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Naranjo v. Kernan

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 4, 2017

JOSE A. NARANJO, Petitioner,
SCOTT KERNAN, [1] Respondent.


          Hon. Bernard G. Skomal United States Magistrate Judge.

         Petitioner Jose A. Naranjo (“Petitioner” or “Naranjo”) has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner asserts the state trial court violated his Due Process rights by (1) denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and (2) refusing to grant a continuance and pressuring Petitioner to make a decision regarding how to proceed in obtaining the partial relief he was granted in his prior federal petition.[2]

         The Court submits this Report and Recommendation to United States District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule HC.2 of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. After consideration of the Petition, Respondent's Answer, Petitioner's Traverse, and lodgments, the Court recommends the Petition be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner's two claims primarily arise out of two state court proceedings separated by more than four years. Claim One arises from the state superior court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. On March 12, 2009, approximately a month after he plead guilty, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea. It was followed by appointment of counsel for the motion and counsel's filing of a motion to withdraw Petitioner's plea on March 17, 2009. At the conclusion of a June 3, 2009 hearing on the motion, in which Petitioner and his prior counsel testified, the motion was denied. No direct appeal was filed, but Petitioner pursued state habeas relief and then a federal habeas petition in 2011. That federal petition was partially granted.

         Claim Two arises from a series of hearings on July 17, 18, 2013 and August 5, 2013. Petitioner's federal petition had been granted on one claim - ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel's failure to consult with Petitioner about or file an appeal of the denial of his motion to withdraw his plea.[3] The federal district court had ordered the state court to vacate and reinstate its June 3, 2009 judgment to allow Petitioner to file a direct appeal of the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Petitioner argues in Claim Two that the judge in those hearings pressured him to make specific decisions and should have granted him a continuance to provide him more time to consider how he wanted to proceed.

         A. Factual Background

         The following summary of the allegations against Petitioner is drawn from the Court of Appeal's March 24, 2015 decision. (Lodgment 8.) It is a summary of the evidence presented at Petitioner's preliminary hearing. (Id. at 2, n.1.)

Naranjo dated the victim for about 10 years. On the evening of the day he ended their relationship, she went to a nightclub, which upset him. He drove to her home the next evening and she came outside to talk to him. She got into his truck and he started hitting her in the face. She tried to get out of the truck and escape, but he pushed her back inside and resumed hitting her.
He continued hitting her as he drove her to a carpentry shop about six minutes away from her home. When they arrived at the shop, he insulted her and threatened to kill her. She removed her shoes, ran away, and yelled for help. He caught her and they fell to the ground. He covered her mouth and nose with his hand and told her to stop yelling.
He took her back to the shop. As he was trying to open the shop door, she ran away again and tried to dial 911 on her phone. He caught her by her hair and took the phone from her. She passed out. He lifted her and carried her toward the shop. She regained consciousness along the way. He then put her down and they walked into the shop, where, after securing the door, he told her he was going to chop her into little pieces using the table saw.
He started moving toward the table saw and she begged him not to hurt her. He pulled her up and took her to a stool. He asked her why she had disrespected him by going to the nightclub. He bent her over the stool, pulled her pants down, put his penis into her vagina and started moving. She cried and told him she did not want him to do what he was doing. He told her she had asked for it by going to the nightclub.
He then took her off the stool, put her on the floor, and began moving his penis in and out of her rectum. She told him he was hurting her and she could not breathe because her nose was bleeding, but he did not stop.
After he ejaculated, he had her get dressed and get back into his truck. He ran an errand and then took her home. She pretended everything was fine and kissed him goodbye. When she got to her door, she called the police. Her injuries included bleeding, a fractured nose, bites on her back, and injuries to her right thigh.

         B. Procedural Background

         1. Initial Proceedings Before the State Courts

         On February 11, 2009, Petitioner pled guilty to forcible rape (Cal. Penal Code § 261(a)(2), forcible sodomy (Cal. Penal Code § 286(c)(2)), assault likely to produce great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)) enhanced under California Penal Code § 12022.7(a) based on Petitioner's admission that he personally inflicted great bodily injury, and making criminal threats (Cal. Penal Code § 422). (Lodgment 1 at 24-27; Lodgment 2 at 2-10.) In exchange for his guilty plea to these charges, additional charges that might have resulted in a sentence of 25-years to life were dismissed and Petitioner received a stipulated sentence of 18 years and 8 months. (Lodgment 2 at 3, 10; Lodgment 1 at 24.)

