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Koppe v. Davis

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 20, 2017

R. DAVIS, Respondent.



         Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The matter has been referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 302. Petitioner challenges a judgment of conviction entered against him on February 20, 2013 in the Sacramento County Superior Court on charges of second degree murder with a deadly weapon. He seeks federal habeas relief on the following grounds: (1) his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to advise him of certain affirmative defenses prior to entry of his plea deal and (2) his appellate counsel was deficient in failing to raise his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim on appeal. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, it is recommended that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.

         I. Background

         In an unpublished memorandum and opinion affirming petitioner's judgment of conviction on direct appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District provided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

Police found defendant at the scene of Keenan Slotty's murder covered in blood and practically confessing to the killing. In one version of the murder, according to defendant's son and codefendant Nicholas Koppe, Nicholas started the fight with the victim and his father took over. Both were charged with first degree murder with an enhancement for using a deadly and dangerous weapon (a knife). If convicted as charged, defendant would have faced a prison term of 25 years-plus to life in prison. Nicholas, with two prior strikes, would have faced a sentence of 25 years-plus to life for any felony conviction.
The People were reluctant to compromise, but before the trial started they offered defendant and Nicholas a package they both had to accept. Defendant was to plead no contest to second degree murder and admit the use of a knife. He would be sentenced to a 15-year indeterminate term for the second degree murder and a one-year determinate sentence for the use of a knife, for a total of 16 years to life. Nicholas would plead no contest to one count of voluntary manslaughter, use of a knife, and assault by means of a knife, and would admit two prior convictions. He would receive a 33-year determinate sentence.
At the plea hearing, Nicholas vacillated between his options. After initially agreeing to the deal, he backed out of it. He agreed to it again after telling defendant he would do what defendant wanted, and defendant indicated he should accept the deal. At one point, Nicholas discussed the deal with his attorney and said, “Just because I can't get up to represent myself doesn't mean he should go down for the rest of his life.” He backed out of the deal for a second time, but finally accepted it after the court ordered the witnesses out of the courtroom and the trial to proceed.
The trial court explicitly asked defendant several questions about his rights including: if he understood and waived them, if he understood the consequences of his decision, and if he had any questions regarding his plea. He answered the questions appropriately and both he and Nicholas pled no contest to the previously mentioned charges.
Defendant filed a motion to withdraw his plea. When denying the motion, the court found defendant had made a very rational and voluntary decision because the court believed, relying on its experience with homicide cases, the People had a very strong case and a jury was likely to find defendant guilty. The trial court did not find extraneous factors, such as might be present in a package deal, that affected the outcome of the case or the decision of defendant to such a degree that it overpowered his independent will. Defendant appeals.

People v. Koppe, 2014 WL 2591117, at *1 (Cal.App. 3 Dist., 2014). Petitioner only raised one issue on direct appeal, however, namely whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his plea. Id. at *1-2. The court of appeal denied his direct appeal - Id. at *4 - and the California Supreme Court declined to review this claim on August 20, 2014. Lodged Document Six “Order Denying Petition for Review.”

         The two claims relevant to the immediate action were raised for the first time in a habeas petition filed with Sacramento County Superior Court on August 21, 2015. Lodged Document Seven “Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.” The superior court issued an order denying that petition on October 26, 2015. Lodged Document Eight “Order Denying Petition - Sacramento County Superior Court.” Petitioner appealed that order and, on December 3, 2015, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District issued a summary denial. Lodged Document Ten “Order Denying Petition - Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District.” The California Supreme Court likewise issued a summary denial on March 16, 2016. Lodged Document Twelve “Docket Reporting Denying Petition-California Supreme Court.”

         II. Standards of Review Applicable to Habeas Corpus Claims

         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, 5 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

         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.

         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, 565 U.S. 34, (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, 567 U.S. 37, 49 (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, 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, 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 there is such error, we must decide the habeas petition by considering de novo the constitutional issues raised.”).

         The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859; Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). If the last reasoned state court decision adopts or substantially incorporates the reasoning from a previous state court decision, this court may consider both decisions to ascertain the reasoning of the last decision. Edwards v. Lamarque, 475 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). “When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 99. This presumption may be overcome by a showing “there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely.” Id. at 785 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)). Similarly, when a state court decision on a petitioner's claims rejects some claims but does not expressly address a federal claim, a federal habeas court must presume, subject to rebuttal, that the federal claim was adjudicated on the merits. Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S. 289, 292 (2013).

         Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to determine whether habeas corpus relief is available under § 2254(d). Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). “Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable.” Himes, 336 F.3d at 853. Where no reasoned decision is ...

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