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Alphonso v. Frauenheim

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 5, 2016

ASA A. ALPHONSO, Plaintiff,
SCOTT FRAUENHEIM, et al., Defendant.



         Asa A. Alphonso (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 22 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction and sentence for nine felony offenses against Michelle C. These offenses include two counts of corporal injury on a cohabitant, two counts of false imprisonment by violence, and one count each of assault by means of force likely to cause great bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, attempting to dissuade a witness from reporting a crime, and making a criminal threat. (Lod. 2 [Doc. 17-7], 179-81.) On August 12, 2015, Magistrate Judge Jan M. Adler issued a report and recommendation recommending the prejudicial dismissal of Petitioner’s 22 U.S.C. § 2254 claims. (See R&R [Doc. 17].) Petitioner timely objected to the report and recommendation (See Objection [Doc. 18].) In reviewing a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation, the district court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made, ” and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). For the reasons stated below, the Court overrules Petitioner’s objections and adopts the report and recommendation.

         I. Factual Background

         After reviewing the report and recommendation, the Court finds its factual background section to be a comprehensive and accurate reflection of the underlying record. Accordingly, the Court adopts it as its own. (See R&R 2:7-7:22.)

         II. Legal Standard

         This Petition is governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997). Under AEDPA, a habeas petition will not be granted with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits by the state court unless that adjudication: (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented at the state court proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7-8 (2002). In deciding a state prisoner's habeas petition, a federal court is not called upon to decide whether it agrees with the state court's determination; rather, the court applies an extraordinarily deferential review, inquiring only whether the state court's decision was objectively unreasonable. See Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 4 (2003); Medina v. Hornung, 386 F.3d 872, 877 (9th Cir. 2004).

         III. Objections

         Petitioner advances four objections. He contends that the report and recommendation is erroneous inasmuch as it found that (1) the state court’s alleged abuse of discretion in denying his motion for a new trial is not cognizable on federal habeas review; (2) the exclusion of Michelle C’s estranged husband’s testimony did not violate Petitioner’s right to present a complete defense; (3) the harmless error standard articulated in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967) does not govern here; and (4) Petitioner’s Batson / Wheeler challenge based on the allegedly racially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges lacked merit. (See Objection.) The Court will address these objections in turn.[1]

         A. Claim 1

         Petitioner contends that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on the allegedly wrongful exclusion of Michelle C’s estranged husband’s testimony. (Petition [Doc. 1] 12:2-15:2; Objection 2:12-3:23.) Habeas relief under § 2254 is available only for violations of federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (a). Petitioner concedes the fact that, in his first claim, he cites only to California state case law to support his abuse of discretion claim. (Objection 2:21-22.) Nevertheless, Petitioner contends that his first claim presents an issue of federal law because its heading includes a reference to the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

         The Court disagrees. While the heading suggests that his first claim will allege federal constitutional violations, the fact remains that the substance of this section focuses exclusively on the alleged violation of his state statutory right to a new trial. The mere reference to an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, unaccompanied by any analysis or citation to authority, does not suffice to convert an issue of state law into a federal issue cognizable on federal habeas review. See Miller v. Stagner, 757 F.2d 988, 993-94 (9th Cir. 1985).

         B. Claim 2

         Petitioner contends that the state violated his right to present a defense by not allowing him to call Michelle C’s estranged husband as an impeachment witness. (Petition 15:3-19:26; Objection 4:1-5:8.) The Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment establish that criminal defendants have “the right to put before a jury evidence that might influence the determination of guilt.” Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39, 56 (1987).

         After the prosecution rested, and outside of the presence of the jury, the trial court heard the testimony of Michelle C’s estranged husband Kip Cowell (“Cowell”). Cowell testified that he married Michelle C in 1991, and the two were together for about 16 years before separating. (Lod. 1 Vol. 2 [Doc. 16-3], 387:23-388:4.) Cowell testified that Michelle C made various allegations of abuse against him during this time. Specifically, Cowell was in the Navy, and he claims that Michelle C approached the Navy with accusations that he mentally abused her, physically abused her, financially abused her, and sexually abused her. Michelle C also contacted child protective services alleging sexual abuse of their daughter. These accusations were based on Cowell’s actions of engaging Michelle C in arguments that caused her stress (mental abuse); prying his work laptop computer from her hands when she refused to let go of it voluntarily (physical abuse); taking over the finances and, after separation, creating a bank account she could not access (financial ...

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