         On March 12, 2009, Petitioner filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea claiming he entered his plea out of fear and under pressure from counsel and wanted an attorney that would dedicate more time to his case and get him a more equitable plea agreement. (Lodgment 1 at 28-31.) The trial court appointed new counsel and his new counsel filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Lodgment 1 at 32-34.)

         The trial court held a hearing on the motion on June 3, 2009, heard testimony from Petitioner and his prior counsel, and denied his motion. (Lodgment 2 at 13-31.) Petitioner was sentenced under the terms of the plea agreement to 18 years and 8 months. (Lodgment 2 at 31-33.) Petitioner did not file a direct appeal of the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

         On June 3, 2010, Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in San Diego Superior Court arguing he was unduly influenced by his counsel to plead guilty, he did not understand the waiver forms he signed when entering his plea, he should have been allowed to withdraw his plea, and his counsel should have filed an appeal of the denial of the motion to withdraw his plea. (Case No. 11cv1487, Lodgment 4.[4]) It was denied on July 20, 2010. (Case No. 11cv1487, Lodgment 5.) Petitioner filed a petition with the California Court of Appeal on September 16, 2010. (Case No. 11cv1487, Lodgment 6.) It was denied in a reasoned decision. (Case No. 11cv1487, Lodgment 7.) Petitioner filed a petition with the California Supreme Court. (Case No. 11cv1487, Lodgment 8.) It was summarily denied. (Case No. 11cv1487, Lodgment 11.)

         2. Prior Federal Habeas Proceedings

         On July 1, 2011, Petitioner filed his first federal habeas petition raising four claims: (1) he was unduly influenced by his counsel to plead guilty; (2) he did not understand the charges to which he was pleading guilty; (3) the trial court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea; and (4) he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to file a notice of appeal and failed to consult with him about filing a notice of appeal. (Case No. 11cv1487, Petition [ECF No.1].) The district court denied habeas relief on the first three claims, but allowed submission of all relevant evidence in support of claim four. (Case No. 11cv1487, November 29, 2012 Order at 4-9.) Following the submission of additional evidence, the district court found Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel's failure to consult with Petitioner about filing an appeal or filing an appeal on his behalf on the denial of his motion to withdraw his plea. (Lodgment 1 at 105-120.)

         On this basis, the district court granted habeas relief and ordered the state court to vacate the June 3, 2009 judgment and reinstate it to allow Petitioner to file a timely appeal. (Id. at 120.) The district court later modified its order to state that “The Petition for Writ of Habea Corpus is GRANTED as to claim four. Respondent shall release Petitioner from custody on June 9, 2013 unless, prior to that date, the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego has vacated its June 3, 2009 order and judgment and then reinstated that order and judgment, thereby allowing Petitioner to initiate the appeal process from the reinstated judgment by seeking a certificate of probable cause.” (Case No. 11cv1487, May 1, 2013 Order at 3.) The district court also granted Petitioner a certificate of appealability as to claims one, two, and three. (Id. at 4.) The initial deadline for the state court to comply was extended a number of times by the district court and then Respondent filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit and sought and obtained a 30-day stay of the district court's order on July 17, 2013. (Case No. 11cv1487, ECF 52.)

