernan v. Hinojosa, No. 15-833, slip op. at 3 (U.S. May 16, 2016). Although Ylst was a procedural default case, the "look through" rule announced there has been extended beyond the context of procedural default and applies to decisions on the merits. Barker, 423 F.3d at 1092 n.3. In other words, when the last reasoned decision is a decision on the merits, the habeas court can look through later summary denials to apply § 2254(d) to the last reasoned decision.

         V. ...


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