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Leonard v. Gower

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 6, 2017

R.L. GOWER, Respondent.



         I. Introduction

         Petitioner is a state prisoner, proceeding without counsel, with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his 2013 conviction. In his amended petition, petitioner raises two claims that his conviction violates the Constitution. Respondent filed an answer; petitioner did not file a traverse. After careful review of the record, this court concludes that the petition should be denied.

         II. Procedural History

         1. A jury found petitioner guilty of battery with serious bodily injury (count 1), willfully resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer, a misdemeanor (count 2), and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (count 3). In connection with counts 1 and 3, the jury found petitioner personally inflicted great bodily injury. In bifurcated proceedings, petitioner admitted a strike prior (1995 robbery), a prior felony conviction, and four prior prison terms. On July 22, 2013, petitioner was sentenced to 20 years in state prison.

         2. Petitioner appealed the conviction to the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction on October 24, 2014.

         3. On November 25, 2014, petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court. Petitioner raised two claims: (1) the trial court abused its discretion and violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and a fair trial by allowing him to be impeached by six prior misdemeanor convictions and six prior felony convictions, and trial counsel's assistance was ineffective for failing to object; and (2) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present evidence through cross-examination of the victim and/or a defense expert of the meaning and extent of the victim's impairment. On January 14, 2015, the California Supreme Court denied review.

         4. Petitioner filed the instant amended petition on April 21, 2016. (ECF No. 21.)

         III. Facts

         In its unpublished memorandum and opinion affirming petitioner's judgment of conviction on appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided the following factual summary:

About 2:00 p.m. on February 5, 2013, at the corner of 10th and G Streets in Marysville, defendant punched 51-year-old Bradley Kirkegaard, rendering him unconscious. Defendant then fled the scene. An officer saw defendant a few blocks from the scene and ordered him to stop several times. Defendant fled from the officer and jumped over a fence. Officers found defendant hiding in a locked fenced yard.
The victim was transported to the hospital. He suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations which required stitches.
At trial, the victim testified he had never seen defendant before, did not know who he was, and did not converse with him. The victim felt the blow without warning. The victim admitted he had been drinking, having had four or five beers that day, but claimed he was not drunk. His blood-alcohol content at the hospital was 0.18 percent.
Two eyewitnesses who saw defendant punch the victim testified at trial. John Wilhelm was a passenger in a car driven by his spouse Jill Wilhelm. [FN2] They were stopped at a light on 10th Street preparing to turn left onto G Street. They were behind three cars. According to the officer who responded to the scene, the Wilhelm's location was about 120 feet from the scene. John saw defendant “sucker punch” the victim without “rhyme or reason.” On cross-examination, John testified it looked like the two were leaning on a light pole and could have been talking.
[FN2: We will use their first names to avoid confusion; no disrespect is intended.]
Jill testified that as she was driving that day, John exclaimed, “That guy just sucker punched that other guy.” Jill did not see the blow but called 911 because she saw defendant fleeing from the scene.
Wade Horton saw the punch as well. Horton was on 10th Street waiting for the light to turn green so he could turn left onto G Street. He was a couple of car lengths away, about 80 feet, from the scene. Horton observed defendant standing to the right and slightly behind the victim, “bouncing left to right, acting kind of agitated” before he hit the victim. Horton did not see the two conversing before the punch. Horton testified defendant “sucker punch[ed]” the victim who was completely defenseless. Defendant threw an “overhand right, ” hitting the victim square in the face.
The 44-year-old defendant testified. Defendant claimed the victim, who was drunk and smelled like alcohol, leaned or lunged into defendant, punching him “in the nuts.” Defendant admitted hitting the victim, claiming he did so in self-defense.
Two character witnesses testified for defendant. Dianna Burke-Knapp had seen defendant casually a couple of times a year for nine years and about once a week in the previous eight months. She opined that defendant was a “gentle spirit and very kind” who had never been violent in her presence. She believed he had to have been provoked in the current incident. He had written to her to explain his version of the incident. She had seen him provoked previously where he did not respond with anger. Defendant's prior convictions did not change her opinion of him.
Darren Brenegan, defendant's cousin, testified that he had grown up with defendant. Brenegan claimed that defendant's father was a “mean drunk” and that defendant “need[ed] help.” Brenegan had never seen defendant violent but was aware of his prior convictions. Brenegan believed that defendant had to have been provoked in the current incident. Defendant had told his version of the incident to Brenegan when he visited defendant in jail. Brenegan had told a defense investigator that defendant was a different person when he used drugs and alcohol which he used to suppress what happened to him in his childhood.

People v. Leonard, No. C074430, 2014 WL 5396205, at *1-2 (Cal.Ct.App. Oct. 24, 2014).

         IV. Standards for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

         An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 4 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991).

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:

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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         For purposes of applying § 2254(d)(1), “clearly established federal law” consists of holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the last reasoned state court decision. Thompson v. Runnels, 705 F.3d 1089, 1096 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Greene v. Fisher, 132 S.Ct. 38 (2011); Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). Circuit court precedent “may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably.” Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 (quoting Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (9th Cir. 2010)). However, circuit precedent may not be “used to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that th[e] [Supreme] Court has not announced.” Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450 (2013) (citing Parker v. Matthews, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012) (per curiam)). Nor may it be used to “determine whether a particular rule of law is so widely accepted among the Federal Circuits that it would, if presented to th[e] [Supreme] Court, be accepted as correct. Id. Further, where courts of appeals have diverged in their treatment of an issue, it cannot be said that there is “clearly established Federal law” governing that issue. Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 77 (2006).

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if it applies a rule contradicting a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a result different from Supreme Court precedent on “materially indistinguishable” facts. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634');">538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003). Under the “unreasonable application” clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.[1] Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. at 413; Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). In this regard, 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.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. at 412. See also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (it is “not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a ‘firm conviction' that the state court was ‘erroneous.'”). “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) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Accordingly, “[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must 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.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         If the state court's decision does not meet the criteria set forth in § 2254(d), a reviewing court must conduct a de novo review of a habeas petitioner's claims. Delgadillo v. Woodford, 527 F.3d 919, 925 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 735 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (“[I]t is now clear both that we may not grant habeas relief simply because of § 2254(d)(1) error and that, if ...

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