         3. State Court Proceedings Following Grant of Petition on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel for Failing to File Appeal

         On July 17, 2013, a hearing was held before the state superior court to address compliance with the district court order. (Lodgment 2 at 39-42.) The trial court noted that upon reviewing the situation, he had ordered counsel appointed for Petitioner - Jose Badillo - who was present in court. (Id. at 39.) It appears the trial court determined, after consultation with counsel for Petitioner, the attorney general's office, and the district attorney's office, that the only way the court could obtain jurisdiction to comply with the district court's directive to vacate and reinstate the judgment to allow Petitioner to appeal was for Petitioner to file a state habeas petition seeking that relief.[5]

         As discussed in more detail below, after an additional hearing on July 18, 2013 before the state trial court, Petitioner filed a state habeas petition on July 30, 2013 seeking the relief granted by the district court. Petitioner then attempted to rescind it by letter on July 31, 2013, but then confirmed on the record at an August 5, 2013 hearing that he wanted it filed. (Lodgment 2 at 37-63; Lodgment 1 at 69, 99-104.) The trial court granted the state habeas petitioner during the August 5, 2013 hearing, finding Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel's failure to consult with Petitioner about an appeal or file an appeal of the denial of the request to withdraw his plea. The trial court vacated the June 3, 2009 judgment, reinstated it, and imposed the same stipulated 18-year 8-month sentence. (Lodgment 2 at 64-65.)

         On appeal, Petitioner again challenged the denial of his motion to withdraw his plea as well as claiming the trial court judge became excessively involved in the state habeas proceedings and should have granted Petitioner a continuance. (Lodgment 3.) The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in a reasoned decision. (Lodgment 8.) Petitioner filed a Petition for Review with the California Supreme Court. (Lodgment 9.) It was summarily denied on July 8, 2015. (Lodgment 10.)

         4. Current Federal Petition

         In his current federal Petition, Naranjo asserts two claims: (1) he was denied Due Process because his guilty plea was entered under duress and the trial court should have granted his motion to withdraw it; and (2) he was denied Due Process because, in the state court proceedings following his grant of federal habeas relief, the trial court failed to grant a continuance to allow Petitioner to make an informed decision and pressured him to make specific decisions. (Pet. at 4-15.)


         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), applicable to this Petition, a habeas petition will not be granted 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, 8 (2002). “This is a ‘difficult to meet' and ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011) and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002)).

         “The ‘contrary to' and ‘unreasonable application of' clauses in § 2254(d)(1) are distinct and have separate meanings.” Moses v. Payne, 555 F.3d 742, 751 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73-75 (2003)). “Under the ‘contrary to' clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal court may grant relief only when ‘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.'” Loher v. Thomas, 825 F.3d 1103, 1111 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000)).

         “Under the ‘unreasonable application' clause of § 2254(d)(1), ‘a state-court decision involves an unreasonable application of the Supreme Court's precedent if the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule . . . but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoners case.'” Id. (quoting White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1705 (2014). Unreasonable application is “not merely wrong” or “even clear error.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015). It must be “objectively unreasonable.” Id. “To satisfy this high bar, a habeas petitioner is required to ‘show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'” Id. at 1377 (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103). “[R]elief is available under § 2254(d)(1)'s unreasonable application clause if, and only if, it is obvious that a clearly established rule applies to a given set of facts that there could be no ‘fairminded disagreement' on the question.” Woodall, 134 S.Ct. at 1706-07 (citing Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 411 (“[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.”).

         Under § 2254(d)(2) “a petitioner may challenge the substance of the state court's finding and attempt to show that those findings were not supported by substantial evidence” or “challenge the fact-finding process itself on the ground that it was deficient in some material way.” Hibbler v. Benedetti, 693 F.3d 1140, 1146 (9th Cir. 2012). “Regardless of the type of challenge, ‘the question under AEDPA is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable - a substantially higher threshold.” Id. “[W]hen the challenge is to the state courts procedure, . . . [the court] must be satisfied that any appellate court to whom the defect in the state court's fact-finding process is pointed out would be unreasonable in holding that the state courts fact-finding process was adequate.'” Id. at 1146-47; see also Taylor v. Maddox, 366 F.3d 992, 1001 (9th Cir. 2004) (the federal court “must be convinced that an appellate panel, applying the normal standards of appellate review, could not reasonably conclude that the finding is supported by the record.”).

         Where, as here, there is no reasoned decision from the state's highest court, the Court “looks through” to the last reasoned decision and presumes it provides the basis for the higher court's denial of a claim or claims. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 805-06 (1991);[6] see also Johnson v. Williams, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1094 n.1 (2013). Here, the California Court of Appeal's March 24, 2015 decision is the last reasoned decision.

         III. ...

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