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Aguilar v. Arnold

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 29, 2016

RUDOLPH AGUILAR, Petitioner,
v.
ERIC ARNOLD, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. MCDERMOTT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         On March 11, 2015, Rudolph Aguilar ("Petitioner"), a prisoner in state custody, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition" or "Pet."). On June 12, 2015, Respondent filed an Answer and lodged the pertinent state records. Petitioner did not file a Reply. The matter is ready for decision.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before this Magistrate Judge. The matter is now ready for decision. Having reviewed the pleadings and the lodged records, the Court concludes that the Petition must be denied and this action dismissed with prejudice.

         PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury convicted Petitioner of assault with a deadly weapon (count 1) and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (count 2). (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1).) In a bifurcated proceeding, the trial court found that Petitioner had a prior “strike” conviction under the California Three Strikes Law (Cal. Penal Code §§ 667(b)-(i), 1170(a)-(d)) and a prior serious felony conviction (Cal. Penal Code § 667(a)(1)). Petitioner was sentenced to eleven years in state prison. (Clerk’s Transcript (“CT”) at 122, 151-55.)[1]

         Petitioner appealed to the California Court of Appeal. (Respondent’s Lodged Documents (“Lodg.”) 3, 5.) On May 15, 2014, the California Court of Appeal vacated Petitioner’s conviction in count 2 but affirmed his conviction in count 1. (See Lodg. 6.)

         Petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court (Lodg. 7), which was denied on August 13, 2014 (Lodg. 8).

         On March 11, 2015, Petitioner filed the instant Petition.

         SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE AT TRIAL[2]

         Based on its independent review of the record, the Court adopts the following factual summary from the California Court of Appeal's unpublished opinion as a fair and accurate summary of the evidence presented at trial:

On the evening of December 14, 2011, Jeffrey Lotz was homeless and preparing to go to sleep beside train tracks near the intersection of North Huntington Drive and Santa Anita Avenue in Arcadia. Earlier that evening he had been with appellant, who also was homeless, behind bushes at a nearby carwash. Appellant came out from around a bush and told Mr. Lotz that he had to move. Mr. Lotz asked what was wrong. Appellant said he was in his spot, and could not sleep there. Mr. Lotz said that he had been given permission by appellant to sleep in that location. Appellant repeated that Mr. Lotz had to move. Mr. Lotz began to gather his belongings, which were near a four foot by six foot concrete electrical box with a metal cover. The two men used the box to store items. Appellant was standing next to a two inch by one inch piece of wood, 39 inches long.
Appellant picked up the piece of wood and “started slamming it” on the metal electrical box “right next” to Mr. Lotz. Mr. Lotz asked appellant to stop, saying that he was leaving. Appellant hit the box again, and said Mr. Lotz was not moving fast enough. Mr. Lotz looked up, and was struck in the head by appellant, who was agitated and yelling. Mr. Lotz was struck on the hairline, his eye was grazed, and he was cut just below his right eye. The stick broke on the first blow.
Mr. Lotz asked appellant what he was doing. Appellant repeated his demand that Mr. Lotz get out, saying that he was not moving fast enough. Mr. Lotz looked up and put his hand up. Appellant swung again, hitting Mr. Lotz's hand, deflecting off, and hitting Mr. Lotz on the left cheek. Mr. Lotz told appellant his hand was broken, to which appellant replied, “‘Good.’” Mr. Lotz got up, walked out to the sidewalk and flagged down police officers. He received seven stitches at his hairline and six just below his right eye. Vision in his right eye remained blurry. His ring finger was broken and was permanently bent.
Arcadia police officers Jeffrey Stark and Brian Long were directed by Mr. Lotz to the location of the assault. He identified appellant as his assailant. Appellant, whom Officer Stark knew from previous contacts, was at the scene. A substance that appeared to be blood was on his clothing. He was detained by the officers. Officer Cameron Link took over the investigation at the scene. A big piece of wood was found propped up on the crossing arm at the railroad crossing. Officer Stark described it as a two-by-four with a rugged texture. It appeared to have blood on the jagged edge. It was photographed and taken into evidence. Mr. Lotz identified it as the piece of wood with which appellant had struck him.
Appellant testified in his own defense. He admitted a dispute with Mr. Lotz about sleeping space near the railroad tracks during which he broke the piece of wood by hitting it against the electrical box. But he denied striking Mr. Lotz. He claimed that Mr. Lotz moved around while on the ground, leaned over, and cut himself with the stick. He said the blood on his clothing was his own, from scratching himself during a yard work job, and then reopening the wound every time he took a cigarette and lighter out of his pockets.

(Lodg. 6 at 2-4.)

         PETITIONER'S CLAIMS

         Ground One: The trial court violated Petitioner’s constitutional rights by giving a jury instruction that “failed to separate elements for each count” and failed to instruct the jurors “which elements they had to find.” (Pet. at 5, 10-23.)[3]

         Ground Two: The California Court of Appeal should have reversed Petitioner’s conviction in count 1, in addition to reversing his conviction in count 2, because the jury did not necessarily find that Petitioner used a deadly weapon in count 1. (Pet. at 5, 24-27.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") governs the Court's consideration of Petitioner's cognizable federal claims. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, states:

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.

         In Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), the United States Supreme Court held that a state court's decision can be contrary to federal law if it either (1) fails to apply the correct controlling authority, or (2) applies the controlling authority to a case involving facts materially indistinguishable from those in a controlling case, but nonetheless reaches a different result. Id. at 405-06. A state court's decision can involve an unreasonable application of federal law if it either (1) correctly identifies the governing rule but then applies it to a new set of facts in a way that is objectively unreasonable, or (2) extends or fails to extend a clearly established legal principle to a new context in a way that is objectively unreasonable. Id. at 407-08. The Supreme Court has admonished courts against equating the term "unreasonable application" with "clear error." "These two standards . . . are not the same. The gloss of clear error fails to give proper deference to state courts by conflating error (even clear error) with unreasonableness." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003). Instead, in this context, habeas relief may issue only if the state court's application of federal law was "objectively unreasonable." Id. "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, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011).

         Under AEDPA, the "clearly established Federal law" that controls federal habeas review of state court decisions consists of holdings (as opposed to dicta) of Supreme Court decisions "as of the time of the relevant state court decision." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412 ("§ 2254(d)(I) restricts the source of clearly established law to this Court's jurisprudence"); see also Andrade, 531 U.S. at 71. If there is no Supreme Court precedent that controls a legal issue raised by a habeas petitioner in state court, the state court's decision cannot be contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125-26 (2008) (per curiam); see also Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 7677 (2006). A state court need not cite or even be aware of the controlling Supreme Court cases, "so long as neither ...


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