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Sciosciole v. Gower

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 4, 2016

EDWARD FRANCIS SCIOSCIOLE, Petitioner,
v.
GOWER, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          BARRY M. KURREN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Edward Francis Sciosciole’s Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody. After careful consideration of the Petition and the supporting and opposing memoranda, the Court DENIES the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         On April 7, 2010, Petitioner Edward Francis Sciosciole walked into a Wells Fargo bank in California and handed the bank service manager a note that read, “This is a robbery.” The manager gave Petitioner $3, 810, and he ran off. Petitioner was subsequently arrested and was positively identified in a lineup.

         Petitioner was charged with second degree robbery (count one) and grand theft (count two). The information also noted that Petitioner had two 2005 convictions for robbery and a 2005 conviction for making a criminal threat. It was also alleged that Petitioner had served four prior and separate prison terms.

         On May 2, 2011, Petitioner’s jury trial commenced. After both sides rested and upon the advice of trial counsel, Petitioner waived his right to a jury trial and requested a bench trial instead. The next day, the jury found Petitioner guilty of robbery (count one). After further consultation with his trial counsel, Petitioner waived his right to a trial on the prior convictions and prison term allegations and instead admitted the 2005 prior convictions, each which qualified as prior strikes. He also admitted he had served a prior prison term.

         On July 13, 2011, Petitioner filed a Romero motion, [2] seeking to have two of his prior strike convictions dismissed. The court denied this motion and sentenced Petitioner to thirty years to life, consisting of a third strike sentence of twenty-five years to life for count one, and a consecutive five years for one of the prior convictions. The other five-year terms for each of the two remaining prior convictions and the one-year prior prison term enhancement were stayed.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Petitioner filed a direct appeal to the California Court of Appeal, challenging the trial court’s denial of his Romero motion. The court found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the judgment. Petitioner then sought direct review in the state supreme court, abandoning his Romero claim and arguing for the first time that the trial court erred in denying him a mental competency hearing. The supreme court denied the petition without comment or citation.

         Petitioner filed a state habeas petition in the superior court, asserting that (1) the trial court erroneously denied him a mental competency hearing and (2) his trial counsel was ineffective for advising him to admit his prior convictions. The court denied his habeas petition. As to his claim regarding a mental competency hearing, the court held: “Petitioner raised his mental health condition/competency on appeal. The court denied the claim. In general, habeas relief is not appropriate for issues raised and rejected on appeal (In re Waltreus (1965), 62 Cal. 2d 218), or which could have been raised on appeal but were not (In re Dixon (1953), 41 Cal. 2d 756).” Petitioner presented the same two claims in a habeas petition to the state supreme court, which silently denied the petition.

         DISCUSSION

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) establishes a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings. Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). Under AEDPA, “we must defer to the state court’s resolution of federal claims unless its determination ‘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.’” Delgadillo v. Woodford, 527 F.3d 919, 924-25 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)). “The relevant state court determination for purposes of AEDPA review is the last reasoned state court decision.” Id.

         I. Petitioner’s Claim Regarding the Denial of a Mental Competency Hearing is Procedurally Barred (Ground 1).

         In Ground 1 of his Petition, Petitioner argues that he was wrongfully denied a mental competency hearing in the trial court. (Petition at 5.) He contends that the absence of a mental competency hearing violated his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. As discussed below, the Court finds that the last reasoned state court decision - i.e., the state superior court’s decision upon habeas review - imposed an adequate and independent state ...


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