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Israel v. C. Wofford

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 29, 2017

MAX L. ISRAEL, Petitioner,
v.
C. WOFFORD, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

         This is a habeas corpus case filed pro se by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The court ordered respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted. Respondent filed an answer and lodged exhibits with the court, and petitioner filed a traverse. For the reasons set out below, the petition is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was convicted in 2005 for carjacking and related counts. Clerk's Transcript (“CT”), Ex. E at 356-61. The trial court found that petitioner had three prior strikes arising from a 1999 Santa Clara County conviction and a 2000 Santa Cruz County conviction. CT, Ex. E at 217-18, 284-85, 414-15. Petitioner was sentenced to 85 years to life. CT, Ex. E at 541, 543. In 2013 petitioner was resentenced for the 2005 conviction due to Proposition 36, which reformed the three strikes law. Reporter's Transcript (“RT”) at 36-38. The new sentence was 25 years to life, consecutive to 13 years and four months. Id. In this federal habeas petition, petitioner challenges the 2013 resentencing.

         Prior Conviction Enhancement Findings 1999 Santa Clara County

         On March 26, 1999, petitioner pled guilty to two counts of first degree burglary and was sentenced to six years in prison. Answer, Ex. H.

         2000 Santa Cruz County

         On March 3, 2000, petitioner pled guilty to one count of first degree burglary and was sentenced to four years in prison. Answer, Ex. I.

         2005 Santa Clara County

         On April 6, 2005, a jury convicted petitioner of carjacking with a firearm enhancement, vehicle theft with a prior conviction for vehicle theft, and reckless driving while evading an officer. CT, Ex. E at 356-61, 408-09. The trial court found that petitioner had three prior strike convictions, two prior serious felony convictions and four prior prison terms. CT, Ex. E at 414-15. The trial court denied petitioner's motion to dismiss one or more of his prior strike allegations brought in a motion pursuant to People v. Romero, 13 Cal.4th 497 (1996). CT, Ex. E at 417, 541, 543-44. Petitioner was sentenced to 85 years to life. CT, Ex. E at 541, 543. Petitioner's appeals and state and federal habeas petitions regarding this conviction were all denied. Answer, Exs. G, N, L, M; Israel v. Evans, No. 09-cv-0650-PJH (N.D. Cal. Feb. 5, 2013).

         2013 Santa Clara County Resentencing

         Petitioner filed a request to be resentenced pursuant to Proposition 36. The trial court found that petitioner was entitled to resentencing on the vehicle-theft count and reckless-driving count, but was not entitled to resentencing on the carjacking count. CT, Ex. A at 210; RT at 11-12. A resentencing hearing was held on July 18, 2013, where petitioner waived his right to counsel and represented himself. CT, Ex. A at 220-28; RT at 26. The trial court resentenced petitioner on the two counts, and the new sentence was 25 years to life, consecutive to 13 years and four months. CT, Ex. A at 229-30; RT at 36-38.

         Petitioner appealed, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed the resentencing. People v. Israel, No. H039971, 2015 WL 1734307, at *1 (Cal.Ct.App. Apr. 14, 2015). Petitioner did not seek review in the California Supreme Court. Petitioner did file several state habeas petitions in the California Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court that were all denied. Answer, Exs. K, J, P, Q. The underlying facts of the various convictions are not relevant to the claims in this petition.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court may not grant a petition challenging a state conviction or sentence on the basis of a claim that was reviewed 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). The first prong applies both to questions of law and to mixed questions of law and fact, see Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407-09 (2000), while the second prong applies to decisions based on factual determinations, see Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 340 (2003).

         A state court decision is “contrary to” Supreme Court authority, that is, falls under the first clause of § 2254(d)(1), only 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 Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 412-13. A state court decision is an “unreasonable application of” Supreme Court authority, falling under the second clause of § 2254(d)(1), if it correctly identifies the 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. The federal court on habeas review 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.” Id. at 411. Rather, the application must be “objectively unreasonable” to support granting the writ. Id. at 409.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), a state court decision “based on a factual determination will not be overturned on factual grounds unless objectively unreasonable in light of the evidence presented in the state-court proceeding.” See Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 340; see also Torres v. Prunty, 223 F.3d 1103, 1107 (9th Cir. 2000).

         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 is no reasoned opinion from the highest state court to consider the petitioner's claims, the court looks to the last reasoned opinion. See Nunnemaker at 801-06; Shackleford v. Hubbard, 234 F.3d 1072, 1079 n.2 (9th Cir. 2000).

         The standard of review under AEDPA is somewhat different where the state court gives no reasoned explanation of its decision on a petitioner's federal claim and there is no reasoned lower court decision on the claim. In such a case, as with all claims in this petition, a review of the record is the only means of deciding whether the state court's decision was objectively reasonable. Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003); Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 981-82 (9th Cir. 2000). When confronted with such a decision, a federal court should conduct an independent review of the record to determine whether ...


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